With an election due at any time within the next 3 months, and this week the latest that an election can be called for March 25th. I felt that it was time we looked at the state of play of all the parties.
In this time last year, the Conservatives looked as if they were heading to power. As recently as November, their average lead over New Labour was 12-13%. Since then their lead in the polls have dropped to an average of 8-9% over February, with a poll today showing a lead of just 2%. The Conservatives need a poll lead of about 8% to win a working majority.
The reasons for the Tories sudden drop in the polls could be down to one or two reasons. Chief among those is Clinton’s Law: It’s the economy stupid. Of late Osborne and Cameron have appeared to be giving out mixed messages about how they would handle the UK’s crippling debt. Osborne has been giving the message that they would cut public spending. This might be fine to calm the nerves of the City or other key economic figures, but his claim that untargeted cuts has undoubtedly scared a lot of voters away. How would you feel if someone who is likely to be the next Chancellor was saying effectively vote for me and I'll take away your livelihood.
These jitters have also affected other parts of Tory policymaking. They made errors when unveiling tax proposals regarding married couples, and have given mixed messages over other policies. There are also the obligatory rumours regarding Cameron’s future, which will be unclear even if he reaches No 10 as the leader of the largest party. It is this that has possably led to Cameron’s shift in tactics, in pointing up New Labour’s perceived Achilles Heel, Gordon Brown.
New Labour have still been struggling, making mistake after mistake, and providing open goals for Cameron (which like a St Mirren striker, he has done his best to miss). Yet for all their unpopularity, the possibility of a fourth consecutive term in office has suddenly appeared. While we can point to the Conservatives and say Hmmm they’ve not done this and have clearly been in two minds over that, it’s more difficult to explain why New Labour have put on 5-8 % in the polls. The recession might be over, but the after-effects will continue. The banks are still not helping uphold a liquid economy and Brown is perceived to have acted slowly in the expenses scandal. That after all that Cameron is not looking forward to a landslide victory shows that many people still do not find the Conservatives trustworthy. The one thing that might explain some movement in the polls is Browns insistence that front line public services would be spared any cuts, which differs from Osborne's Scorched earth policy of appeasing the economic gods.
In the game of “My Cut’s Bigger Than You're Cut”, the Tories appear to have lost this battle. The Lib Dems have claimed that it’s not that simple, while the SNP have disappeared from this particular argument. Only appearing when it impacts on Scottish Government spending. The SNP as a whole appear to have disappeared from the pre-election sparring, having been bogged down with their own problems. Certain polls have placed them level pegging with the Tories in Scotland in fighting for Second. In the fight between the Tories and New Labour, both parties have been painting the SNP as an irrelevance in Westminster elections. This appears to have fed into some of the polls. As I have argued before, one of the ways the SNP could make themselves relevant and put the other parties on the back foot would be to turn the election into a campaign against the Union.
This election is shaping up to be too close to call. I still think the election will be on May 6th, New Labour are in debt, they can’t afford to fight two elections within weeks of each other, and I think that Brown has planned for this date too. Brown doesn’t do anything unless he is 1000% sure he knows he is doing. At least we’ll find out this week if March 25th is out of the question.