Oppositions winning elections – not as easy as it appears

The idea that politicians don’t care about opinion polls is, at best, a half truth. In my experience politicians rarely care about individual polls (unless their own name features on the ballot paper) but instead focus on the trends in polls. Sometimes individual polls do stand out that make professional politicians stop and ponder them.

This has happened to me over the last few days. It was not the Red C opinion poll in the Sunday Business Post that caught my attention. Rather it was the collection of polls that were published in the UK that saw a dramatic reduction in the Conservative Party lead. One poll suggested a Tory lead of 2%, others suggested that it was between 5 and 7%. The Conservatives appear to need a 10% lead in the popular vote to win as many seats as the Labour Party. With a 5% lead this could mean that the Labour Party actually end up with more seats than the Tories.This is due to the allocation of votes across different constituencies and also the ‘first post the post’ voting system in the UK.

All of this is such a change that it prompted speculative selling of the UK pound during the week, when the pound fell below the $1.50 mark against the dollar. Nick Clegg has now come out today to say that his party would not prompt an immediate general election in the interests of ‘UK plc’.

Does this have any relevance or learning’s for opposition parties here in the run up to the next election?

Well, there is an obvious one. Mistakes in policy do matter. But only a certain kind of mistake, and these are errors in relation to economic policy. Cameron wobbled on the issue of recognising marriage in the UK tax code despite the fact that it was the one of the few clear commitments that he made in the last couple of years. More broadly, Osborne has been advocating a tougher plan on deficit reduction but refusing to say how, while his front bench colleagues have been making spending commitments in health and oversea’s aid. This prompts a confusion which voters notice and one that the media pounce on.

Secondly, the tone of Gove, Hague and others has been gloomy. Britain is plagued by a ‘broken society’. Cameron has argued that they need to move to a ‘post bureaucratic age’. This anti statism just doesn’t reflect or chime in with the mood of middle England.

Finally, personal attacks might incentivise your base and activists. But they rarely chime in people who live ‘beyond the Beltway’. I don’t think most people are surprised that Gordon Brown has a temper or that he hit the roof when presented with the loss of personal data for millions of citizens. We’ve seen that so clearly in Irish politics. Leinster House residents (including me) get agitated by the fates of O’Donoghue,Lee, O’Dea, Burca and Sargent but it doesn’t make a jot of difference to how the people view the major parties.

Any learning’s for those of us wanting to get rid of Fianna Fail? The only thing that matters is the economy and showing a plan to the country that the light at end of the tunnel is a new dawn and not the lights of another train of economic calamity. This lesson might appear obvious but these polls show that all opposition parties are capable of forgetting it.

  • What the Plain People of Ireland appear to want, based on the recent Indy poll, is not the opposition in power but a government of National Unity that might decide matters on the basis of what is best for the country rather than the individual party.

    Unforutnately the massive anger which is swirling around looking for a target to whack could well do with being chanelled into something that might lead to substantive change but the plain people of Ireland are painfully aware that simply getting “rid of Fianna Fail”, if they are replaced by Fine Gael/Labour, who also cheer-led Ireland into the mess it now finds itself in may actually make things worse.

    At least FF have nothing to lose being down to the bare bones of their support and the alternatives if they assume power will perhaps not insist on the Plain People swallowing the horrible medicine which they definitely need.

    The snake oil salesmen, from all the mainstream parties, that sourced their dodgy product from the Celtic Tiger need to be told to sit down together and sort out the fecking mess and it would be refreshing if the Plain People of Ireland took to te streets to tell them just that.

  • I was uncertain where this headline piece was taking us (and remain unclear that it was anywhere).

    Essentially, it is a well-trodden truism that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. The amazing thing is that the GB Tories seem intent on turning that on its head (as I said elsewhere on Slugger, a day or so ago). Even today we have Gove (allegedly an intelligent and sincere man) burbling about “comprehensive grammar schools”. Today, too, their paymaster drops a large quantity of nasty on the balding head of his sponsor, Hague (whose self-sacrifice in accepting the leadership at an impossible moment ruled him out when the Party really needed him — now). Despite enormous inputs of very expensive advice, the GB Tories seem to have been caught out on most policy issues. UCUNF, their attempt at making GB=UK, is shambolic. Every one of their “personalities” has been exposed as having feet of clay. Sad, almost. Almost unbelievable.

    Then there is the economics thing. Most UK indicators are on the up. Public confidence is improving (according to those surveys) at an unprecedented rate. Cui bono? Part of the reconstruction requires UK industry to have the competitive advantage of a cheap £: the Governor of the Bank of England obviously has an exchange-rate policy — every time the £ threatens to rise above $1.60 and €1.10, Mervyn King makes a speech. Moody, but magnificent. The paid and unpaid yappers go into nervous breakdown mode. Result! — UK exports tick up another couple of points. Unemployment is moderated. A work of genius.

    The polls are not absolutes: yet they are repeatedly showing the trend, and it is now a tightening race.

    Don’t blame the forecast of seats on the skewing of constituencies (though it’s a real factor, in large part the consequence of the long-standing mandate on the commissioners). When the vote is tallied up, it always ignores the underclass, registered or not, who do not vote. Turn-out is closely related to social class. There was that Tyneside MP who spent his time in the Commons bars. When he was told, by a Labour Whip, that he was a **** (term of sexist abuse), he responded that there were a lot of ****s out there, and they deserved representation “here”. True enough. The bottom-line [sic] will be any Party achieving 300+ seats will squat the potty-of-state.

    Now why make the transition from GB politics to RoI? The analogies don’t work. In Dublin the essential question is when (not if) the Greens pull the plug. No more, no less.