Saturday, October 06, 2007

 

Gordon has Lost this Game of Political Poker: but can he admit it?

Yesterday I lectured on voting behaviour, explaining how a pattern of voting characterised fifty years ago by class loyalties was gradually transformed largely through occupational, home ownership and educational changes so that automatic support for voters' 'class party' became disengaged, or 'de-aligned' to use the correct term. The result has been a much higher degree of 'volatility' as voters now refer to their own interests before deciding how to vote. Gordon Brown and his advisers seem to have forgotten this basic truth of current British politics in contemplating an autumn election. Relatively new blogger Benedict Brogan bravely predicted Brown would back off two days ago and today gives chapter and verse from the marginals:

I'm told that Labour's research has already established that the situation is "bad" in a sample of key constituencies, and that the impact of the Tory inheritance tax giveaway has been "stark". Voters appear to have been struck by George Osborne's offer, and are swayed by the Tory claim to be the party of aspiration.

Osborne's promise to abolish inheritance tax has gone down well and I'm not surprised. My partner's father's estate was fairly typical in that house price increases had pushed a modest earner's bequests into one which resulted in a much resented tax bill of several thousand pounds. Taking this, plus Cameron's impressive 'look Mum, no notes' speech and the party unity which Brown's election threat inspired and it is clear the famed strategist has lost this autumnal game of political poker.

We read in The Guardian today that Number 10 insists 'nothing has changed' and that by 48 to 43 percentage points, voters want an autumn election. However, 40% also say they are more likely to vote Conservative as a result of the inheritance tax proposal. Brown has a history of chickening out of big decisions-whether to fight a by-election against George Robertson in 1978, whether to stand for leader in 1992 and then against Blair in 1994. But this is a decision, on all the evidence we have to date, on which backing off is by far the wisest and least damaging course.

He will be hurt, naturally, and will suffer accordingly for weeks if not months, but he will suffer as prime minister with over two years left to run- plenty of time to retrench and recoup. One thing worries me though: Gordon has never, to my memory, been able to admit he was wrong. Will he bite the bullet this time or resort to 'spun' explanations? Either approach will be better than taking the risk which an autumn election now poses.

Comments:
The biggest result will be psychological. Until the last week or so, the opposition parties hadn't found a way to better Gordon Brown.

Now he's blundered in the handling of a key strategic decision. Opposition parties will be feeling bolder now.
 
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