Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Lies, Lies and dammed polls...

. I know there is some debate within political circles about the worth of opinion polls. It is often said on Liberal Democrat Voice that although polls are reported little store is set by them. My view is that they have some value; especially when they uniformly report the same data. Of course, any poll only reflects the views of it's sample and although polling companies are supposed to weigh their samples properly there is often huge margin for error; that should be taken as a given with anything.

If the culture in reporting polls was changed from trying to predict a specific result to charting overall trends in moods they would be much more valuable. However, you simply cannot ignore the fact that if a general election was held tomorrow it would certainly return a Conservative government with a majority of over 100. The polls showing their consistent lead has been backed up by people who have actually gone out and voted in recent elections so it must be taken as a given that the current polls are an accurate reflection of how people feel about the Labour government (actively hostile) and the Conservative opposition (ready to give them a chance of governing).

Although as Liberal Democrats we are a party of opposition and thus we should counterpose our position to that of the government that mood of active hostility is dangerous. Why?? Because it encourages people to think purely in terms of 'getting Labour out' which logically would lead them to vote Conservative in most seats. It would certainly lead them to vote Conservative in more seats than it would lead them to vote for us where we are the best tactical bet. It would be an effective reversal of the position in 1997 where as a party we benefited from people desperate to get rid of the Conservatives voting for us.

Nick Clegg was right about a 'zombie-government' and the evidence of that is in way people are thinking. After all, if you had a corpse rotting in the front room would you be too concerned about choosing which undertaker removed it; of course you wouldn't you'd go for the one closest to you and most able to remove that corpse effectively. This mood will fester and continue right up until election day if nothing radical changes as it did with the Major-Blair drama. It won't vanish; it will simply become more deeply embedded.

It is a cushy number for David Cameron because he really doesn't have to do an awful lot to pick-up a huge majority. He can let Gordon Brown do his job for him; sure he will produce policies but they can be pithy and vague because people are so heartily sick of Labour they don't care anymore. This is why Tony Blair's pledge cards were effective in 1997; they showed just enough to persuade any waveres that Labour should be given a chance.

It should also be borne in mind that this situation put Blair in a position where he could junk parts of the 97 manifesto that he didn't particularly like because nobody cared enough to hold him to account and the people who elected him felt complicit in any case. This goodwill carried him all the way to entering the Iraq war and it will carry Cameron a long way too, people will be so glad to get rid of Brown that they won't care what Cameron does as long as it sounds good and right. We can't ignore the message that the polls are giving us, we are in danger of being squeezed and to overcome that we need to move people beyond the purely negative.

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