Britain's new opposition party?!
April 21, 2005 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Britain's new opposition party?! Despite outraising and outspending all other parties, Britain's conservative Tory party is falling in the polls to P.M. Tony Blair's "New Labour" party. This collapse seems likely to increase; just days after conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch indicated his love of cheap labour, his paper "The Sun" is endorsing Blair. What isn't being pointed out, though, is that the Liberal Democrats are gaining former Labour voters just as fast as Labour is gaining conservative voters. A British public opinion site indicates that 43% of its visitors support LibDem policies, while the Guardian's unofficial "poll-u-like" shows 45% support for the LibDems, even though The Guardian has encouraged its readers to "hold their nose" and vote for Blair. Given that prior election polls in Britain have been off by as much as 19%, could there be a major shift here?
posted by insomnia_lj (32 comments total)
The Conservatives just aren't making a case for why people should vote for them instead of Blair. Also a lot of their campaign ideas are just plain stupid ("It's not racist to impose limits on immigration"? WTF?). Even someone who's never been in an election knows it's a bad idea to associate the word "racist" with oneself, even in a negative capacity.

Tories also have a knack for choosing the wrong candidates to head them. Even given that IDS was an awful choice, he still beats Michael Howard IMHO, who carries the taint of previous unpopular Tory administrations.
posted by clevershark at 12:51 PM on April 21, 2005

Seems pretty unlikely.

Last election the voting went:
Labour: 41%
Conservative: 32%
Liberal Democrats: 18%
Others: 9%

Current polls have the Lib Dems on 20%, 22%, 21%, 21%, 21%, 23%. An improvement, but not a huge gain, even compared to the Conservatives.

Basically as I read it, both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives have outsmarted themselves this campaign. The 2001 campaign was a ferocious battle over the centre ground of caring soft capitalism. This time the Conservatives have tried to avoid the battle by going hard right, the Lib Dems have tried to avoid the battle by marketing themselves to the left... and the result is that Labour is sitting comfortably in the moderate centre.

Also, while the Lib Dems are presenting themselves as being on the Left, it's not really backed up by their policies. For instance, they want to cut the Child Trust Fund, a benefit that goes to all children; and replace it with free University education. Despite raising income tax for the top 1%, they're still transfering large sums of money from the poor to the middle class.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:07 PM on April 21, 2005

Down with the torries! Down with blair!
posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on April 21, 2005

The problem is Blair - a man who believes in nothing, has no ideas, and is only there because he was once electable. Now he isn't electable anymore so the electorate are all scratching their heads as to why he's still stinking up the ballot paper - even the Labour MPs can't disassociate themselves from him quickly enough.

This also shows the folly of ignoring the largest protest that this country has seen in a very long time - ignore it now, pay at the election. It also doesn't help him that even though many people have differing views on the outcome of Iraq, they're all pretty certain that Blair lied and lied again to get us there.

I'll be voting LibDem, and there's a very good chance that Labour will lose my seat. The more seats Labour lose the better - because let's face it, the only people who can get rid of Blair sooner rather than later are Labour MPs scared of losing their seats in the election after this one.
posted by dodgygeezer at 1:10 PM on April 21, 2005

This time the Conservatives have tried to avoid the battle by going hard right, the Lib Dems have tried to avoid the battle by marketing themselves to the left... and the result is that Labour is sitting comfortably in the moderate centre.

I'd disagree with this summary. I'd say the LibDems are exactly where you'd expect them, in the centre. Labour are using Clinton's old technique (called triangulation I think) which completely fucks up the political landscape. They take up some of the centre-left policies you'd expect them to, but then move into moderate right wing territory (immigration, crime) so the Tories are pushed out to the more extreme right wing territory to make their mark.
posted by dodgygeezer at 1:29 PM on April 21, 2005

Where's Karl Rove when you need him? Are there any deeply xenophobic measures he can put on the referendum to get the pro-Tory vote out?

Can someone fix it for Tony? Are there any other Bush surrogates in play on the other side of the pond, or is all of this Euro-Protesting against the Blair-Bush prison marriage teflon against Blair's re-election?
(just wondering)
posted by vhsiv at 1:29 PM on April 21, 2005

Labour; introducing detention without trial, voluntary (compulsary) ID cards, spiralling tax burden on those with fixed incomes, dictatorial parliamentary whips and a maddening proclivity for private investment in formerly public bodies; are not sitting comfortably in the moderate centre.
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:37 PM on April 21, 2005

Not really surprised that the Tories (sorry, they're the Conservative party now) are failing in the polls when they hire a spin doctor well known for his racist campaining.

I loathe Tony but I loathe the creature of the night Howard just that bit more.
posted by ciderwoman at 1:44 PM on April 21, 2005

There's only one opposition party worthy of the name. And now there's an American branch, too.
posted by lagavulin at 1:45 PM on April 21, 2005

Slightly off-topic, C-SPAN recently aired a BBC interview of Charles Kennedy conducted by one Jeremy Paxman. From my perspective (of complete ignorance), I thought Kennedy acquitted himself quite well, while Paxman came across as a total fucking dick. Can anyone from the UK shed some light on the matter? Is Paxman typical of the current state of your mainstream news media, or merely a vile anomaly (a sort of British equivalent of Bill O'Reilly)?
posted by gigawhat? at 1:46 PM on April 21, 2005

The LibDems, my own party until the Green party realise there's more to politics than recycling, are the only considerable left-wing choice. They claim not to be the party on the left, because even the Labour party abandoned that realm as "unsafe" when they dumped Clause 4 under Blair. You still can't be can't be said to be left-wing as a party fighting for power because there is still a terrible stigma about socialism because it implies grubby workforces taking the reigns of power.

With policies like removing the blanket injustices of the council tax, repealing university tuition fees, free health and social care for the elderly and an increased tax burden on the very wealthy, the Liberal Democrats are not what you could call a confusingly central party.

Socialist policies do not imply that a party will be soft on crime, either. I'm not sure what a typical left-wing response to crime would be, but I'm fairly certain, dodgygeezer, that a right-wing adgenda would not include work, education and retraining as fundamental reforms to the prison system.
posted by NinjaPirate at 1:51 PM on April 21, 2005

Well, it'd be unusual if it did happen. Typically with a three party system, and the current government going for its THIRD term, the smallest party gets squeezed.

The Lib Dems have also gone with some unpopular policies (for normal Tory voters) such as:
  • Replacing local council tax with a tax based on the overall income of a household. Pretty difficult to enforce and slightly unfair. We already have income tax, why should Joe Smith living next door to Joe Bloggs pay more council tax?
  • Free care for the elderly. Massively expensive, and will no doubt involve more taxes. And why should the elderly, many of whom can afford it already, get free care?
  • More relaxed immigration controls.
This said, I'll probably vote for them on grounds of the Iraq war. I just wish they wouldn't keep telling us we'll get lots of free things - it can only increase our taxes! Although not having to pay tuition fees would be nice...

Oh, and I've been impressed by the Times Online web coverage of the election. And on preview i seem to completely disagree with NinjaPirate!
posted by iso_bars at 2:02 PM on April 21, 2005

gigawhat: Paxman is pretty even-handedly contemptuous to all politicians from all parties.

Now regarding some of the other links...

I'm not sure how accurate the "Who should you vote for" quiz results are in terms of predicting election results. Their results in order are:

LibDem 43%
Green 18%
UKIP 17%
Conservative 12%
Labour 11%

I notice that it's the three smallest parties that are in the lead there, with the two major parties roughly even at the bottom. I don't think that really means much beyond that you can make a lot of promises if you know you're not going to gain power.

Regarding the Scotsman "gaining former Labour voters just as fast " link which says about the Lib Dems:

Its poll rating has edged up to 22 per cent, two points higher than it was a week ago. Hardly dramatic, but it was a trend on which nearly all the polls published yesterday agreed. Both ICM and YouGov put the party two points higher than they did a week ago, while Communicate had the party four points up on its last poll before Easter.

Meanwhile, ICM also reported the party’s support was up a point or two in key marginal seats.

Given that these polls have a error margin of 3%, I don't think you can read too much into shifts that small.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:04 PM on April 21, 2005

Paxman isn't a dick - he's the most popular political journalist in the country. I think it comes down to a difference in the way we treat our politicians. In the UK, we expect to give them a grilling and make them justify themselves. We never forget they are public servants. In the USA, it seems to be the other way round; there is this unhealthy atmosphere of deference. Bush wouldn't last a week under the sort of questioning UK politicians take for granted. Remember that interview he did with that Irish journalist? That's par for the course over here.
posted by salmacis at 2:06 PM on April 21, 2005

[rant ensues]

Paxman's become a contemptible parody of himself. During the election in '97, he was at the forefront of a breed of interviewers learning that, once they had a politician in the studio and on camera, they held the whip in the eyes of the public.

It was good for a while. Politicians may not have answered more questions, but we were a whole lot more aware of when they weren't answering. Paxman didn't let the fluff pass as a response and as such became somewhat resented in Parliament, much as John Humphries was on BBC Radio 4. If you went on their shows, you'd get exposure, but you'd get bitten.

Recently he's become infatuated with his own power, I think, and his questions seem to have invited waffle and therefore a battle.

Don't take me wrong, he was unbearably smug before, but at least he was "sticking to the man". These days he's sticking it to the camera.

There are other interviewers who get a lot more from politicians with a lot less needle. Jon Snow, Alex Thomson and the impeccable Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 and the underrated Gavin Esler on the BBC. Kirsty Wark is pretty good, but I fear she's falling to the same narcissism as Paxman.

[i'm done now, you can clear away the glass]
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:08 PM on April 21, 2005

I love Paxman, gigawhat? If for nothing else for the time he asked Michael Howard the same question 12 times and not once did he get a decent reply.

And let's not forget the way he reads the weather.

And my ex used to live next door to him and said he was a very nice man.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:10 PM on April 21, 2005

Pazzer's take on this, as well as Realplayer clips of him reading the forecast (scroll down to the bottom), here.
posted by carter at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2005

"Current polls have the Lib Dems on 20%, 22%, 21%, 21%, 21%, 23%. An improvement, but not a huge gain, even compared to the Conservatives."

True, but those poll results are weighted considerably towards past voting patterns, which accounts in no small part why they are wrong so often and by so much. They assume that a higher percentage of Conservatives and Labour will come out to vote than LibDems, for instance, and target households with stable land lines, as opposed to younger demographics which tend to have mobile phones. Such targeting also skews against those who are poorer and who tend to rent rather than own a home.

In the most recent Populus phone poll, for example, only 15% of those polled identified themselves as supporting LibDem in the last election. That said, 21% indicated their intent to vote LibDem this time around. If you were to statistically weight this focus group to represent the average population, you'd have multiply the LibDems by at least 1.2, if not more. That would easily give them 25% of the vote. In addition, another poll indicated a threefold increase in the number of undecided voters, which make up about 20% of potential voters. These polls also indicate that undecided voters are strongly favoring the Liberal Democrats in this election.

Blair is in a catch-22 -- the more the Conservatives decline in the polls, the more likely it is that jilted Labour voters will feel comfortable that they can cast their vote for the Liberal Democrats without helping the Conservatives.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:58 PM on April 21, 2005

Paxman is a national treasure, see his interview with Tony Blair if you don't believe me. Video available here. He isn't typical, his nearest equivilent I'd say is Jon Snow from Channel 4, and that's a shame - we could do with more arse kickers out there. I think the Kennedy one looks bad because there was less to attack him over so he's stuck with asking him about 16 year olds being allowed in sex shops(!).
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:12 PM on April 21, 2005

True, but those poll results are weighted considerably towards past voting patterns, which accounts in no small part why they are wrong so often and by so much. They assume that a higher percentage of Conservatives and Labour will come out to vote than LibDems, for instance, and target households with stable land lines, as opposed to younger demographics which tend to have mobile phones.

Y'all wanna be *real* careful about counting on stuff like this panning out for ya. Many American lefties were taking comfort in the "they don't poll cell phones!" concept right up until we lost.
posted by hackly_fracture at 3:15 PM on April 21, 2005

It's pretty much in the bag, this election. Even if Labour went in with a 1% lead, they'd come out with a majority of about 80 seats. There is, however, a whole lot of party spin going on about how close it will be just to stop the Labour vote staying at home.

As for sticking it to the men, I'd still like to get Howard back for the Criminal Justice Act 1994 -- which, among other horrors, banned "music with repetitive beats" being played outdoors without a licence, essentially killing rave -- more than I would Blair for Iraq.
posted by bonaldi at 3:24 PM on April 21, 2005

A Populus election poll of 18-24 year olds taken for NME indicates the following:

Liberal Democrats 37%
Labour 26%
Conservatives 17%

What's interesting is that these statistics are about 11% higher for the Liberal Democrats than the youth figures in the latest Populus general poll. Odd.
posted by insomnia_lj at 5:07 PM on April 21, 2005

Most importantly, what does Billy Bragg think?
posted by Jimbob at 6:26 PM on April 21, 2005

the more likely it is that jilted Labour voters will feel comfortable that they can cast their vote for the Liberal Democrats without helping the Conservatives.

Is there anything less efficient than first-past-the-post voting systems at representing the true intent of voters?

Outside of the UK's national elections (I believe the regional UK government elections in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales use some version of STV or PR), the US, and Canada, it seems that the last countries still using this 19th century weirdness are small islands and mainly dodgy african oligarchies.
posted by meehawl at 7:43 PM on April 21, 2005

the election is over. gordon brown won. two weeks ago 'sources close to the prime minister' were saying blair was going to ditch brown after the election. now it's just a matter of when brown takes over.

blair has had the devils's own luck. no opposition, massive majority and an inept predecessor. but his luck has run out. in general, people's voting intentions are for a labour government without blair. this is the engine of tactical voting this time around. indeed on may 6, blair will be, to use a line robin cook used about the major administration, in office but not in power.

labour is in deep trouble - party membership has halved since 1997 and activists are just not being active. the clintonesque triangulation and re-positioning did work, but it ripped the heart from the party.

i just get the feeling that politics is broken. it's the way we elect representatives that just doesn't work anymore. voters are less tribal in their affiliations now and more look to vote - not for what they want - but how they can vote against what they like the least.

the one advantage of the uk's first past the post system is that it tends to deliver a government, rather than a coalition. But in an age where a difference of a mere 8% in votes can deliver a landslide, there is something wrong. in this scenario many people don't feel like voting, they feel that their vote doesn't count. and they're right, in many cases it doesn't.
posted by quarsan at 10:33 PM on April 21, 2005


spot on. IMHO the Tories have made a serious tactical error, those Labour voters pissed off with Tony and Iraq who might have been tempted to switch alliegance have now been reminded just what a right wing creep Howard is and decided that a Labour vote is the only option.

I also think the result will be bit closer than the polls suggest, as it's hard to work out how tactical voting will effect individual seats.

Overall Labour majority of 50 is my guess.
posted by johnny novak at 1:25 AM on April 22, 2005

quarsan, that line about being in office but not in power, was Norman Lamont's. He used it in his resignation speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to nail John Major. I agree with your sentiments, though.

The trouble with the LibDem numbers, traditionally, is that good pre-election polling numbers rarely translate into significant gains in seats. This is due, in large part, to the first-past-the-post system here in the UK. With this system, a party has to reach a voting threshold, beyond which large gains are possible, at the expense of the party formerly in second place. The last time this happened was after the Great War, when Labour ousted the Liberals to become one of the two main parties. Since then, unfortunately, the main parties have become a lot savvier about protecting their interests.
posted by veedubya at 1:53 AM on April 22, 2005

Vote for the Lib dems, get PR then vote for who you like. It's a long term strategy.
Paxman asked Blair 20 times how many illegal immigrants there are in the UK, not getting an answer once. I could have given him a better answer than Blair managed to splutter, Blair needed better briefing on this subject considering how much the Tories are relying on the immigration card.
The only reason that the Tories can take advantage of immigration as an issue is that Labour have been trying to use immigration as a scapegoat as well. Not publishing reports that they have commisioned on the effect of immigrant labour has also further muddied the waters. If people were conversant with the fact that immigrant workers contribute £2billion/year to our economy after the enourmous cost of the current immigration system (benefits for 6 months before you are allowed to start work, incarceration, forced housing, sending failed immigrants back to their possible deaths by plane and the legal bills associated) the Tories might not want to play the card so obviously.
The Tories can use the words immigrant, terrorist and threat together only because of the ignorance of the majority on these subjects. Labour have done nothing to help themselves here. Labour have done alot of good setting up programs to research into social issues, but they are not making this obvious, which will hamper the reccomendations being put into place once again due to ignorance.
In related news the Scottish are hoping that we will let them have the asylum seekers who fail the new english test. They are accutely aware that they/we need a large amount of immigration to balance the greying population.
This report just in: Tories use cheap immigrant labour to deliver election leaflets in marginal seats.
posted by asok at 3:21 AM on April 22, 2005

Replacing local council tax with a tax based on the overall income of a household. Pretty difficult to enforce and slightly unfair. We already have income tax, why should Joe Smith living next door to Joe Bloggs pay more council tax?

iso_bars, that a pretty odd way of looking at a local income tax. It would be just as easy to enforce as any other tax and a lot fairer than the current tax which is based on house size. Smith and Bloggs already pay differing rates of tax and they do so in a rather unfair way.

On Paxo: I do like him but his style (and John Humphreys) are having a negative effect on political discourse. What NinjaPirate said.
posted by ninebelow at 3:55 AM on April 22, 2005

To agree with what's already been said here - It will be a comfortable Labour majority, no matter what. I wouldn't be surprised if they don't actually lose as many seats as most people expect. Polls don't mean much with a first past the post system... Overall, percentage of votes doesn't change that much compared to seats.

ninebelow - I probably didn't explain myself very well. Basically, I'm suggesting it will be slightly trickier to enforce due to being based on the entire households income, rather than the individuals. Plenty of room for confusion and tax dodging with that, I should think.

I also think it's a little unfair to have another tax based on income. I certainly don't like the current system, don't get me wrong. However, seeing as council tax (in theory) should be paying for local services that everyone enjoys, regardless of wealth, I can't see why richer households ought to pay more. We already have one income tax.

But then, I'm one of those weirdos who thinks there's far too much taxation. We pay income tax on everything we earn, then VAT on everything we buy, plus enormous taxes on fuel, drink and other odds and sods. Not to mention stamp duty, and pretty big death dutys! Easily half of what you earn ends up going to the government. And is then promptly wasted on ID cards...

I also find it worrying that the best political criticism of the government generally comes from TV satire and Paxman, rather than the Torys!
posted by iso_bars at 7:54 AM on April 22, 2005

Paxman ROCKS. He's smart, well-informed, relentless and - as someone already observed - extremely even-handed in his mistrust for and contemptuous impatience with the shocking shower of shits who have the ineffable arrogance to seek to rule us. To compare him with the likes of O'Reilly is to show that you're really not paying attention. O'Reilly is a lying, dishonest, underhand, propaganda-spewing pit bull of the US right. Paxman is a righteous rottweiler whose primary objective is to make those sneaky, fallacy-spewing, self-serving slimeballs sweat like the slippery motherfuckers they are. It is an extremely healthy and sensible thing to show politicians absolutely NO deference and to never give them the benefit of the doubt. A politician is a creature who should always, always, always be approached with mistrust and the assumption of ulterior motives.

I'd love to see Paxman unleashed on Dubya. I'd pay big money for that.
posted by Decani at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2005

Thanks for the info on Paxman, guys. Having seen only this one interview, I got the mistaken impression that he was a conservative shill (hence the O'Reilly comparison). I agree that we could use a hard-hitting journalist of his caliber on this side of the Atlantic, someone who would really put the screws to Bush in a press conference -- but I'm not holding my breath.
posted by gigawhat? at 2:39 PM on April 22, 2005

« Older PapaRatzi - no soup for you!   |   Microsoft refuses to support gay rights bill Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments