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Sunday, April 17, 2005

The politics of defeat

It is possible that the story of the next week will be that of the failure of the Conservatives to make any in-roads into the Labour lead, their declining support and hopefully, the steady advances in the polls being made by the Liberal Democrats. Certainly, that is the story of the weekend polls.

In the Sunday Times, the Yougov poll gives Labour a 1% lead. Their vote is down 1%, the Tories are unchanged and the Liberal Democrats are up two to 23%, their highest ever poll rating during a General Election campaign. The experts predict that this would give Labour a majority of 60.

The ICM poll in the Sunday Telegraph also has the Liberal Democrats up two to 22%, the Tories have fallen four points to 30% and Labour are up two to 40%. Communicate Research in the Independent on Sunday has Labour on 40%, Tories on 34% and the Liberal Democrats on 20%.

The Observer this morning sums up the reasons why the Tories are not making any headway against one of the least trusted Prime Ministers for decades:

The Tories promise tax cuts, which they say they can afford by cutting bureaucracy, and some of their giveaways are pegged to tangible savings elsewhere. But some are simply unexplained: 20,000 new prison places created, similarly a tenfold increase in drug rehab places, paying people's private-health bills and school fees. How?

The manifesto exudes frustration, which it claims to feel on behalf of the British people, but which, instead, reflects the party's own crisis. Having ceded the middle ground to New Labour, the Tories now advocate radical change by targeting scapegoats: immigration, 'political correctness', Brussels bureaucrats.

This is the politics of anti-politics - the 'us against the system' rhetoric of the fringes. It wilfully ignores the complexity of government, which suggests that the Conservative party does not seriously expect to be in government. In which case, Mr Howard has his work cut out explaining why we should vote for him.

This is still going to be an election that will be determined by differential turnout. There is no doubt that the Tories are motivating their core vote. However, if they continue to slip up in the polls then even those loyal voters will begin to question Howard's leadership and his ability to win. In those circumstances then they too might consider it not worth the effort of going to the polling booth.
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