Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Tory fumbles put Labour back in the race

As I wrote my last piece a week ago, things were looking pretty rocky for Labour. But, as if to give me a bit of come-uppance, we immediately proceeded to have a very good week.

First there was a poll which, in the wake of the TV debates, saw Miliband’s personal polling jump from -49% a couple of months before, to +3%, a quite extraordinary recovery and above Cameron’s for the first time. Given that leadership (of which I guess this is some kind of crude measure) was one of Labour’s two big weaknesses, the other being the economy, this is very encouraging news. Also Labour’s party polling has nudged a little higher, although probably not enough to be significant.

Second, the Tory campaign, aided and abetted by the Tory press, has been in disastrous form. After being forced to defend Britain’s anomalous “non-dom” tax status for rich people in a nifty bit of political footwork by Labour, they then proceeded to unleash a set of personal attacks on Miliband. However, so clumsy and inept were the attacks, that they seem to have had an entirely counterproductive effect. Most spectacularly useless was the Daily Mail, which splashed on Miliband’s ex-girlfriends, thereby converting Miliband from wonkish nerd into an unlikely "lad"; or, as my friend Anthony Painter put it, from "being Wallace to James Bond”.*

Finally, its Millbank HQ panicked, and started releasing all kinds of uncosted spending pledges, notably £8bn for the NHS, on which Labour politicians and indepdendent-minded journalists alike gleefully seized, thus painting the party of supposed fiscal rectitude briefly, at least, as the party of fiscal idiocy.

All in all, a terrible week for the party for whom the election was really theirs to lose. Good.

A few words of caution, however:

1. It’s by no means over, and this welcome burst of strength may well not be enough to tip the scales. Bear in mind a large part of it is down to Tory failure.

2. Cameron has come 
right back this week with a trap on “right to buy” council houses, which Labour looks extremely likely to fall into, thereby setting itself (yet again) against the aspirational classes.

3. 1992 should still be borne in mind. The then phenomenon of “shy Tories” – people who vote Tory but refuse to disclose this to pollsters – could yet confound Labour’s expectations that polls will carry through to parliamentary seats.

4. We should not forget that, as my friend John Rentoul is fond of pointing out, Cameron is the “essay crisis prime minister”. He gets too relaxed at times, but also has a habit of performing well when the pressure is truly on. It now is.


5. Scottish Labour is still facing a meltdown.

Labour is back in the race, but that race is still far too close too call.



*Wallace of "Wallace and Gromit" fame, of course.

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