Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

From One Lib-dem Led Government to Another?

Front-page of The Sun from Saturday 11 April 1992.

It's that Murdoch again

Guido seemed to having a “It’s the Sun Wot Won It” moment yesterday. That’s not to say that he swayed the electorate in a last minute clarion call – for neither did the Sun in 1992, if truth be told; rather they and he simply read well and had faith in the opinion polling close to polling day. In the Sun’s case it was the eve of poll results. These days the pollsters have honed their skills, and there is such depth now to the data, that one can get a pretty good idea of the result even a month beforehand, as did Guido.

Anyway, he is appears to be hinting at a Lib/Lab coalition after 2015.

Reading the runes again it seems to Guido increasingly likely we are looking at a one-term Tory-led government.

I could comment that we actually have a LibDem-led government. He then goes on:

Right now the bookies favour no overall majority, polls suggest Labour could be the largest party, in that event the LibDems, probably without Clegg, will in all likelihood support a Labour government.

Guido is circumspect enough not to actually call it for another coalition but the implication is there. He raises two key points in his analysis: the danger of a global double-dip recession and the possibility of Andy Coulson being tried and convicted close to the next election.

As regards Coulson, I think Guido is suffering from Westminster Proximatosis. The public are already tiring of Hackgate, and as the economic picture plays out this will only increase the apathy. Remember, the public only started taking an interest when Milly Dowler entered the picture; attention was briefly re-engaged with the Murdochs’ appearance before the select committee. The riots then largely killed the story in the popular soap-opera-following, where’s-next-month’s-mortgage-payment-coming-from conscience. As more newspaper titles are implicated in the scandal, so one may find the print media going rather quieter on the subject than previously.

As always, though, it will be the economy stupid, and I think Guido is right to focus on this as there clearly is a danger.

The primary cause will be the economy, the probability of a double-dip recession is rising. The US economy is in trouble, the Eurozone is in turmoil, growth is faltering at home and abroad. Inflation is out of control, real incomes are actually falling in the UK. By 2015 the answer the electorate will give to Ronald Reagan’s Are you better off than you were four years ago?” question may well be “No.”

However, many people, if asked if they feel better off than four five years ago, will only tend to think of the last one or two years’; by 2015 that only takes us “back” to 2013, two years’ away still from now, and the 2013-15 period should see us naturally emerging (albeit slowly) from any double-dip. Also by then I predict that the armageddon promised by the Left as a result of the cuts will have failed to materialise. In any case, it would be easy to underestimate people’s intelligence in how they react – it’s not as if Labour have been nowhere near the tiller in eighteen years.

This is not to say that I am a fan of the Cameron-Osborne clique. Reducing the deficit is key and the timescale is realistic (if not particularly bold), but it’s the detail where they have shown a disconnection with people. Ringfencing overseas aid but cutting defence, and then exacerbating it with the Libyan adventure has damaged Cameron beyond the Tory hardcore. The government seems to suffer from a chronic inability to defend itself – even, for instance, through the simple expedient of properly explaining the benefits to students of the new tuition fees system. A drip feed of incompetence stories will also, if unchecked, erode political confidence among floaters. They could even, arguably, have slowed any recovery: not by the cuts, but by over-doing the rhetoric to a degree not warranted by the necessity of playing to the audience in the markets. Recessions are ultimately states of mind, and can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Finally, Cameron can always be relied upon to lose his cool with euro-sceptics; whether it’s ridiculing UKIP (a bad move, given that many Tories sympathise with the ‘Kippers) or condescending remarks on the desire for referendum on continued EU membership. Insulting your core supporters is never a good strategy especially when those supporters, who previously could only stay at home as a protest, now have another option to show their displeasure in the form of support for Nigel Farage’s gang. Lest we forget, finally, Cameron failed to win the general election – and for that he largely has himself to blame.

There is a possible saving grace, though, which really is difficult to call even if closer to an election: the Lib Dems. They have been thoroughly contaminated by coalition. They’ve spent a hundred years striving to get back into government in any meaningful sense, and they couldn’t have picked a worse time. With so many Conservative seats formerly seeing the Lib Dems as the natural challengers, we may now see the defections of former Lib Dem voters to Labour simply moving the colours around on the map, but making no real impact on the Conservative majority. Indeed, the prospect of a hung parliament in 2015 may be further away than at any time in decades. In what way this plays out depends on how the LibDems behave after Clegg. So, just as the final outcome of this election depended on the fortunes of Nick Clegg, so will the next.


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