Magazine article The Spectator

With Many Tories Likely to Vote Lib Dem, a Hung Parliament Seems a Real Possibility

Magazine article The Spectator

With Many Tories Likely to Vote Lib Dem, a Hung Parliament Seems a Real Possibility

Article excerpt

Since it is probably as well that those of us who earn a living by political punditry should occasionally have a spasm of humility, let me share one of my own with you. I know in my heart that Labour is likely to win the next election, but I cannot for the life of me understand how. In the old days, when a Labour government made an imperial mess of things, there was a bright, shiny new Conservative opposition waiting to take over. If, in the 1960s or 1970s, we had a Labour government that had presided over a precipitous decline in standards in the public service while hiking up taxation, raiding pension funds and systematically lying to the British people, they would have been out like a shot. Yes, I know, the Conservative party is doing its irresistible impression of the proverbial one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest, but its utter inability to do its job does not provide the answer to one fundamental question: who the hell is going to vote Labour?

In 1997, as is well known, Labour won not least because millions of middle-class people voted for them. Many crossed straight over from the Tories, bent on the act of national salvation of removing John Major from office. In 2001 some of these people ended the flirtation, but chose to abstain rather than vote for anyone else, though a significant minority went to the Liberal Democrats. In the first four years Labour had not only shown that it was less friendly to the middle classes than it had pretended to be, not least by implementing serious rises in indirect taxes. It had also failed to improve the public services, of which the consumerist middle classes were increasingly critical. Above all, several acts of alleged impropriety (not all of which involved Peter Mandelson) had served to remind people that the political class in general was decaying, and that corrupt behaviour was not the exclusive province of the Tories. So long as the apostates became abstainers, Labour had little to fear. If they choose to vote elsewhere, however, then the massive majority starts to crumble.

Assuming we have an election in just over five months' time, Labour has two distinct reasons for anxiety. The first is that the middle classes have been even more alienated in the last four years than they were in the previous four. The second is that competence and achievement have reached such low levels in that time that abstention might not be enough for some people, despite the apparent absence of a conviction-led opposition. Appalled by the pusillanimity of a Conservative party that wants to pay people to look after their grandchildren, and seems to believe in only what its media advisers tell it that focus groups approve of, their first port of call might well be the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, although we are still far away from the event and anything might happen, the Lib Dems look more and more like being the main beneficiaries of the forthcoming poll, despite having even fewer beliefs than the two main parties. Mr Howard and, to a lesser extent, Mr Blair might rail against the unfairness of such a prospect; but the fact is that the Lib Dems are the only one of the big parties whose credibility awaits destruction.

Labour certainly has driven away its support since 2001. The Iraq war has sent serious socialists off to the Respect party, and less serious ones to the Lib Dems. Pensioners, always susceptible to Labour's welfarist largesse, are instead increasingly under the impression that Gordon Brown has stolen their money and forced upon them a dotage in penury. …

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