Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Narrowing Tory poll lead doesn't mean a 'hung parliament' is likely

Polls are now consistently showing a reduction in the poll lead enjoyed by the Tories from double digits to single digits, now at about 7%. That's still a big lead, but the assumption of the newspaper headline writers is that the Tories need a bigger swing to win an outright majority. Thus, the spectre of a 'hung parliament' has been raised. Martin Wolf of the FT would be happy to see a coalition government, perhaps styled on Germany's recent experience with the 'Grand Alliance'. One can certainly see why: it would enable the political class to consolidate their minority consensus in favour of some form of fiscal contraction, thus edging out all signs of popular dissensus on the question. But it isn't going to happen, and here's why.

Labour's recovery is based substantially on the germinal economic recovery, which is the number one issue concerning voters - 56% say it's one of their top three issues (see figures). But issue number two is - disgracefully, and entirely New Labour's fault - asylum and immigration, with 43% saying it's a top three issue. That issue will almost certaily be prominently pushed in the marginals, where it might actually trump the economy with some middle class voters. And the marginal constituencies are where the Tories need to make gains, not in Labour 'heartlands' where its support is slightly hardening in response to the naked class aggression in Tory policies. The reactionary think-tank MigrationWatch UK got Yougov to carry out a push-poll in the key marginals for Labour and Liberals in the coming election, and it basically found that most of those voters are hysterical over the issue of immigration, trust the Tories most to handle the issue, and would be more likely to vote for any party that promised severe crackdowns. We will undoubtedly see cack-handed attempts by Liberals and Labour to pander to such bigotry, but only the right-wing parties can benefit from this game, and in the marginals the beneficiaries will be the Tories.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and election day. The Greek general strikes may presage a broader European labour insurgency against austerity measures being pushed through by mainstream parties, as the Indie claims today. Anything that pushes the economy and public opposition to spending cuts to the top of the agenda can damage the Tories - unless, of course, that 'thing' is a speculative attack or a new lurch into negative growth. But at the moment, the figures still point to a Tory majority come 6 May.