Friday 23 April 2010

Has Dave just shot his northern front in the foot?

David Cameron launched his election campaign with this somewhat cryptic comment.

f we get in we're going to shake things up, we're going to cut the size of the House of Commons, we're going to get rid of the ID cards, we're going to get rid of the regional nonsense, we're going to cut ministers' pay and freeze it, we're going to cut the bureaucracy that's got so out of control

Should he be taking the "regional nonsense" - thought to refer to his plans to cut regional development agencies - more seriously?

Tonight, he singled out Northern Ireland and the north-east of England as regions where the public sector was too large as a share of the economy.

"In Northern Ireland it is quite clear – and almost every party accepts this –that the size of the state has got too big," Cameron said.

"We need a bigger private sector. There are other parts of the country, including in the north-east. The aim has got to be to get the private sector, to get the commercial sector going.

There is a very colourful map explaining this in the Tory manifesto.

Michael Crick on Newsnight has said that he thinks David Cameron's comments are a serious mistake.

The Conservatives must gain Tynemouth (108th) and Stockton South (123rd) to win a majority - and local polling earlier this week suggested they are neck and neck

And it could get worse for the Tory leader. Crick also points out that public spending is as high in Wales as it is in Northern Ireland - which is an area where the Conservatives have been arguing they could target many seats having narrowly topped the poll in the European elections.

If you want to see how much this could matter, go back to Peter Kellner's four election fronts, published in Prospect in February. Kellner thought the Tories would pick up less than 10 LibDem gains, and probaby less than one in three than those that a national swing might predict. Now, any net gains at all on the blue-yellow front would have to be treated as a bonus, and so the Tories would need to make 25-30+ gains from Labour beyond the notional "winning line" of 116 gains on their target seat list.

As Kellner set out, that pushes the key battles beyond the Midlands and further up the Northern front.


There was evidence of that shifting electoral map in a surprising tweet earlier from Chris Lloyd, political editor of the Northern Echo:

To offset LibDem bounce in south, I'm told Cons have redesignated Darlington a marginal they need to win - hence the Pickles visit

The Tories are 26.5% behind, and would need a 13% swing from Labour, so seems well off the target seats radar. So I asked him

if Tories think they can win Darlington (???), how will Cam's comments on oversized public sector in NE going to play?

@nextleft A mark for honesty for DC, but in general not well, particularly not as we're splashing on the comments tomorrow

And indeed the Northern Echo front-page has just appeared on Newsnight's front pages round-up

North-East faces big squeeze - Tory leader tells Paxman our region is top target for public sector cuts

Along with the Belfast Telegraph:

Cameron: I'll target Ulster for cutbacks - Storm looms over Tory leader's plans.


Kateyo said...

Excellent analysis, and now Camerons visit to NI on monday is said by Eamonn Mallie to be fluid, as Jeff Peel says he will be as welcome here as Boris was in Liverpool after his gaff.

Any bets on a Cameron no show here on Monday afternoon.

Nick said...

You know what every voter in the north-east -- especially Stockton South and environs -- will be reminded of? Yes, Thatcher in the wasteland. Nice one, Dave.

The impact on NI, though, is to condemn the Ulster Unionists to political history. Reg Empey has probably not slept well, while Sylvia Hermon is probably glad that she chose to stand in North Down as an independent.

rwendland said...

Newsnight later (Paul Mason) pointed out that “public sector share” in Wales is equally as large as in Northern Ireland. But Dave did not mention Wales – I guess because he hopes to win seats there.

(Whatever "public sector share” exactly means (employer?). Does anyone have a link to the raw stats being talked about here? I looked at OCS ASHE 2009 for a source, but couldn't find anything suitable there.)