Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Don't Say 'Hej': Left Needs Reality Check on Next Election

'Don't say 'hej'(hi) before you have crossed the river' is an old Swedish saying approximating to ours about chickens hatching. I have been reminded of it recently by the growing feeling of confidence on the left that Cameron has already blown it. Some sections of the Labour Party may well have become so delighted at the reversal in fortunes Gordon has engineered for them that they are already assuming the next election won. However John Kampfner provides a timely reality-check by reminding us how elections are won in practice. Thanks to the FPTP voting and related two party system most votes cast are 'wasted' in safe constituencies- it is only in those seats with small majorities where change is likely to occur and the battle therefore decided.

...as every election observer knows, elections are won and lost by a democratically unrepresentative number of floating voters in a small number of constituencies. It would not take a large swing for many of these seats to change hands.

Add to that fact that: in England more voters voted Conservative than Labour in 2005, despite their poor campaign and pathetic message; the Boundary Commission has redrawn constituencies so that 10-20 will likely shift rightwards next time around; and that Michael Ashcroft, chief Tory money raiser, is hard at work again pushing funds into selected areas. Last time, Kampfner tells us, of the 34 Conservative gains, 24 had been selected by Ashcroft for such special attentions well before the ballot was due. Together with other major Tory donors, he avoided caps on campaign spending by channelling money into these constituencies- targeting possible supporters, setting up online canvassing-well before the campaign had begun. He proved that well directed cash can win elections, whatever the message being peddled.

But Brown is unlikely to be as gung-ho as some of his supporters, even right-wing ones, seem to be. He is very aware that going early before he has every reason to expect success, is a fraught strategy: returning with a reduced majority would condemn him, like Major, as hostage to his own rebels for four years; and that losing in the autumn-when some urge him to go to the country- would mean his term in office would be shorter even than that of Andrew Bonar-Law's seven month stint 1922-3.

In addition to that he knows Labour have debts of £26m; and this time he can't even promise- or even vaguely suggest-to potential donors that their largesse could earn them peerages. Finally Brown knows that modern politics is very volatile- things can change in a day. John Major is often dismissed as a terminal no-hoper but it should be recalled that he too enjoyed a more than decent 'bounce' and looked well set to prosper during the Tories' fourth term until that awful Wednesday on 16th September 1992. Don't say 'hej' indeed.

Very, very true Skipper, but I suspect much of what you read on the blogs is more about Labour supporters winding up their Tory counterparts who were so cock-a-hoop after the May elections that they thought the result was in the bag. Now, whilst they crawl around like snails it is hard not to take the salt pot out to them. The reality, I suspect most of us know, is very much different... unless the Tories continue to spit bile at Cameron, in which case they are dead meat.
Quite right - the Tories are already working hard here in Cheltenham (a LibDem marginal) and in nearby Gloucester (the 'key' seat in 1997 - if we won that we'd have a majority said the people who know about these things (we did and we did)).

I still think we're 21 months from the next election although a sideways bet on 9 might not be out of the question. If the former there's still time for MPs in marginals to arrange to have their newborn infants in their arms on their leaflets. Not that that ploy did much good for the Tory lady who stood here in 2005 (and who’s never been seen since in spite of suggesting that she'd stay in “this lovely town” come what may)...
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