I’ve just answered some poll questions for ITV. It’s a phone poll, and after answering you get to see the running total of the polling data. This struck me as unusually interesting today.
The Tories made two policy announcements – a freeze on some rail fares, mainly season tickets; and statutory leave for volunteering for those who work in larger companies. The rail fare thing is basically a bung to commuters in the South East. The volunteering thing is re-heated ‘Big Society’, to be paid for by business (what they’d call a “tax on business” if another party proposed it). Both these announcements are plainly a desperate attempt to sound positive after the negative attacks on Mili backfired.
The Lib Dems announced cheap loans for deposits on rental property to enable young people to move out of the parental home. Regulating rents and tenancies might have been better, but they probably feared such a thing being called “a tax on business”, so they settled for a tax on taxpayers.
Labour announced more police officers paid for by scrapping Police and Crime Commissioners. Not sure I buy their figures, but it is a good idea to scrap the ludicrous PCCs in any event.
So how have these proposals gone down with voters? The least popular, as always, was the Big Society one. Only 4% thought it a good idea. The train bribe met 11% support, cheap loans to young people 12%. Scrapping PCCs garnered 59% support. As with the pledge to scrap Non-Doms, Labour’s idea seems to please a lot of people.
This is all very weird. The Tories are trying to fight a late 20th Century-style campaign, but it isn’t lifting off. In bewilderment they are reacting with by flailing around, saying anything that comes into their heads. When they start chucking money at stuff, like the SE commuter bribe, which could cost well over a billion pounds over the course of a Parliament, they look like they’ve lost control over the one bit of their ‘narrative’ that they did succeed with – their arguments for austerity.
I don’t get the sense that Labour’s strategy is any more focussed or disciplined. What they do seem to be learning, slowly, timidly, is that apparently left-ish sounding policies are popular. If they announced that they’d scrap Trident and put all the money into health and social care, with free dentistry for all, I think they’d walk it, regardless of the filth that Lynton Crosby, Murdoch and the rest are chucking at them. Strange times.
So why is this election so wayward, so lacking in obvious direction. The rise of multi-party politics, or of devolved and diverging sub-states, is part of the answer, but I think are more symptom than cause. I think it is the culture that has changed. People don’t watch four TV channels and read a newspaper every day. Social media curates our news for us, rather than the editorial decisions of the likes of Kelvin Mackenzie, who famously boasted that it was “The Sun Wot Won It” for Maggie. Parties haven’t adjusted to that new reality.