Monday 10 January 2011

'There is no alternative' isn't working

An 8 point lead for the Labour Party in one opinion poll is just one poll, though the party has good reasons to be confident about its prospects not only in Oldham East and Saddleworth on Thursday, but also in national elections in Scotland and Wales as well major local elections in four months time.

But this may tell us something about how the government is turning voters off - and about how most media commentary has missed how they have done so for most of the last six months.

"There is no alternative" isn't working - and it will now have diminishing returns with people who aren't core supporters of the government.

A common argument among Coalition MPs, newspaper columnists who support the government, and right-of-centre bloggers is that all reasonable people know that the government's spending cuts are necessary and unavoidable. So it is claimed that only small groups of refuseniks deny this obvious reality, which risks leaving Labour, the unions and other coalition-sceptics out of touch.

There isn't a shred of public attitudes evidence for this.

Quite the opposite.

The government has spent six months always and only preaching to the converted. Its opponents have been much more persuasive with both don't knows, and with a large number of those who were ready to give the government a hearing and a chance in May.

So opinion has moved steadily against the government, though the cuts have yet to bite in most cases, and the Labour leadership is still in the early stages of setting out an alternative argument.

Government approval tonight is -20 with 33% approval and 53% disapproval, having fallen pretty sharply in the last few weeks of last year. So it is somewhere short of the (inadequate) Tory share in May 2010, still less even the reduced vote of the Coalition parties.

They are now miles behind on whether the cuts are fair. Having been miles ahead on whether cuts to reduce the deficit was good for the economy last June, they are now trying and perhaps struggling to hand on to parity.

"Blame it all on the mess we inherited from Labour" got the Coalition a pretty good run for most of a year. Its increasingly a turn-off. As we get into 2011, expect to hear more heckling and booing when it is used on Question Time, as happened late last year to Liam Fox.

Listen to Osborne, Cameron or Clegg on the TV or radio. You are going to believe it if you already believe it.

If you're not sure, the absolutist certainty seems ever more likely to put voters off.

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