Monday, 22 October 2012

Government scandals don't decide elections

Well, so the UK government has been having something of a rum time. The Prime Minister 'pre-announces' completely uncooked policies, causing consternation all around (and not a little behind-the-hand gloating among his many Conservative enemies). His Chief Whip has to resign after swearing at a policeman. The Chancellor gets caught travelling in a train's First Class compartment on a second-class ticket (above).

The headlines? 'The Government's worst week'.

Well, hmm. Tony Blair used to say that 'this week is my worst ever week since the last one'.

And it's the same today - for scandals don't bring down administrations. They add to the impression of fumbling, mumbling and bumbling, that's for sure, though I fear that the public already closed their ears to such allegations years ago. They have come to believe that politicians are both all in it for themselves, and are also incompetent. There's a bit of a logical inconsistency there, but that's no bar to most popular wisdom.

Take a look back over recent history. Did John Stonehouse faking his own death and escaping to Australia really destroy Jim Callaghan's minority Labour administration? Did Cecil Parkinson's 'love child' (sorry for the lapse into tabloid-ease there) threaten Mrs Thatcher's position? Did 'toe job to no job' David Mellor help to bring down John Major? What about Peter Mandelson's many scrapes over mortgages and passports, David Blunkett's and Robin Cook's love lives, peerages-for-cash?

Er, no.

Only the Profumo Scandal, in 1963, really rocked a government to its utter core. But the Secretary for War sleeping with a prostitute, who's also sleeping with the Soviet naval attache, is a proper story. Even then, the Conservatives recovered markedly in the polls and nearly won the 1964 General Election.

Announcing rubbish policies? Swearing at a policeman? Travelling in the wrong train carriage? It's going to create a bad impression, of course - that Ministers think that they can do what they like.

But it's not going to decide the next General Election. Only the economy (now showing some signs of emerging from intensive care), and the extent of the Lib Dem implosion, can do that. Everything else is froth.

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