2009 Elections, Everyone Loses?

June 6, 2009

Naturally, the Tory press has been enjoying itself over the past few days, what with Labour crashing in both the opinion polls and local elections – with the European elections set to complete the trinity of disasters come Sunday.

Opinion polls have put Labour as low as 18 percent – an abysmal number, and pretty much what Brown deserves, while the Tories are some twenty points clear.

But there is another side to this as well. The Tories, while leading, are polling very poorly indeed when you consider that they are the major opposition party, facing a government that has been both in power and incompetent for twelve years.

As the venerable Sun newspaper puts it, “the Tory leader will be concerned his party’s projected share of the vote – 38 per cent – is down six points compared to last year’s local polls.”

Or, as Professor Anthony King writes, “Add the two major parties’ shares of the vote together and they suggest that, had a General Election been held this week, Labour and the Tories between them would have won only 61 per cent of the popular vote.

The remaining 39 per cent backed either the Liberal Democrats (28 per cent) or one of the fringe parties (11 per cent). A mere 4 per cent of voters backed one of the fringe parties a decade ago and only 7 per cent as recently as last year.”

Moreover, in 2008, the Tories won 44 percent of the vote in local elections, while Labour won 24 percent. In 2009, however, the Tories are down to 38 percent with Labour down to 23 percent. So if we count the decisive difference in voter behaviour between those elections as the expenses scandal, it seems to have affected the Tories the most (down six percent or so, with Labour down 1 percent).

So perhaps the Tories have lost more voters to the “fringe parties” that King talks about?

Another thing worth looking at. The local elections were predominantly rural. London wasn’t in the mix, meaning that Labour or Lib Dem results would have been understated (presumably). It’s hard to imagine Tory councillors riding a wave of enthusiasm kindled by BoJo’s clowning in city hall. Indeed, he may count against the party come election time.

So, though I’m no fan of New Labour, the local elections offer some slim comforts. The Tories are woefully incapable of capitalising on the obvious failings of their opponents and are hardly benefiting from national fatigue with the incumbent party. If anything, they are being hit worse by the general hatred of establishment politics arising from the expenses scandal.

And as the economic crisis takes its toll of jobs, a man reputedly worth £30 million and still charging the taxpayer £21,000 in mortgage interest on his constituency home, is a massively vulnerable political target.

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