The Tories want to park the bus. But the wheels are falling off

by Jonathan Todd

This was the week that the supposed Long Term Economic Plan (LTEP) gave way to short term miscalculation. The question is whether it will have a resonance deep enough to reach beyond the narrow cadre of the politically obsessed and long enough to be felt on 7 May.

It was a good week for Labour. And there are precious few weeks left before the election. The Tory plan was to stuff them full of LTEP. Park a bus of LTEP on the playing field of the election and close off all Labour routes to goal. Lynton Crosby as José Mourinho. But the wheels have looked like they are falling off the Tory bus.

“You had one job,” Crosby must ruefully lament. Instead of LTEP, Cameron needlessly diminished himself by triggering speculation about the Tory leadership and increased agitation among the runners and riders to focus on positioning in this race. It’s akin to John Terry tossing aside mid-match the armband that denotes the Chelsea captain.

That Cameron holds a commanding poll lead over Miliband on prime ministerial suitability is as much a foundation of the Tory campaign as Terry’s belligerent authority is of Chelsea’s strategy. Cameron calculates that this advantage is too precious to be risked in a head-to-head debate with Miliband. We might see more – as Stephen Bush puts it – Dirk Kuyt type antics from Miliband, dramatically improving his performance at key moments, a la the ex Liverpool striker. Yet it was nothing Kuyt-like from Miliband that raised questions about Cameron’s leadership. It was what the prime minister himself needlessly said to the BBC.

George Osborne managed to avoid an omnishambles in the last Budget of this Parliament. He pulled few rabbits from his hat. He made himself at home in LTEP’s parked bus. And in doing so, many thought he’d set the electoral terms of debate. This presumption underestimated Tory capacity for cock up.

While the spectacular defeat for the government in their attempt to change the rules on election of the speaker will likely alter no general election votes, it was an unnecessary distraction. There is speculation that this was recognised by Tories defending marginal seats.

These Tories know that their thwarted defenestration of John Bercow was as productive a use of time as Chelsea players squabbling over their preferred kit man (or woman) on the eve of a match. The kit man (or woman) matters. We couldn’t expect the wages of the players to stretch to laying out their own their kit. They’d be at risk of running out naked if left to their own witless devices. The speaker matters too. The commons would be as unseemly as twenty two naked men chasing a ball without the speaker’s moderation. But no one can name of the Chelsea kit man (or woman). Just as debates about the speaker are an unregistered abstraction to 99.9 per cent of voters.

In messing about with the cog in the machine that is the speaker, the Tories deployed the “tinkerman” tactics of Claudio Ranieri, one of Mourinho’s predecessors as Chelsea manager, as oppose to the crushing, bus parking ways of the Portuguese. If they are capable of doing Ranieri when their intension is to be Mourinho, their befuddlement has no depths.

In his book on winners, which I won in the raffle at a fundraiser for the Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) Labour Party last week, Alastair Campbell compares Mourinho to Ho Chi Minh. “He was pragmatic to the last, in the international diplomatic arena and on the war fields of Indochina”. You’d know where you stood with Mourinho in the trenches too. But increasingly not with the Tories. It is unclear who is in charge and they remain capable of dropping the ball.

The Tories won – just about – the war of 2010, fought against the backdrop of the financial crisis, but they are struggling to win the peace of 2015, an election that cries out for an optimistic vision of the country that we could become as the financial crisis recedes to memory, a future which no one now seems capable of giving traction to.

YouGov have ran 8 polls of voting intention since I last wrote about their tracker. These 8 polls give Labour an average lead of 0.5 per cent. In contrast, the 12 polls in March that preceded them came to a statistical tie between the Tories and Labour. 7 of the 8 also averaged to a statistical tie. It was the Sunday Times poll that pushed Labour into an average of a 0.5 per cent lead over the 8 polls.

Another YouGov tracker reveals a record high for this parliament in the proportion of the electorate reporting the economy as doing well. No big jump. It just nudged up to 31 per cent, having had 3 entries at 30 per cent, continuing its long, slow ascent.

This ascent plus the parked bus of LTEP should spell trouble for Labour but this ascent may not matter if Crosby cannot quickly get the wheels back on the bus. The buzz of the DaWN dinner – where comedian Jo Brand, outgoing MPs Tessa Jowell and Frank Dobson, and PPC Helen Hayes were warmly received – betrayed a party that feels on power’s threshold. This week of Tory shambles justifies this confidence.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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11 Responses to “The Tories want to park the bus. But the wheels are falling off”

  1. Ex labour says:

    Good lord Jonathan you need to calm down a little. It sounds like you were wetting your pants writing this.

    Firstly Cameron gave a straight answer to a straight question ….shock horror politician tells truth. As for setting off speculation it has been ever thus with the object of your self flagellation Miliband. Granted the expected car crash interview didn’t materialise and the triumphalism over the Yougov poll is now short lived as the Comres one shows today. Even after nearly five years there is still speculation and today we hear of “future leader ” Dan Jarvis.

    As for Bercow and the Tories “spectacular” defeat, are you really serious ? Outside the Westminster bubble it means nothing to the public. Bercow has little man syndrome and has constantly over reached his authority, and the final straw was the Canberra Caterer affair where he tried to usurp parliament. The vote was no more than a slap down from the Tories, but sadly Labour came to his rescue on a whipped vote. Really ? A whipped vote calling MP’s back from their constituencies for this was ridiculous. Was this Ed’s new politics in action ?

    Remember the old saying ” it’s the economy stupid “. We know of course that when people go into the voting booth they think a little differently from what they say to pollsters. The question they will ask is should we give the keys to the new car to those who crashed the old one ? No.

  2. Tafia says:

    As well as the Sunday Times poll, at the same time there was an Opinium Poll for the Observer giving the tories a 1% lead and a ComRes poll giving the Tories a 4% lead.

    If you look at the polls over the last three months, the trend has gone from always a Labour lead, to slowly but surely the Tories being shown in front more and more frequently.

    Some very good in-depth analysis knocking around that shows that both sides will need at least two other parties to get a majority (Labour the SNP plus at least one other, Tories at least three not from SNP, Plaid or Green). That Scotland – because of the way the vote distributes and the vagueries of FPTP, could see Labour dropping to one seat and the Tories increasing to two. Not bad going if it happens, dropping from first to fourth in behind SNP, LibDem and Tory in the pace of one Parliament.

  3. Tafia says:

    Other interesting recent polls include Ipsos Mori, who found that:

    84% either agree or tend to agree with stricter work-capability tests.
    78% agree with the idea that benefits should be docked if people turn down work
    62% support benefits being capped “if people choose to have more children”.
    57% back capping housing benefits
    There is also more support than opposition for the Spare Room Subsidy/Bedroom Tax.

    So expect the tories to make big play on being seen to be tough on benefits. In addition, with Miliband totally ruling out an EU referendum, expect UKIP and the Tories to start picking up votes in the north of England and in Wales where anti-EU sentiment is quite strong among working class Labour voters.

  4. Tafia says:

    Tonight’s YouGov has them neck and neck on 35% each. So including yesterday:-

    29/03 (Opinium/Observer) CON 34, LAB 33, UKIP 13, LDEM 8, GRN 7
    29/03 (YouGov/S Times) CON 32, LAB 36, UKIP 13, LDEM 8, GRN 6
    29/03 (ComRes/Mail/ITV) CON 36, LAB 32, UKIP 12, LDEM 9, GRN 5
    30/03 (YouGov/Sun) CON 35, LAB 35, UKIP 12, LDEM 8, GRN 5

    Notice UKIP/LDEM/GRN are fairly settled and largely static – grim for Clegg. Also Labour lead in one, Tories lead in two and one is tied.

    There’s also another poll knocking about which I haven’t managed to pin down yet showing a 2% Tory lead.

    The one of interest due in a couple of days is an in-depth one of the 8 most marginal seats in England.

    The trend over the last 3 months is slowly towards blue.

  5. Tafia says:

    In fact there were 2 more today – not just the one I couldn’t find.

    30/03 (Populus) CON 34, LAB 34, UKIP 15, LDEM 8, GRN 4
    30/03 (Ashcroft) CON 36, LAB 34, UKIP 10, LDEM 6, GRN 7

  6. Dave Roberts. says:

    I had a long session yesterday with a leading member and sometime candidate for various positions in an inner London Labour constituency party. Even though the meeting was in a Wetherspoons over several pints of real ale he was exceedingly despondent about the prospects for his party.

    It is clear that the realists in the party have crunched the numbers and it doesn’t look good for Labour. The Tories will, and are able, to do deals with both the DUP and UKIP. The demands of these two are containable withing the broader Tory agenda.

    The crunch factor is what will a much reduced Lib Dem party do? It will have thirty or so seats and is therefore a power broker but will it shift to Labour after five years of decrying exactly the sort of policies that now constitute the Labour manifesto? Unlikely as both sides would seem to complete opportunists.

    I am told that Milliband has totally ruled out any deal with the SNP so he has to rely on The Greens. Not much cheer there I am afraid.

  7. Madasafish says:

    I’ve read this article three times and tried to make sense of it. I must be growing (even more) senile.

    At best it sounds as if written in a panic, at worst something written after an intake of good alcohol.

    Have a look at the chart of Consumer Confidence from 2008.. the highest it has been since 2008.

    Says it all…

  8. fred says:

    Tafia – What you’re saying about the polls is complete nonsense. You tell us that the Tories are “being shown in front more and more” whilst every single polling guru is summarising the situation as “neck and neck”. There were 14 polls last week. Five of the polls showed dead heats between Labour and the Conservatives, there were three Tory leads and six Labour leads. When 75 per cent or more of the polls show a consistent lead for the Tories for 10 days or more, then it will be true. In the meantime, stop grasping at individual polls.

    In early January, on this blog, Atul announced that the Tories would be in the lead by four points by now. What’s happened to that prediction?

    It didn’t happen after the budget, it didn’t happen after the first debate – now we’re being told by Conservative observers that it’s going to happen “after Easter”. Or maybe as you point out it’s going to happen because of Labour’s attitude to an EU referendum or the public’s attitude to welfare cuts. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

    The fact remains – none of us know what the result is going to be. But repeating the line of this blog – “Labour is useless; the Tories will win a majority” is looking more and more like a losing position.

  9. paul barker says:

    Freds idea that you need three-quarters of the polls to show Tory leads is nonsense. In December Labour had a lead of of 3% ! Even then only two-thirds of the polls showed a Labour lead.
    Of the last 9 polls 5 have shown Tory leads & 2 Labour, not enough yet to be sure theres an overall Tory lead but how sure do we need to be ?

  10. Tafia says:

    Fred, Three months ago Labour always led in every poll. No ties, no tory leads now and again. Always Labour.

    Now, ties and the odd tory lead are common. Three months ago 14 consecutive polls would have shown 14 consecutive Labour leads. What do 14 consecutive polls show now Fred? – You’ve already answered.

    If you cant see how the trend has moved, I suggest you stay out of polls.

  11. John Reid says:

    Interesting, that no one knows the turnout, and that it’s only in Midlands West England constituencies, where it’s straight atory labour right, that the key constituencies deciding the result will be decided

    The Kent Surrey, outer Essex areas whe Ex Tories will g o to Ukip, won’t effect the result, the Tories will win those seats, the Birmingham, Newcastle seats where ex Labour voters will go to UKIP, will see labour win those seats,

    In London target Labour seats,sime ex Libdem, may go labour, but if the tories have a 12% lead over labour ,may see the Tories keep those seats,

    But the Tories will be 4% ahead in the polls 2 weeks time, then there’s the swing back to the gov’t vote that always happens and the shy Tory vote that will see a nother3 % swing towards the Tories before the election, that means if the Tories are now 1% ahead, by the election they could be 11% ahead,

    Excluding the fact that SNP will win close to 30 seats,
    The real question is will labour accept that after the Election this could be such a bad result,labour may not win the 2020 election as the hill to climb, will be too much, and that with a john am donned saying labour is t left wing enough and having 30 followers, it’s a case that who ever takes over as Leader Balls, Burnham,or acruddas(I don’t think that Umunna will stand, he’ll have the sense to wit till 2020 and think he can become PM age 48, in 2025)

    There lot of constituency members doing everything g to win,not just student types who’ve joined in the last 5 years, feel Ed will win,as he’s nice and that, if labour doesn’t stick with Ed after he loses, they’ll disapear, but if Ed does try to stay on as leader,it’ll be because he thinks he can is because th electorate just needs to be told they were qromg for not voting for us,and as he’s got party support the electorate will come around despite the Tories probably winning a majority of 75

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