Saturday, May 30, 2009

Post-expenses polling

The Times has the first solid poll that has given the public the chance to digest the expenses scandal. The numbers and analysis are lifted from the UK Polling Report:

Topline voting intentions for a general election, with changes from Populus poll for ITV a week ago, are CON 41%(+2), LAB 21%(-6), LDEM 15%(-2) (note that the Times have taken their changes from the last Populus poll conducted for the Times, a week and a half earlier).

Previously there had been something of a divide between the pollsters, with YouGov and ComRes showing Labour down near 20%, while Populus and ICM showed them up in the high 20s. The lastest Populus poll suggests a further slump in Labour support and brings the pollsters broadly in line, suggesting it is Labour who have most suffered from the expenses scandal. Asked directly who had suffered most from the expenses row 35% said Labour, with only 7% saying Conservative - though 50% said all parties had suffered equally. Asked which of the party leaders was most damaged the contrast was even starker - 62% said Brown, only 5% Cameron, and only 25% said the leaders had suffered equally.

So, while the expenses scandal has been bad for all of the established parties, it is massively clear that Labour has taken the most damage. This is quite right too. Labour 'reformed' the whole fees operation when they came to power in 1997 and they have been running the show for 12 years. They are responsible for creating a situation where MPs could make the wrong choices. That having been said individual MPs cannot escape responsibility for making the wrong choices, especially as they are supposed to be in parliament because of their ability to make the right choices for all of us. In political terms though this scandal is pretty much the last nail in the coffin for Labour, reinforced by Gordon Brown's useless response to it. Someone really should explain to him that running away and hiding is not usually an option to those in a leadership position.

Speaking of people who need things explaining to him brings us neatly onto Simon Heffer. His take on the expenses scandal in his latest column is:
I am puzzled that there should be a supposition among many people – not least Labour supporters who fear a general election – that the Tories have done well out of the expenses scandal. I am hard put to agree. None of the main parties comes out of this well, and the only ones that can make a pretence of doing so are the Lib Dems.
Let us return to the poll evidence: Conservatives up 2, Labour down 6 and Liberal Democrats down 2. Conservatives with a clear 20 point lead. I must say that the source of Simon's puzzlement is not immediately apparent, except perhaps for his detachment from the real world.

The rest of the column is predicated on David Cameron having mishandled the scandal, this when the Populus poll had which leader had been most damaged by the matter at 62% for Brown and 5% for Cameron. You have to hand it to Heffer he is pretty consistent in being wrong. He also does seem determined to stand at the next election, as a part-time MP you understand as he wouldn't want to lose those fat cheques from the Telegraph for writing this nonsense. Personally I welcome this. A man who was electoral experience appears to consist of being disbarred from a student election 30 years ago but who persists in writing rubbish about elections needs a wakeup call. Simon has much less name recognition than he thinks and no discernible political ability. In the hurley-burley of a general election he will be nothing more than an amusing footnote.

If he does stand though I undertake to provide the Conservative candidate a comprehensive analysis of Heffer's political positioning for, say the last five years. You know, all of his support for Labour and Gordon Brown, the industries he would nationalise, the countries we would be at war with, the long list of people he regards with contempt, basically the sorts of things he would need to be reminded of at any public debate. Maybe a few thousand leaflets with some of the choicer gems would help, though that might run the risk of giving him more publicity than he deserves, so I will think on that.

Simon finishes his column by giving David Cameron advice on how to handle the expenses scandal, this from a man pledging to stand against the Conservatives at the next election and who is going to vote UKIP on Thursday, so it is not likely that David Cameron will take his words as well meant. Actually that is a serious point. Simon appears to be cutting himself adrift as a Conservative commentator in terms of being a critical friend. Instead he is a carping enemy. For a columnist that is a career-changing move. I wonder if he has thought it through.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Power to the people

A very important speech from David Cameron on the state of our country in terms of the erosion of ordinary freedoms and the lack of accountability of those in power. He links the fury of ordinary people at the abuses of MPs expenses to the wider sense of powerlessness that many feel in the face of public institutions. Most importantly, he says that this is wrong. Power should rest with ordinary people and local communities wherever possible. Where this cannot happen than institutions must be truly open and accountable. This includes Parliament, where the legislation that governs our lives must be arrived at by an open, democratic process, not sofa government allied to the machinations of whips an pliable Labour backbenchers. So, David Cameron wants wholesale reform, from parliamentary process, our relationship with the EU, to an end to the fiasco of Regional government, with power devolved back to local Councils where it belongs. Local power means local accountability, including for the police, where many forces have worked an agenda almost designed to alienate them from local people instead of keeping the the old tradition of policing by consent. To be fair, Essex Police have by an large been an exception to this, but would the police forces who have devoted disproportionate resources to motoring offences instead of things like, say, beat patrols or combating burglary, really have done that if their leadership had faced a popular vote? Not in a million years.

Most telling was the government's answer. The BBC put up Jack Straw and he could only 'welcome David Cameron's contribution to the debate'. Here was a speech that picked apart the basic thesis of Labour central control and the target-stetting culture and a senior government minister had no answer.

This was a grown-up speech that treats the electorate as adults instead of the class-war soundbites of New Labour. All we need now is an election.