The end of Swiveleyesation as we know it?

Another magnificent coinage by the great Steve Bell:

Steve Bell 21.05.2013

Yesterday Malcolm was attempting to find some kind of historical context — or, failing that, the comedy of errors — which has led to the present Great Tory Bad-Hair Day.

Today Benedict Brogan writes his Morning Briefing for the Telegraph blogs, and sweepingly assumes it’s all water down the sink. Happy Days are Hair Again. The skies above are clear again. So we’ll sing a song of cheer again:

Well, almost:

Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

200px-Candide1759The rest of Brogan’s musings stretch for, but don’t quite reach a Panglossian optimum:

Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

[For the record, Voltaire in 1759 is parodying Leibnitz of 1698: not many people know that.]

Legacy issues

Such was the vein into which history-mining Malcolm was driving his shaft with yesterday’s piece. Let us then consider what rich ore Brogan has found:

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark. Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Really? Really! It’s all those gays? Hardly!

Brogan concludes by passing us and the tar-baby onto Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times. Ganesh asserts it’s 2010 and All That:

… the election that should detain David Cameron is the last one. The prime minister’s estrangement from his party has many causes – the inexhaustibly vexed question of Europe, the same-sex marriage bill he takes to Parliament this week – but the rancour really set in with his failure to win in 2010. This original sin led to coalition with the Liberal Democrats, a political miscegenation that turns Tory stomachs, and broke the unspoken covenant that allows a leader to be as autocratic as he likes as long he delivers. Last week, a prime ministerial ally was reported to have disparaged the party’s grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons”. “Arrogant losers” tends to be the rejoinder.

Ganesh then reprises the course of the 2010 Tory election campaign, concluding:

For all the campaign’s haplessness, the Tories ended it with roughly the same poll lead over Labour as they began it. Mr Cameron was still preferred by voters to his party. The campaign was a non-event, as they usually are. The real reason for the Tories’ failure had more to do with the economic insecurity that nagged at voters when shown blueprints for austerity by a party they already mistrusted. That the economy was slithering out of recession at the same time hardened their risk aversion. Fiscal clarity made for bad short-term politics, and yet the blame has somehow gone to other, softer aspects of the Tory offering.

The Conservatives did not fail because they were seen as high-minded metropolitans, but because they were too redolent of the same old Tories. They had changed too little, not too much. The people who should have been vindicated by 2010 were the modernisers. But their chronic passivity, their lordly distaste for a fight, has allowed a misremembered version of that election to become the definitive history. This is undermining Mr Cameron and shaping a future in which only the ideologically orthodox can lead the Tories.

That is indeed the “high-quality journalism” that the FT prudently reminds low-life, thieving types (like Malcolm, shamelessly ripping of those extracts) needs paying for. [Again, for the record, Malcolm happily pays for the print edition, especially at weekends, if only to pre-empt what he knows the Sundays will regurgitate as original thought.]

Two small details (1):

Those televised debates (and Cameron’s foolish participation in televised debates that he flunked) really screwed up the opinion polls. In a different context (to which we may come in a moment), Malcolm was reviewing just how the 2010 polling went. The answer is not very well:

2010 polling

Got that? The main impact of the televised debates was to flatter the LibDem vote by anything between 3% and 6% (which amounts to gross “data artifact“), while under-rating Tory support just slightly, and Labour’s quite significantly. One might feel that Cameron & co. have been blinded by those errors ever since.

Two small details (2):

On their perception of the election result, and of the “reliability” of the LibDems, the Cameron & co. “modernisers” entered their Mephistophelean pact with Clegg & co. — two capitalist combines monopolising the market for their short-term profit. Let’s have another 18th-century great intellect’s view on that:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (see page 111 in this e-text)

An alternative history

Wind back to Friday, 7th May, 2010, with the last of the 649 results coming in (the 650th, a safe Tory seat — Thirsk and Malton, was delayed by the death of a candidate). This is what we saw:

  • Tories: 305 (and bound to be 306);
  • Labour: 258, plus Caroline Lucas, the Green for Brighton Pavilion, and Sylvia Herman, likely to attend infrequently but then vote with Labour (so call it around 260);
  • Lib Dems: 57, plus Naomi Long for Alliance in East Belfast (so 58 at a pinch);
  • DUP: 8;
  • SNP: 6;
  • SDLP, Plaid Cymru: 3 apiece.

The Speaker is neutral, though votes for the government in a tie, and Sinn Féin are non-attenders (so, n=650-6). A cynical calculation is the cash-strapped sand bruised Labour and LibDem contingents aren’t too keen on a quick re-run; but, more to the point, there are at least a score of odds-and-sods turkeys there who can’t afford to vote for Christmas (sayn n=650-26). The most basic “working majority” would be, in practice, well short of the nominal 326 (the calculation above suggests 312 at most)— and Dave’s Tories are within a spit of just that.

So, in the short term, Dave’s Tories could talk the talk, cobble a “confidence and supply” arrangement with even the DUP (306+8=314), and walk the walk through until a second election in the autumn. By which moment Tory coffers, uniquely among the main operators, would be topped up by the grateful and expectant clique of bond-traders and hedge-funders.

A second election, please note, that could have been contrived by losing a vote of confidence on some populist issue (immigration?). A second election, too, in which the Tory economic record would be buffed up by the tail-end of Alistair Darling’s economics (it was only in the autumn of 2010, thanks to Osborne’s austerity, that the UK economy went into flat-lining).

In short, had Cameron done the right thing, the Tory thing, he would now likely be sitting on a secure Tory majority, and figuring his way to calling the next election at his choosing, on his terms, and not on those of the LibDem dictated Fixed-term Parliaments Act. He would also have enjoyed the benefits of a greater patronage for Tory backbench nonentities, not having to service the self-esteem of LibDem nonentities.

All the Tory back-benchers, and the wannabes out in the cold have done that math. The iron has entered their souls.

One last thing

We were looking there at how the polling companies had cocked it up. Enter the new-boy on the block, Survation. Ben Brogan (see above) gave that a nod in passing:
The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Look closer, and we find The Guardian, doesn’t give Survation more than the time of day.

Andrew Sparrow counters with the YouGov/Sun numbers:

Last night Survation released a poll showing the Tories just two points ahead of Ukip.

Here are the figures.
Labour: 39% (down 1 from YouGov in the Sunday Times)
Conservatives: 31% (up 2)
Ukip: 14% (no change)
Lib Dems: 10% (up 1)
Labour lead: 8 points (down 3)
Government approval: -34 (up 5)

Finally, let’s hear it from Anthony Wells (whose shock-factor is also set to minimum):

Survation have put out a new poll, the topline voting intention figures are CON 24%(-5), LAB 35%(-1), LD 11%(-1), UKIP 22%(+6). The 22% for UKIP is the first poll to show them breaking the twenty percent mark.
In many ways the high UKIP score here shouldn’t come as a surprise, for methodological reasons Survation tend to show the highest levels of UKIP support so if ICM have them at 18% and ComRes at 19% I would have expected Survation to have them in the low twenties. Striking it may be, but the increase in UKIP support is actually in line with what weve seen elsewhere, just using a method that is kinder to UKIP.
More interesting is the drop in Tory support, down five points on Survation’s poll in April. The poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday so at least partially after the “swivel eyed loon” story broke (it came out in Saturday’s papers, so broke about 10pm on Friday night). All the usual caveats I apply to any poll showing sharp or unusual results apply. Sure, it might indicate a shift in support, but just as likely its a blip – wait to see if it is reflected in any other polling. As Twyman’s Law of market research says “anything surprising or interesting is probably wrong”.

As Wells implies, there, swallowing Survation might not produce the glorious summer the Kippers expect. More likely, “up like the rocket, and down like the stick”: UKIP is hardly the best-presented pyrotechnic in the box.

Swiveleyesation may endure yet.

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Filed under Alistair Darling, Autumn, BBC, blogging, Britain, Conservative Party policy., Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, democracy, DUP, economy, Elections, fiction, George Osborne, Green Party, Guardian, History, Homophobia, Literature, policing, polls, Steve Bell, Tories.

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