Daily Archives: July 14, 2010

Is Cameron losing it?

At first sight the incumbent Prime Minister has every advantage.

He comes briefed by the famed Westminster mandarins, the hand-spun, silky-smooth Rolls-Royce of the British civil service. He arrives equipped with a tagged, cross-referenced folio (doubtless produced weekly, regardless of expense). he will doubtless have rehearsed, and memorised the killer punch-line.

Across the Chamber is the Leader of the Opposition, with none of those advantages, armed with just six possible questions and a quick wit.

Against Brown, Cameron generally did well. He employed slick PR-man quips against a more cerebral (and therefore slower) opponent. It is also a nostrum that the Commons works to the Oxbridge debating model.

Hattie hits home

Harriet Harman (University of York, one of those arty-farty, namby-pamby Packenhams) would not be the obvious weapon of choice in the mano-a-mano that is the chauvinist confrontation that is the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions. It’s almost as if Jennie Linden (as Ursula Bragwen) had elbowed aside Alan Bates (as Rupert Birkin) to give Oliver Read (as Gerald Critch) a good seeing-to.  [If you don’t get the reference, tough: follow the link.]

Once, again, the girl done good

Is there an antonym for “machismo”? For in that abstraction, self-evidently, lies Dave Cameron’s weakness. He is not good on “tender” topics.

Today Harriet served up what should have been a sitter: the Tory plans on Health reform. Oh, come on, David: has Sir Humphrey not polished your circumlocations?

Here’s the Cameron-symp (since the fall of Senator Macarthy it’s not actionable) Spectator blog, via the flying fingers of David Blackburn, to tell the truth to power:

12:06: Harman attacks the government’s decision to end NHS targets, notably the cancer guarantee.

Woah. Cameron adds to his Northern Ireland statement, condemning the violence on the grounds that the devolved police force is represented by all members of the community.

He then defends his health policy on the grounds that cancer survival rates are not as good as they should be and that spending on treatment is more important than bureaucracy. It’s a strong answer and Cameron finishes with the political coup that the Tories will spend more on health and Labour will cut.

Bercow intervenes, saying it is not the Prime Minister’s place to ask questions.

12:10: Harman asks more questions on this line, finishing with the powerful, and I think unanswerable point that the government’s health white paper is nothing more than a re-organisation that offers speculative savings. Cameron responds by saying he’s abolishing bureaucracy.

Well, Malcolm will go with that.

What was even more telling is that Harriet pulled a theatrical. She didn’t go for her allowance of a sixth question. We watched her flounce off, with the protagonist’s punchline still unspoken. Cameron’s pre-prepared zipper had to go undelivered. It’s called scene-stealing.

OK: don’t trust Malcolm. The BBC walks on egg-shells these days, and is politically-correct to the nth-degree; but here’s Gary O’Donoghue:

Har[r]iet Harman did manage to press home some advantage on the question of the two week guarantee for cancer patients introduced by the previous government. Would it be scrapped by the coalition? No clear answer to that. The PM’s argument is that targets skew clinical priorities and several health targets such as the 48 hour maximum wait for a GP appointment have already gone. The problem for ministers is that a two week guarantee is easy to understand, and if you’re going to get rid of it, you need a simple and compelling argument to go in its place.

Nice one, gal!

Look closer and one has to spot Cameron’s gross error.

Memo to Dave:

Everyone’s mid-life fear is the Big C.

On this one, trust Malcolm.

Here it comes again, this time from the belly of the Murdoch beast, the News of the World:

The start of today’s PMQ’s seemed to start with something of a bang and slowly fizzle out after Cameron failed to safeguard the NHS two week cancer treatment guarantee.

After much probing about the future of the guarantee, Harriet Harman demanded a simple yes or no answer from Cameron.

He failed to provide her with one, exclaiming, “some people find two weeks too long.”

Then the News of the Screws power-drives a 16, Phillips cross-head, into Cameron over his inept comment about secondary eduction in Westminster.

In Cameron’s two weeks too long whinge, there resonates the echo of a lingering question:

Before those Labour NHS “targets” there were Tory waiting-lists.

How many cancer-patients were carted to the crematorium before they reached the top of the waiting list?


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Filed under David Cameron, health, Labour Party, politics

The natural party of Opposition

Just a sentence in the Ward Labour Party summons:

The 158 new constituency members in May could be the start of this.

Within hours of the ConDem coalition being announced, the membership applications to the Labour Party surged:

Almost 10,000 people have joined the party since the close of the polls. The post-election boost represents a 6% rise in its overall membership, after years of dwindling numbers willing to commit to the party…

The sharpest rise in new Labour members came after details emerged of the coalition agreement. During the course of yesterday alone, as Nick Clegg and David Cameron held their joint press conference, 4,211 joined Labour.

That represents 2½% added to the roll in just one day. In itself, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. However, what it means is new blood in some moribund corpses. Malcolm hears talk of Branch meetings quorate for the first time in months, of leaflet parties being reinvigorated by new enthusiasts.

The Leadership election is catching fire (and it’s not all for Dave Miliband).

The hustings for the London Mayorality (it’s Edmonton tonight) are a hot ticket item.

All this will feed into stronger local election efforts and results in weeks and months to come. All in all, a benign cycle.

The polls

It isn’t just the first stirrings of a polling revival, though the Tory lead seems to shrink pretty well on a daily basis. Even Mike Smithson is scenting a change in the wind:

That’s how you should treat the YouGov daily voting intention figures. Don’t pay attention to the daily movements, anything dramatic is probably sample error anyway – rather you should look at the bigger picture and watch how they develop over time. Don’t get excited over one day’s figures – Labour might be up 4 today or down 3 tomorrow, but the next election is 5 years away. What is really matters is the trend, the slow (or sometimes fast) tectonic movements in party support. With a week or a month’s worth of data we can watch a party’s support going up or down with confidence, rather than making guess from a once-a-month peek at public opinion.

Well, Mike, the Tories are on a downward slide: half the lead eroded in a month; LibDem support down as much as a half. The avalanche hasn’t happened yet (wait for that first damp, dark evening rush-hour after the clocks go back: it’s Monday 1st November), but it’s building.

Smithson has another pointer. He notes an article on Research, the Market Research news website:

by Martin Boon and John Curtice, [and] their take on why the polls overestimated the Lib Dems at the last election, based upon a call back survey of 1,200 of the respondents to their final survey.

As we all knew would happen, the polls got it awry, significantly underestimating the Labour vote, overestimating the LibDem vote, and (in may cases) seeing regional swings that weren’t there (or, in London and Scotland — and, in a different way —in Northern Ireland, were there, but went ignored). That was partly pollsters’ wishful thinking, and partly because the less-scrupulous were “proving” what their customers (the London Tory press) paid them to find.

So, guess what is Boon and Curtice’s first and foremost suggestion? Aw, you got it! Obvious, really — it had to be our old friend “late swing”. Remember: in their strange self-justification, pollsters always get it right: it’s you, Jill and Joe Public who mess up and change your tiny little minds at the very last split-second!

To be fair, even Boon and Curtice feel embarrassed at trotting out that one:

Only a small part of the bias can be accounted for by a late swing away from the Liberal Democrats. Among those who actually did vote, those who said they were going to vote Liberal Democrat were only a little less likely than Conservative and Labour supporters to vote as they had indicated. As many as 87% of those who expressed an intention to vote Liberal Democrat actually did so, while the equivalent figures for the Conservatives and Labour were 95% and 93% respectively. Those who switched to the Liberal Democrats at the last minute almost equaled those who defected.

See: even now it’s Jill’s and Joe’s fault. You’re all unreliable. You “switch”. You “defect”.

Ah, but here comes a new one:

An important role was played by the ‘Shy Tory syndrome’, that is, differential failure to declare their voting intention by those who in the event vote for one party rather than another, perhaps because they feel that their choice of party is currently unfashionable.

Except, this time it’s, more properly, “Shy Labour syndrome”. All the time Jill and Joe were harbouring in their hearts the ultimate betrayal: they were saying they would go with the trend, but were plotting to stay Labour. Remember all those ConHome and other sheer-leading sites so convinced that the polls always “over-reported” Labour support? Huh!

In 2010 no fewer than one in five of those who actually voted failed to declare their voting intention when interviewed by ICM for its final poll – and they were nearly twice as likely to vote Labour as Liberal Democrat. Although ICM’s final poll prediction (unlike many others) included an adjustment that took into account evidence that Labour voters were apparently particularly reluctant to declare their intentions, that adjustment may not have been sufficient to take full account of what actually happened.

Loud and proud

Now we are getting closer to the grassroots realities.

The Great British Public are a pretty cynical, pretty Bolshie lot, quicker to grouse and complain, than praise and applaud.

He was a nasty reactionary fascistic toad of a an anti-semite, but G.K.Chesterton produced the definitive rebuke to all pollsters and pundits:

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street…

But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

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Filed under Britain, British Left, broken society, Labour Party, Lib Dems, politics, polls