Friday, October 01, 2010

Labour in the lead

So Labour get a small polling lead from ICM.  The importance of this shouldn’t be over-stated: it’s conference season, they have a new leader, and most importantly it’s still four and a half years before the next General Election.  If the Tories are stretching for positives they should also note that the Labour share hasn’t in fact shifted (when traditionally they have enjoyed substantial boosts during conference), and that David Cameron still has a substantial lead on who makes the best Prime Minister.
 
But I think there’s no question that the Coalition has a bit of a problem getting its message out at the moment.  John Redwood identifies the problem with characteristic acuity here:
 
For the last few months the main message coming out of the Coalition is the message of “deep cuts”.  The long rambling spending review has allowed Labour politicians to get on the airwaves and excite concern about a long list of possible cuts.  It has allowed all sorts of special interest groups free rein to parade the importance of their public spending and imply it is about to be cut in clumsy ways.  It has allowed Ed Balls to confidently predict a double dip recession based on the cuts he expects.  It has damaged public confidence, and even led to a Monetary Policy Committee member demanding more money printing…
 
They [the Government] just make the task a whole lot harder if they allow the impression to gain hold that they are in it for the cuts.  That will unite the Union hotheads with Labour to fight harder.  It might even make firebrands of some moderates within the public services.  We are all in this together.  Temperate language about public spending which reflects the truth of how much money is available will serve them better than the harsh language of cuts.
 
It’s a good point – the debate on cuts has reached the point where a substantial number of people think that the cuts have gone too far when they haven’t even started yet.  But the Coalition have two audiences to play for. They first have to convince the markets that their deficit reduction measures are stringent and substantial, before trying to reassure the electorate that it’s not as bad as all that.  The first half of this strategy seems to be working – witness the IMF report on Britain’s economy:
 
The government’s strong and credible multi-year fiscal deficit reduction plan is essential to ensure debt sustainability. The plan greatly reduces the risk of a costly loss of confidence in public finances and supports a balanced recovery.
 
But that success does make it harder for the second half to kick in just yet.  The Government seems to have taken the decision that they can ride out the unpopularity for a couple of years, and then try and run a line that the cuts have ‘worked’ and thanks to the responsible policies of the Coalition etc etc. 
 
So the surprise shouldn’t be that Labour have a 2 point lead in their conference week. It should be that they only have a 2 point lead in their conference week.  I’d be surprised if Labour weren't polling a good 10 points clear of the Tories by the spring, and it wouldn’t be a great shock if they’re outpolling Tories and the Lib Dems combined.  But it’s not what happens next year that matters, it’s what happens in 2015.  Buckle up chaps, bumpy road ahead.

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