Murmurings of a seismic shift..

The best hope for Labour now is that the public becomes so punch drunk with bad news that they will be able to find a firebreak sometime early next year and start again. The worst fear is that voting this year and next will be so low that any government will lack the authority to govern in a recession. Beware of exaggerating the crisis in the most stable political system in the western world, but it can’t be denied, we’re in a very bad place now if not yet in meltdown. Significantly more ” don’t knows ” in the polls would be the killer. In the latest polls, taken before the expenses scandal has been fully absorbed, there are signs of “a plague on both your houses” to qualify Cameron’s storming lead. Yet,in the YouGov poll for in the Sunday Times, the Conservatives have a national equivalent vote share of 40% -up nine points from four years ago. Labour are down nine points on 25%. A mail on Sunday poll records Labour under Brown lower than under Michael Foot, who you may remember, wrote the” longest suicide note” in British political history for the election of 1983. Polls on voting intentions for the European Parliament are notoriously unreliable and of course favour those with strong opinions. But as the pollster John Curtice explains the bigger threat to Labour doesn’t come from the Euros.

This is for one simple reason. When the country last voted in European elections in 2004 Labour performed abysmally. It won less than 23 per cent of the nationwide vote, not least because the party was beginning to pay for the unpopularity of the Iraq war. Yet just 12 months later Tony Blair still went on to win a historic third term


The real threat comes from wipe out in the handful of English council elections and a boost to the BNP. Another poll puts Labour at that crucial 23% level. A BPIX poll for The Mail on Sunday says the party is supported by just 23 per cent of voters, a stunning 22 points behind the Conservatives’ figure of 45 per cent. The question now is whether the ballooning expenses scandal – not raised in these polls – becomes the tipping point of a seismic change in British politics. The Conservatives have yet to be heavily fingered by the Telegraph and the results could affect them as much as Labour. Even so Labour being in power stand to take the bigger hit.

Any crumbs of comfort for Labour? Well calls like this one on the BBC’s World This Weekend have little support for now

“If this runs and runs, Parliament should be dissolved, not only is the economy in dire trouble but the foundations of our democracy are in trouble.”

So says Lord Naseby, aka Michael Morris a former Commons deputy Speaker, not a huge figure exactly, but a respected one.

Look down the data and you see a more complex picture as usual. Right now, 53% think a general election would be a distraction, only 37% support one – but future polls after the expenses scandal has been absorbed may show a shift. On the wider outlook, the You Gov poll says 88% think the state of the economy is dire and 71% think Gordon Brown is doing badly as PM. Was G20 a dead cat? If Brown can’t bounce out of this, he’s doomed. One question that might have been thought to favour Labour slightly is : Who would you trust to improve your and your family’s standard of living? Even here the news for Brown is poor if not quite decisive; Brown 20, Cameron 35, Neither 37. “A plague on both your houses” leaves each party in the game – or none, if the “don’t knows, don’t cares” begin to dominate the results.
The crunch crisis before the general election could come after the Euros next month, thinks the Indy, when is Brown is squeezed between Labour rebels and the Tories over the part-privatisation of the Post Office. Yet this is one he could survive. Nothing like a vote of confidence to unite the troops – with one more year’s salary to earn and some expenses to claim before likely oblivion.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London