Somebody’s noticed, but does anybody care?

In 50 years of political journalism, one old Tory grandee has never been so desperate for a change of government. Nevertheless on reading the runes, he spots a problem in last month’s polls for the Conservatives. On a 38: 31 percent margin between the two main UK parties, the average for February, William Rees Mogg observes:

…even on the poll of polls figures… Labour and the Lib Dems will between them gain enough seats to lock out the Conservatives. It is highly likely that Gordon Brown would then remain Prime Minister, relying on the 62 Lib Dems and on a Northern Ireland vote to keep Labour in power until he was ready to call another general election.

That begs the question of whether the Lib Dems would retain their 62 seats ( polls says no) and take Labour’s bait of half-baked electoral reform, or do what Nick Clegg says they would, which is to allow the largest party in this case the Conservatives, to form a minority government. In any case, eat your heart out UCUNF. That bubble seems well and truly burst. What bargain would any mix of unionism try to strike that either the Conservatives or Labour could deliver? Try for a voluntary coalition? The bar of cross community consent is high. Does silence suggest that the bargaining power of the NI parties has finally run out, even in this otherwise most promising of political opportunities ever? They seem too busy cutting each other’s throats to notice. In another local scenario, nationalists could hold the balance if only Sinn Fein took their seats. Tempted guys?

  • FitzjamesHorse

    “Does silence suggest that the bargaining power of the NI parties has finally run out”

    Yes. From the moment the GFA was signed all bargaining power was given up. Because this is the end game. The Irish Govt, the British Govt and the parties involved wont tear it up.

    In the days when Fitt, Harry West, Molyneux, DUP, SDLP and even Frank Maguire were so publicly courted for narrow adavantage wont work now.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    This shows a complete lack of understanding of the electoral process in the UK, there is no such thing a a uniform swing across the country. WRM is obviously out of touch.

    The elections are lost and won in the marginals and it is the swing there that matters.

    Stick to the bookies they know better than the pollsters and we know who is odds on with them.

  • slug

    Electoral reform leading to a greater chance of hung parliaments into perpetuity would render NI parties more relevant thereafter.

  • Greenflag

    More good news for the Tories 😉

    Conservative donor and deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft has admitted he does not pay UK tax on earnings outside Britain.

    His statement ends years of questions from opponents about whether he was “non-domiciled” in the UK for tax.

    He said he agreed with Tory leader David Cameron’s call for anyone in the Lords to be “resident and domiciled”.

    Labour’s Jack Straw accused the Tories of “concealing the truth” for 10 years The Lib Dems said the Tories had been “bought like a banana republic”.

    BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the 63-year-old, who is estimated to be worth £1.1bn by the Sunday Times Rich List, was one of the biggest ever donors to a political party and was at the centre of the Conservatives’ election campaign.

    ‘In another local scenario, nationalists could hold the balance if only Sinn Fein took their seats. Tempted guys?

    There’s no good reason why they should’nt . Given that the NI Assembly has limited ‘financial powers’ SF and the SDLP should represent NI interests at Westminster as long as the ‘link’ remains . They can still be ‘republicans’ in principle while using their numbers at Westminster to promote their political agenda .

    And if it’s too much to stick in their craw then they should do the decent thing and stand aside for the SDLP to win those Westminster seats and give the NI people the representation that’s needed -particularly when not to do so could ‘cost ‘ the NI people in ways that are not yet ‘finalised by the Cameroonians.

  • Sammy Morse

    WRM has a particularly awful record of predicting elections. The bookies are also less infallible than people claim.

    Calling this election is particularly hard, not least because of the size of the vote fourth and smaller parties are likely to get this time.

  • ardmaj55

    BW. I believe SF will take their seats at westminster, only at the point where nationalists and unionists in the 18 seats are 9 all, or when nats have 10 seats. that situation will only be another two elections away at most. Of course the history of hung parliaments shows that unionists leverage is limited by the toxic nature of NI MPs at westminster. No self respecting labour or tory administration would want the other to know they were doing deals with the backwoodsmen of unionism especially. The DUP got precisely nothing for their support for 42 day detention from Brown.

  • smellybigoxteronye

    I’m just wondering who the DUP would back in the case of a hung parliament? It may not be unreasonable to expect them to back Labour.

    Could we see at some distant point in the future a voluntary coalition in the NI Assembly between the DUP and SDLP, with them both taking the Labour whip in Westminster? I think such a cross-community aspect would be appealing for Labour – stranger things have happened!

  • smellybigoxteronye

    … and alternatively a centre-right voluntary coalition with the UUP and Fianna Fail in the NI Assembly?? Sinn Fein IMO would probably have too much baggage to ever enter mainstream politics in Westminster or to ever find a partner in any voluntary coalition in the NI Assembly – hence SF’s opposition to the idea, but I think every other party would go along with it.

  • Rory Carr

    Sammy is right about Rees-Mogg’s less than scintillating record on prediction. In fact there is a bit of a standing joke, based on his many predictive boobs, that treats the opposite outcome to any prediction he may make as a racing certainty.

    The voters of NE Somerset where Rees-Mogg’s son, Jacob is the Tory candidate and Somerset and Frome where daughter, Annunziata is candidate may be hoping that papa delivers the kiss-of-death by predicting a win for each of the little dears. Jacob in particular is a real sweetie being caught out time and time again in the most ludicrous gaffes – shunting a employee of his London based hedge-fund management company up to Somerset to pose as a fawning constituent, claiming that he and his family were domiciled in Somerset for many years rather than opposite Hyde Park, London where they actually live, plagiarisng an article fron the Sun by Trevor Kavanagh and claiming it as his own and, perhaps best of all, having a gagging order put on him by Tory Central Office in 2001 after revealing in an interview with The Scotsman, “I gradually realised that whatever I happened to be speaking about, the number of voters in my favour dropped as soon as I opened my mouth.”

    Now that’s the kind of Tory candidate I really like.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Everytime I buy the Times (it does happen) I groan opening it up to find anything by Mystic Mogg.
    It strikes me that he is only kept on at the Times because nobody has the heart to tell him he is totally useless. Not only are his predictions so laughably insane but his inane ramblings about how some jumped up African dictators son or back bench Torys uncle was a jolly good sort when he was at whatever public school Mogg attended. Much too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia.
    He also happens to be a latent Jacobite of sorts. Oldstyle Catholic Tory which are a mystery to Irish Catholics.

  • Mystic Mogg [© Emmanuel Strobes & Co.] does witter on. He and his spawn are grand recruiters for the Anyone But Tories tendency. The good news is that the family (on my count) so far scores four Tory parliamentary candidatures, and four crashing defeats. Quite how Mogg manages to maintain the pretence of being a cross-bench peer defeats my comprehension.

    The only thing more ludicrous than Mogg’s utterances today (if not usually) is obsessive regard for the opinion polls. At best, this stage in the non-campaign, they indicate trends. The trends are clearly against the Tories, and now seems to be registering, at long last, an up-tick for Labour.

    Lately the Tories seem to be retreating into denial. They assert some perceived differential in the marginals. All that Ashcroft money must be bearing fruit, they believe. On the other hand it’s hard to show such a shift in council by-elections in those same marginals. It is as easy to argue that the cussedness of the electors will resent that attempt to buy seats.

    Then Brian Walker’s quick stroll through the current mire revisits “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity” [* see addendum]. Obviously SF abstentionism is little more than a shibboleth (they participate in Stormont and local government, take office space and expenses at Westminster …). The logical thing would be for SF to attend and participate fully. The SNP and Plaid might not like to share the little limelight they can attract. SF would radicalize nationalism in the Commons. Yet, we all know it ain’t going to happen. So discount those seven or eight seats (or whatever) from the arithmetic.

    Likewise, the DUP (and, to be fair, SDLP and Lady Hermon’s) attendance and participation in the routine day-to-day of the Commons is less than eager. Those absences, permanent or casual, should be also subtracted from the total number of MPs in calculating an actual day-to-day “working majority”.

    The magic number for a notional majority is going to be 325 or more in the next Parliament. In practice, either main party getting over 300 seats will squat the potty-of-state at Number 10. Then the turkeys of the minor parties (and even the major ones) will not quickly vote for Christmas. This is going to be an expensive election, and two in a year would seriously embarrass everyone, especially the Bank of England, and not excluding the Tories who (for all the braggart strutting about their £18M bankroll) have just negotiated a £5M overdraft.

    We do, indeed, live in interesting times.

    [* That footnote:
    The High School, Dublin, ascribed the “England’s difficulty …” motto to Daniel O’Connell. That was what we dutifully echoed in Leaving Cert History, where it was accepted as the proper chirrup.

    Now I see that it was the title of an article by John Mitchel for The Nation (1st November 1844 — the same issue as he noted the revolutionary potential of potato blight). Can anyone confirm it was Mitchel rather than O’Connell who came up with the mantra?]

  • FitzjamesHorse

    Mr Redfellow, I was also taught that it was O’Connell.

  • Alias

    Getting re-elected is the worst thing that could happen to the Labour Party, since Gordon’s strategy for survival during the economic crisis was to spend more now and pay it back latter. The next two terms are going to be all about undoing the damage that Labour have done to the economy, so its all going to be austerity measures for the next couple of terms. That isn’t a strategy of someone who intended to be around to pay the piper but of someone who intended not to lose as badly as he deserved. There would almost be a poetic justice if these clowns were re-elected…

  • John Joe

    ‘England’s difficulty…’ (etc) is merely a variation on a theme which appears before 1844 (in The Nation) with ‘difficulty’ replaced by words like infirmity or defeat. It was widely quoted as an O’Connell maxim in nineteenth century sources. I couldn’t find Mitchell’s article in that issue of The Nation but it could well have been simply quoting O’Connell.

    To get back to the main point – the opinion polls, at this stage, merely show trends in sentiment and shouldn’t be mistaken for the realpolitik that kicks in when an election is called. From an NI perspective, I wonder if any internal polling may suggest that playing footsie with various shades of unionism over here has contributed to weakening confidence in the Tories.

  • John Joe @ 12:27 AM:

    Well spotted, that man. There’s clearly something wrong with my suggested date (“1st November 1844”), especially since Mitchel’s full involvement with The Nation postdates that. Shall we try 1846? Hey! Even Homer could nod. D’oh!

    I am very impressed that anyone has a file of The Nation to consult. I am green with envy.

    As to your other point —

    playing footsie with various shades of unionism over here has contributed to weakening confidence in the Tories

    — that, too, seems a pertinent thought.

    Even the most hard-line unionist, looking through the sea-fog, across to Kintyre, must have something of the “Thank God we’re surrounded by water” in the soul. Little good has ever come out of the over-close relationship with Westminster (except truckloads of moolah and squaddies to Defend the Right). Even the men of 1912-20 schemed for a semi-detached relationship:

    It is undoubtedly our duty and our privilege, and always will be, to see that those appointed by us possess the most unimpeachable loyalty to the King and Constitution. That is my whole object in carrying on a Protestant Government for a Protestant people.
    — Craig’s infamous declaration of 1934. Wherever echo that still has, it resonates with detachment from liberal, secular, tolerant Britain.

    Which is why I never saw UCUNF as a serious proposition.

    Now to the essence of this thread.

    What I also see is the old saw about “Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them” being turned on its head.

    If the Cameroonies (i.e. the leadership cadre in the Tories) blow it (a consummation devoutly to be wished, even among the odd true Conservative of my acquaintance), one of the explanations of where it went wrong will start from the last few days:

    1. Surely Cameron got it badly wrong to underline his failed PR career by his self-description as “a salesman”.
    2. “Ashcroftgate” (forgive me!) will not easily be climbed. It emphasises the link between Tories, money and privilege. Again, the People’s Dave must be wincing with the link between Ashcroft’s blatant non-dom lying and the claims of some “patriotic” mission.

  • John Joe

    Malcolm – try for The Nation.

    I think that it is a long time since the Saatchis masterminded the Tory campaign in 1979 and people are much more media-savvy today. Or maybe, more correctly, today’s public has adapated to a significantly different media culture.
    I wonder, with the popular culture concept of media celebrity, have people become familiar with short-lived fame and, by proxy, their attention hasn’t developed the stamina for career politicians. Look at the US presidential elections – the post-convention turn around is about a year. Obama wasn’t the leader of the Democrats or even considered a leading contender before the first primaries.
    Given the cultural similarities between the UK and US – I wonder if a public tuned into ‘celebrity’, in its contemporary form, have been trained to see success as a short, steep journey (normally with a corresponding plumet afterwards). A successful challenger to an incumbent, then, has a limited timeframe in which to achieve success. Perhaps Cameron, being supported by people familiar with current media-handling strategies that fit within that short timeframe, has had too much time leading into an election. He hasn’t lost the election by any means, but the actual election campaign looks like starting at 0-0 rather than the Tories having that precious away goal.

  • Sorry, John Joe on Mar 02, 2010 @ 12:51 PM, I seem to have switched off the auto-response. Blame it on an inadequacy of Cabernet Sauvignon.

    I think most of what you say is spot-on. Ultimately, Cameron is the PR “face”. Were he elected to the PM-job, his survival as “Leader” would be determined by his ability to mouth that which was given him.

    What the Great British People have so far failed to recognise is that Cameron is a mouth through which an amazing number of others have expressed. The Photoshopping will not endure close examination. Now, if Hague were the name in the frame, I suspect things might be different.