The Friday View
It must be one of the most clichéd and overused political quotes — and from a man with somewhat dubious morals — but Bill Clinton’s “It’s the Economy Stupid” was one of the most brilliant and most appropriate slogans ever used in an election. And on this basis we state that Gordon Brown may be, yet again, humming the same slogan to himself. But a relevant catch-phrase for Brown could be “It’s the Opinions Polls, stupid”.
You see, Brown is at a crossroads and it is one at which he dare not take the wrong turning. He has several choices regarding the next General Election: go to the country in the autumn, hang on a while and try next spring, or some other undefined date in the future. Brown dare not get the timing of the election wrong – for he knows too well the lessons of the past, i.e. how it cost Labour dearly in 1979 when Callaghan misjudged its timing. Ironically, it is this obsession with what happened to the Labour Party in the past that may lead Brown to make a rash decision: to go to the country in the next few months. In some respects, he is terrified of what happened to John Major and the Conservatives after the 1992 General Election. Some facts, though, need to be borne in mind:-
- There appears, on paper, to be a strong chance of Labour winning a snap General Election – opinion polls such as the Sunday Times/YouGov poll that gave Lab 42%, Con 32% and LD 14% and others published on Electoral Calculus, suggest that Labour is in with a winning chance.
- And yet, look at the variation; several recent polls only have Labour 3 or 4 points ahead, and the margin of error is notorious, at around 3%, and even then it bears little relation to what happens on election night.
- An average of Lab 39%, Con 32%, LD 16% translates into 379, 219 and 19 respectively (a Lab majority of 108), according to the same website.
- But if you make your own prediction, and try Lab 35%, Con 35%, LD 20% – not far off the margin of error – the Labour majority drops to 16, and increasing the LD or Con percentages leads to a hung parliament.
The truth is that Labour has no idea what will happen if it goes to the polls; but it is convinced that it needs to, otherwise something nasty may be lurking around the corner that may wipe out the ‘Brown Bounce’. So a Labour Government may fall because it would rather risk the opinion polls than the economy. And, in such circumstances, the public needs to take stock, and think, how can we re-elect a Government that is rushing towards a General Election because it doesn’t have faith in its own ability to provide economic stability?
Much focus has been directed towards the international financial crisis caused by the American sub-prime market collapse. Whilst the US Federal Reserve has slashed its lending rate to banks, the ‘independent’ Bank of England — guided by the lower inflation figures and by the impact of the international crisis — has stalled its own interest rate rises. Meanwhile, parts of the UK economy, which would prefer lower interest rates, are being pulverised – while home repossessions are rising. Lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent improvement in the markets, the Bank will no doubt eventually start raising interest rates again.
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown can only look on as the Bank’s tinkering undermines the UK economy, and fearful that something disastrous may happen economically, he feels the need to rush to the polls. But what if it all goes pear-shaped?
Let’s face it: things have gone pear-shaped already in many ways, with the burden of taxation including the social injustice of impoverished elderly people being forced to pay huge Council Tax bills for their modest (but over-priced – thank you, Gordon!) homes.
Whilst these old people are denied decent healthcare (amply highlighted by the Purple Scorpion today) and worry about their future if they need help from social services but don’t qualify because they’re not “needy enough”.
They worry about social services stealing their grandchildren because the wealthy couple down the road, who paid £300,000 for a similar sized house as theirs and have the same Council Tax bill, have left it too late to have children. Crime blights their neighbourhood including gun crime, another key election battleground, and discussed today by Iain Dale.
Their grown-up children and their families cannot afford to buy in the area where they work, so they are renting, which means that their kids, if they get to keep them, would not be in the catchment area for a good school. At the same time, these families are paying higher marginal tax rates than the wealthy couple up the road from their elderly parents. They don’t see much value for money for their Council Tax either.
Brown is counting on people like these to stay at home because he thinks, although they do not like his Government, they won’t vote for any of the alternatives either. He believes if he can call a General Election at the right time, when people are apathetic enough but not scared, he could suppress turnout and win by default. At the moment the economy is looking shaky and he worries that it may enter a crisis during a General Election campaign … or just that the opinion polls may not translate into a win for him.
Our hunch is that Brown is terrified of a snap election, so will probably leave it until sometime next year ‘to establish his credentials’, by which time the opinion polls may have turned against him – and the economy may have gone haywire. Then what will he do?
A spring General Election is probably the most likely outcome unless the UK economy and/or the opinion polls take a nosedive.
18.55 Update: John Redwood reports that the new Scots Labour Leader, Wendy Alexander has come out in favour of tax cuts, i.e. lower corporation tax in Scotland, despite Labour nationally being opposed to tax cuts.
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