Daily Archives: July 2, 2010

How much to buy your vote?

It’s hardly likely to make headline news, at least in the Tory press, but consider this:

In [David Cameron’s] four years as Leader of the Opposition, from January 2006 to May 6, 2010, a record £122 million went through Tory coffers, by any international political yardstick an extraordinary amount.  Barack Obama’s presidential campaign committee in 2008 raised £450 million.  That was to fund a campaign that won decisively in a country where campaigns hinge on TV advertising and with an electorate five times the size.  In domestic terms this figure is also striking;  Labour’s income was £71 million over the same period, although £22 million of this came while Tony Blair was still in office.  It also beats sums raised in previous Parliaments; the Tories’ income was £49 million and Labour’s £61 million between 2001 and 2005.

Perhaps more intriguing is the limited impact that this vast spending appeared to have.  By Mr Cameron’s own yardstick, set in a Spectator interview shortly before polling day, his own campaign was a failure.  The Conservative vote increased by 3.8 percentage points on its 2005 vote; an increase of 2 million votes net, or, taking in account the higher number of votes received by rival parties, 1.1 million more than last time.  In other words, every additional vote cost the Tories £111.

That’s the estimable Sam Coates (the scruffy Herbert who, as Chief Political Correspondent, does the Times political blog) in an essay for The Times Guide to the House of Commons, newly published.

Coates goes on to exemplify how the Tories shredded money (reminding Malcolm of Nixon and CREEP, when that was literally true). £500,000 went on a cinema ad that was never shown.  Further loose change, about half a million in each case, was chucked successively at projects such as:

  • the airbrushed, pasty moon-face, January 2010 “cut the deficit, not the NHS” poster campaign (right) that was so embarrassing it was disowned by the party hierarchy (and started an internet phenomenon of rip-offs);
  • a much–ridiculed “don’t be a tosser” campaign on the national debt;
  • a national newspaper campaign to recruit internet “friends of the Conservatives”, which was quickly buried.

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Filed under advertising., David Cameron, Elections, human waste, Times, Tories.

Four years on

We have a prior warning:

A referendum on changing the UK’s voting system is planned for 5 May 2011, the BBC understands.

A vote on changing from first-past-the-post to the alternative vote (AV) could be held on the day of Holyrood, Welsh Assembly and English local elections.

That ought to mean an enhanced turn-out for what is (outside of Scotland) an event for committed enthusiasts only.

It will, moreover, inevitably be seen as the first big test of the ConDem coalition.

It will be bloody

Refer back to the corresponding elections of 2007.

In England it was a debacle for the Labour Party:

The New Labour era of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is coming to an end, Tory leader David Cameron has claimed.

Mr Cameron said his party’s gains in Thursday’s local elections showed it could win the next general election.

The Tories won more than 800 council seats – giving the party its highest number of councillors since 1978 – and took control of 38 town halls.

The shares of the vote — Con 40%/Labour 27%/LibDem 26% — were , as Cameron predicted there above, indicators of the 2010 General Election (36%/29%/23%). That is most assuredly where we shall not be next May: already the latest polls are showing a firming of the Labour support, and a marked softening of the LibDems.

More to the point, we are still in the “phoney post-war” honeymoon. For most Brits the announced austerities have not yet impacted on pay-packets or disposable income. Sweetness and light may continue to bless the Cameroonies until the kids are back for the Autumn Term, the evenings pull in, and it’s the long dark slog to the Yuletide booze-up. Then it’s the kick-in of 20% VAT, a surge in inflationary price-rises, with no pay-rise in prospect for the next two rounds. Ouch!

It will certainly be hurting, with little evidence of it yet working.

Factor in:

  • a new Labour leader, with a cleaner skin and a new narrative;
  • rising unemployment. There may be a slight pick-up in the metal-bashing trades, if UK exports remain competitive on the back of “cheap” sterling. What will hurt the bourgeoisie are the ex-student sons and daughters who come out of college this summer, and can find no job to match their ambitions.
  • house prices. Here is another potential IED. Hear Norma Cohen, in the FT just this week:

House prices edged up a notch in June, according to a closely-watched index that nonetheless pointed to a sharp slowdown in the rate at which prices rise.

Prices rose by 0.1 per cent last month, compared with a rise of 0.5 per cent in May and 1.1 per cent in April, according to the Nationwide house price index, which is based on house price data from monthly mortgage approvals. The year-on-year rate of house price inflation eased to 8.7 per cent in June from 9.8 per cent in May.

The Nationwide index is the latest of a series of indicators that point to a flat housing market. This week, the Land Registry house price index showed a drop in May, while other indices pointed to muted growth in housing values.

That last one should produce serious shivering in the property-owning  (and mortgage-paying) classes. With pay restraint, rising unemployment, inflated VAT, and the squeeze on buy-to-rent (not to mention, sooner or later, rising interest rates), the house-price spurt of the last eighteen months cannot be sustainable. If there is going to be a “double-dip”, it has to be in the housing market. Witness yesterday’s Irish Times for the nuclear winter across the narrow seas (Jack Fagan credited for the words thing):

… the latest price index from Sherry FitzGerald … shows that the average price of a second-hand property in Dublin fell by 2.5 per cent in the three months up to the end of June – considerably less than the 3.1 per cent contraction in the previous quarter. This brings the total drop to 13.4 per cent over the past year.

The comparable figures for the national market saw the average price fall by 2.8 per cent in the second quarter – unchanged from the previous three months – and by 13.5 per cent over the past year.

… From the peak in 2006, Dublin prices have decreased in real terms by 49 per cent while the national market has corrected by 42.9 per cent. This, in effect, means that Dublin house prices are back to where they were at the end of 2002.

If that doesn’t chill to the bone, the ad at the tail of the same page should. It is for one of those grand double-fronted houses “on exclusive Kerrymount Avenue”, Foxrock. In 2003 the house sold at auction for €3.4 million: today, it’s yours for €1.15 million less.

Memo: once upon a time George Osborne was in Dublin to study “successes” of the Irish economy. These — ahem! — sprang from:

fiscal discipline [which] co-existed with healthy rises in government spending to meet the aspirations of a steadily more prosperous Irish society.

He noted:

Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in economic policy-making.  With its vision of a highly-educated, innovative, open, dynamic, low-tax economy, and relentless focus on the long-term drivers of prosperity,Ireland’s economic miracle has shown that it has the right answers to the challenges of the new global economy.

We in Britain would do well to listen and learn from our Irish neighbours.

Oh dear!

So, back to the future of May 2011.

In 1997 the Tories gained over 900 local government seats across England. Labour lost over 500. Some, perhaps many, will return next May, especially if the simultaneous referendum improves turn-out.

In itself that is no great shakes: Westminster constraints will ensure that local government is rendered ever more titular and impotent.

Yet many, even hundreds, of local Tory worthies will suddenly lose their position, and even those allowances. Who will they blame? In short order: the fickle electorate; then the government which dumped on them and their petty privilege. They will now have the leisure, and loosened loyalty, to be resentful, noisily so.


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Filed under Britain, David Cameron, Elections, George Osborne, House-prices, Irish Times, politics, polls, Tories.