Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lies, damned lies and opinion polls

The one thing that's certain in British politics right now is that nothing's certain. Ever since the expenses scandal, everything is up in the air. No one knows what's going to happen next.

We keep hearing that Labour faces meltdown in the event of a general election, but we also hear that David Cameron is far from popular. We hear from several political commentators that Alan Johnson can stop the Tories, yet no-one in Labour wants to risk testing the theory. Labour have been wiped out in the local and European elections, but the Tories relatively low share of the European vote by no means guarantees them a parliamentary majority in a general election.

Of course none of these statistics mean anything. Labour did spectacularly badly in the 2004 European elections, yet they won the general election the following year. And remember the Tories who scored the highest vote in the 1999 European elections and who then went on to fail miserably in the 2001 general election?

We should by now have learnt our lesson from the 1992 election, that you can never rely on the opinion polls. The other lesson we should learn is that history doesn't necessarily repeat itself. When the Tories changed their leader from Margaret Thatcher to John Major, it helped them win the 1992 election. But no one knows whether Labour changing their leader would bring the same result (remember how highly everyone thought of Gordon Brown?). Besides, most of the electorate are unfamiliar with Alan Johnson.

It is probably safe to assume that Labour are unlikely to win the next general election, but will the Tories have a working majority? We may have to wait another 11 months to find out. One thing's for sure - with the current 'anti-politician' mood around the country, the era of landslide majorities is over. That may not be a bad thing. Despite two massive election victories, Tony Blair's achievements were relatively modest. But with a narrow majority, the Tories will be under a lot more pressure to turn things around. They might just deliver.