Monday, July 28, 2008

Is a Labour defeat a foregone conclusion?

According to the media, if Gordon Brown remains as Prime Minister Labour will suffer a crushing defeat at the next election and I suppose the polls back this view up, but I personally remain unconvinced.

For starters, I believe the media opinion of David Cameron as Conservative leader is much higher than the average man in the street. There is no doubt that the media love Cameron as much as they loved Blair and, as a result, the media have done as much as they can to talk down Brown and talk up Cameron as they did with Major and Blair in 1997.

But there is a big difference between Cameron and Blair. Like Blair pre-1997, Cameron is still regarded with a good deal of suspicion within his own party, but - like Blair again - after such a sustained period out of office they are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt whilst hoping that, once in power, Cameron will turn out not to be like Blair, but more like Thatcher.

It is a forlorn hope. First of all, Blair inherited a stable and improving economy and a revitalised industry (albeit largely based on the unsustainable service sector). This meant that Blair could still appear "conservative" on the outside while conducting the usual Labour strategy of tax and spend as the massive public sector was built up even further.

This is the second reason why I don't think Cameron can win. The public sector is dependent on having a left-wing government that is committed to increasing public sector spending. We all know that public sector employment was higher in the nineteen eighties than it is now - indeed it is still below the 1992 level - but the main reason for that is that Britain, back then, still had a number of publicly owned industries with huge numbers of workers.

Things are very different now. There are relatively few state employees working in industry. Instead there are huge numbers of people working directly for the state - in local authorities, various regulatory bodies, quangos and administrative functions. Because they work directly for the government they have a much deeper connection to that government than they did previously.

The fate of public sector employees and government are now intrinsically linked like never before and this means that a huge proportion of that one fifth of people employed in the public sector (one quarter in Scotland and almost one third in NI) are unlikely to vote for a Conservative government. Although that one fifth does not directly correspond to one fifth of the electorate, it's not far off.

Then you have the fifth of the working age population who are not working and dependent on a left wing administration. Again, although not directly corresponding to one fifth of the electorate it is still a large proportion and they are just as unlikely to vote Conservative as those in the public sector. So, there is roughly 2 fifths of the electorate who will not vote Conservative - that's 40% for starters.

Then you have the crossover or floating voters. Huge numbers of these were swayed towards Blair in 1997 for three reasons. One - they were fed up with the Tories. Two - the proliferation of "sleaze". Three - Tony Blair didn't seem like a typical socialist.

The third is, in my opinion, the most important. Blair was seen as an acceptable face of socialism - or progressivism as it was now being touted. He didn't look, sound or behave like the typical Labour politician. Out went the donkey jackets, flat caps and old slogans and in came smart suits, blue ties, a facade of humility and "sound bites".

To the floating voters who baulked at voting for the incredibly intellectual, but absurd Michael Foot or the seemingly unintellectual and very pompous Kinnock, Blair seemed very appealing and they were convinced to vote for him in their droves.

Cameron is very different in that respect. For all his attempts to be the new Blair (which seems like a ludicrous thing to want to be in my view, but that is the media portrayal of what a PM should be) Cameron remains to many as being the typical Tory. Posh, wealthy, privately educated and as slippery as the proverbial greasy pole.

One last reason why I remain unconvinced that people will actually vote Tory come the next election is this. Blair's victory in 1997 came when the public opinion of the monarchy was at a particularly low ebb and Blair - consciously - offered a presidential style which many found appealing. I don't believe that appeal is as strong as it was then. The monarchy - despite the best efforts of the republican media - has regained much of the public respect (thanks almost entirely to the efforts of Her Majesty the Queen).

It's also somewhat ironic that the same republican media who would love nothing more than to see Britain become a republic have done considerable damage to the concept in Britain with their demonising of George Bush. Cameron has adopted that same presidential style (Brown has sought to avoid it) which remains popular with the media, but is less attractive to the electorate at this time.

So, regardless of what the polls say, I still believe that when an election does come the Tories will not win. Labour might lose - but the best the Tories can hope for, in my opinion, is a hung parliament and that, in my opinion, will be a disaster for them and for Britain.

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