Wednesday, 24 March 2010

So why have the polls narrowed? The media-public disconnect over cuts

One should never take any opinion poll in isolation, but the latest results from each of the main polling firms suggest a tightening pre-election race. The headlines - such as over the BA strike - have been consistently bad for Labour, so there seems to be an increasing disconnect between what the national media think is going on, and which issues an uncertain public are thinking hardest about as they prepare to make up their minds.

The biggest disconnect between elite debate and public opinion may well be over the central question of "cuts" in public spending.

The evidence is growing that the public are yet to be convinced by arguments for very heavy cuts in public services. On balance, they are more concerned on the impact of cuts on public services than the consequences of not cutting for the budget deficit. And they appear more open to a balanced approach to spending cuts, tax increases, debt and the pace of deficit reduction than many commentators would like.

The response from much of the commentariat, especially on the right, is to charge the public with denial: 'they just don't get it. National bankruptcy stares us in the face'.

But it doesn't. If one wanted to take a (perhaps excessively) sanguine view of the question, one could take the sole Budget speech of the leading 'progressive Conservative' of the last century, in which Harold Macmillan held fast to his centrist, pro-public services Keynesian outlook:

It was 1956, and the national debt was 150% of GDP. Current projections suggest it could rise to half of that over the next four years.

Macmillan quoted the historian Macauley over the debt fears of the 18th century.

At every stage in the growth of that debt it has been seriously asserted by wise men that bankruptcy and ruin were at hand; yet still the debt kept on growing, and still bankruptcy and ruin were as remote as ever.

"In fact the debt was gradually reduced from these peaks without any heroic gestures", as FT columnist Samuel Brittan has written.

It was primarily growth what did it.

It has been argued that the post-war welfare state was unaffordable - though less often how this insight could have been carried through in the face of overwhelming democratic support for it. It has been more credibly argued that, if Britain was to expand domestic public spending, it needed to move more quickly from a global power to a European one.

Of course, Macmillan remains second only to Heath in the Thatcherite hall of villainy. As a consequence, his status among Progressive Conservatives is far from clear, though David Cameron's press team have characteristically briefed that he has a picture of SuperMac, not Maggie, in his office. Since Cameron seems to entirely reject Macmillan's economic outlook, one might not seem to make so much difference to the choices he would make in government.

Today, the budget deficit is a problem that needs to be dealt with - though one can not simply short circuit the political and policy debates and choices about how to do that.

But, if only progressive Conservatives knew their own history, they would realise that claims of an existential crisis of national debt are bunk.


PS: The Conservative opposition has focused primarily for almost a fortnight on suggesting that the BA cabin crew strike heralds an age of industrial militancy, further proving that the "militant" Unite union somehow owns runs a government which opposes its strike. "That line of attack is opportunist, hysterical and historically illiterate, but not necessarily ineffective" suggested Sunday's Observer leader, suggesting a grudging regard for Tory cynicism since they would surely settle for that.

Yet it would all seem to have been highly ineffective too. Mark Pack at LibDemVoice debunks the Sunday Times' claim that the action is "beginning to hurt the government’s standing", noting that this is based on a poll showing that 4% of voters thought it would make them less likely to vote Labour, 1% more likely and 80% no difference; while 22% think the unions too powerful and 19% not powerful enough.


Robert said...

What does stare us in the face and if you cannot come clean then sadly this is just another new Labour rag blog, is that public cuts are coming with Labour or the Tories, the public sector will be hit hard. Wales would be devastated by large scale or low scale cuts and the employment in my area now stands at 48% according to the job center and council, but if you look at the Labour view it's 3% but even I know thats bull shit.

Cuts and major cuts will come jobs will be lost of course new Labour will view this by altering the way the jobless are counted, or offer them half an hours training and remove them from the jobless totals.

I do not trust any party at the moment, Labour Tory Liberals, all are after the votes and the fact have gone out the window. But a program about my area this week on BBC Wales showed the utter devastation in my area of families living on what is now well below poverty levels, one chap said after he pays his bills electric gas water he is left with ten pound a week to buy food, and thats not unusual around me.

£1 a day to live on sound like a third world country to me.

I'm in a wheelchair I was moved to ESA benefits this month and found I had lost twelve pounds a week in benefits, that is massive to me, it means the difference of living and not living, I've had it with Labour Tory Liberals, it does not leave me to much to vote for does it but vote I will and it will be a vote to show my anger.

J_T said...

I've got a feeling that these polls are not accurate as they are conducted online. Also remember that turnout was low last two times. So Labour need to get to the disaffected voters who maybe voted Labour in the past and not anymore; they also need to get to those who are not even interested in politics. Only way to do that is make comparisons between last Tory government (Poverty doubled under Thatcher etc) and to highlight how current Tory policies will negatively affect them.

Problem is, the media are Conservative biased (Murdoch's The Times and The Sun are two biggest selling papers). All these negative headlines just puts people off voting as they think "they are all the same". People need to know what Labour will do for them. As I say with a Tory biased media and low readership of newspapers among lower socio-economic groups it will be hard to get Labour's message out. Debates might help - but going on Cameron's assured budget response today shows that Brown will need to rehearse a lot, and I mean, a lot, to beat Cameron. He will need to remind people want Conservatism is:

To CONSERVE the status quo (Not reform the voting system, the house of Lords or the banking system)

Millionaires (like Michael Ashcroft) CONSERVE their vast wealth at the expense of the poor.

He should also bring up Michael Goves education policies. That is the Tories weak point.

I also think people like Darling over Osbourne. What Labour should do is get Darling to stay on. The Tories line of attack is always "but he won't be here after the election even if Labour wins." Why not stay on for a few months after; then let whoever else wants to come in some time down the line?

Balls is utterly disliked in the media as he is seen as socialist. the largely Conservative media liked Blairites because they were Conservatives in disguise and always seemed to be posh and spoke well. 'Common people' (for want of a better phrase) in rolls of great stature are always easy targets in class ridden Britain. Only way to get rid of this problem is to form a republic: