When the 1997 election date was announced, Labour’s lead in the polls ranged between 20 and 25 points. Why the Conservatives are not in a similar position today is simply baffling. The incumbent government has two unpopular wars and a recession under its belt – not to mention a prime minister who couldn’t fall further in public approval ratings if he tried. Cameron should be walking this.
Yet a 10% poll lead only points towards a marginal victory – if not a large margin of error. Jonathan Freedland’s article in the Guardian suggests why the Tories aren’t in the position New Labour were in 13 years ago. Aside from George Osborne’s dodgy maths specifically and Tory confusion more generally, Freedland attributes voter nervousness about the Tories to the party’s failure to evolve its ’80s form. “They see an appealing shop window, but inside is a party whose cash register still rings with the millions of an exiled billionaire who is ready to sit in our second chamber.” And maybe a poster in the window advertising ‘Grayling’s Bed and Breakfast – No Queers Please’.
Trying to make the best of a bad situation, Fraser Nelson of The Spectator has written an article in praise of the Conservative poll lead. In contrast to Freedland’s article, Nelson seems to suggest current Tory popularity is down to the fact that the party hasn’t fundamentally changed. “If the Tories say ‘we’re shiny and modern!’ no one cares. When they cut taxes, people listen.” Just like the days of old, you’ll get lower taxes and lower-quality public services with the Conservatives, and higher taxes and better public services with Labour. What Nelson argues is that people will vote in a self-interested way (quite an obvious point), but what he fails to point out is that the National Insurance tax cut is reminiscent of a traditional Tory party offering.
And in harking back, the Conservative party is reneging on current commitments. When trying to reduce the public debt, one has three options: raise taxes, cut spending on public services, or do both. Having pledged to protect public services, Cameron’s “modern” Tories can only fulfil their promise to cut debt substantially by raising taxes. Freezing IT projects – when really UK government desperately needs to enter the 21st century – and selling property is not enough. If the Conservatives are serious about the deficit, why fight the NI rise so ferociously? The party has done much to raise voters’ suspicions about its true nature, this tax matter being the latest in a series of incidents. If they had said and done nothing for the past few months, they’d probably be polling better. As things stand, it’s highly likely they’ll still clinch victory but, in the words of Jonathan Freedland once again, “it will be a victory tainted by failure.”