Monday, 22 April 2013

Why are Labour's poll numbers sagging?

The news in UK politics at the moment is all about Labour and the United Kingdom Independence Party. Labour is, just perhaps, not doing as well as they might; but UKIP is always said to be 'surging' and 'on the march'. Top Labour people are worried - as they should be. They are perhaps seven or eight points ahead of the Conservatives, as we teeter on the brink of the third recession in five years, and we look mournfully at the prospect of deflating real incomes for as many years ahead as we can peer. That's down a bit on the position a month or so ago, when Conservative MPs really were looking pretty down-in-the-mouth at Labour leads well over ten per cent.

So what's happened? A row over benefits, in which Labour was deemed to look a bit 'soft' of cheating, even among its own supporters? The death and subsequent lionisation of Baroness Thatcher as a Conservative hero who 'saved her country'?

Unlikely. That's the floatsam and jetsam of politics - the surface stuff that may change numbers over a few days or weeks, but are unlikely to explain Labour's (arguably) anaemic polling performance over the entire Parliament.

That's actually down to this: voters don't really believe in Labour's alternative economic prospectus. Headlines saying that Labour's going to spend more money, when citizens have been told there isn't any for years, just don't seem to scan. It's a hard sell, saying that spending more might end up saving money - though it's probably the right case to make in the short term, especially as everything the Shadow Treasury team have warned about since 2010 has pretty much ended up coming true.

That's added to the sense that the electorate just don't really trust Labour with the economy after the meltdown of 2007-2008. Put simply, the doctors that were in charge when the patient had the heart attack aren't entirely trusted to nurse him back to health. Ed Balls (above), Gordon Brown's right-hand man during most of the latter's tenure at the Treasury, is an unwelcome reminder to voters just how good they once had it, and just how hard they heavens opened on Labour's watch. Even after the laughable performance of George Osborne as Chancellor over the last year (since his 'omnishambles' 2012 Budget), he's still preferred to Balls as Chancellor. If the next election is going to be an unpopularity contest, won by the least hated and feared, the Conservatives may have their noses in front. A bit. Maybe.

The whole thing leaves Labour's numbers weak - and the next General Election up for grabs. Regular readers will know that The Historian doesn't think that there is much chance of anyone gaining an overall majority next time, but Labour would be the biggest party were it to gain just 24 seats. It should be easy pickings. A difficult-to-make economic case, and the legacy of the crash, are making it harder than it once appeared.

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