There is no budget bounce…yet

28th March, 2012 1:02 pm

Oh dear, oh dear. I know that we have been short of any good news on the Labour side for some time but the reaction of some of the commentators has been lamentably over-optimistic.

The polls look quite good for Labour in the wake of the budget and the ‘Cam Dine With Me’ scandal, but talk about a bounce is, at best, premature, and, at worst, complacent. Let’s have a look at those polls again.

The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times has Labour on 42%, Tories 35% and LibDems 9%. The only shift in this poll since the budget was the LibDems down 1%. Whilst Labour on 42% is high, we have been 40%+ for most of February and all of March. Even today’s YouGov poll, 43-33-9, the first double digit lead for Labour in YouGov since a year ago, whilst good news, still does not allow us to talk of a bounce. The Tories are down 2%, Labour up 1% – but they are still within striking distance of their 2010 performance.

The Populus poll – Labour 38%, Tory 34% and LibDems 11 – actually means Labour are down 1%, the Tories 3% and the LibDems 1% – with ‘Others’ up to 16%. Some bounce!

The ComRes poll – Labour 43, Tory 33 and LibDem 11 – also has the ‘others’ up 3, with Labour up 3 also, the Tories down 4% and the LibDems down 2%. Some Labour supporters have got excited about the 17% lead for Labour amongst those questioned after the Sunday Times broke the ‘Cam Dine with Me’ scandal, but the numbers are low with a correspondingly high margin of error.

If we assume the worst for Labour, in terms of margin of error, then the level of support for each party becomes 39-38, 40-36,35-37 and 40-36 respectively. By any stretch of the imagination, talk of a Labour surge or bounce is not just misplaced, but plain wrong. Being consistently 9-15% ahead of our General Election performance is hugely encouraging, but in each of these polls the Tories are within striking distance of their 36% performance in 2010. This is not enough for the Tories to win an election, even on the new boundaries, but it makes our task all the more difficult. We need to start eating into the Tory vote – currently nearly all of Labour’s gains in the polls since the election have come from the Liberal Democrats.

Delusion and complacency will kill us if we are not careful. Mark Ferguson said on LabourList that:

 “Labour’s poll lead is looking bigger and more secure. It’s a verifiable budget bounce.”

Well, no actually. As I have explained, the poll lead is not looking any bigger on two of the polls and there will have to be many more in the same vein as the ComRes poll and today’s YouGov poll before we can claim any sort of trend.

Sunny Hundal on Liberal Conspiracy has said that:

“Labour has gone from a lead of zero to nearly ten points in two months.”

Well, no we haven’t actually. Labour has an 8pt lead last September (13/9/11- 43-35-10), a 7pt lead in October and December (27/10/11 and 3/12/11 – both 42-35-9) and a 5pt and 6pt lead in February 2012 (7/2/12 42-37-9 and 27/2/12 41-35-12).

Don’t misunderstand me, I am grateful for the lead and believe that we will build on it – but we should neither overstate the impact of the last week’s events, nor negate the slow, steady consolidation of support over the last year.

In the Guardian Polly Toynbee states that:

“The polls responded sharply to the budget. YouGov for the Sunday Times put Labour seven points ahead, on 42%.”

The seven point lead is not, as I have shown, new and as yet there is no evidence that represents a shift in opinion in response to the budget – nor is today’s ten point lead. It is far too early to tell. Even if, as Toynbee goes on to suggest, the portents in the polls are good in the sense that the public reject many of the key elements of the budget, Labour will not necessarily be the beneficiary. To date, it has been the minor parties that have benefitted from any diminution in Tory support – the Populus and ComRes polls put support for ‘others’ at 16% and 13% respectively.

Equally, the notion that all Labour needs now is an ‘advisory council of far-sighted thinkers’ is, I am afraid, completely misguided. Like many others, I have yet to be told on the doorsteps that the only thing preventing people from voting Labour is the need for Ed Miliband to ‘sharpen his concept’ of ‘responsible capitalism’. I think he may have had enough of reaching out for policy gurus for a while yet – at least I hope so given recent experience.

Like her Guardianista compadres, Toynbee clings on to the notion that somewhere deep down the Liberal Democrats remain a progressive force. Apparently we need to show that we can work with Vincent Cable on a plan to invest in industry, since we might have to work with him after the election. Labour cannot and should not plan for the future and develop policy on the premise that we might need the Liberal Democrats to govern. That way lays madness. We must go into the next election with our own policy offer, telling the country what we will do if in power. I happen to think that the Liberal Democrats have nothing to offer a radical, progressive agenda and that those in their party who want to pursue such an agenda would be better served by joining Labour.

We will certainly need to be better placed to talk to other parties in the event of another hung Parliament than we were in 2010, but surely we fight as Labour and in pursuit of single party government.

So – whilst there is no bounce, there are some interesting, even encouraging messages in the polls. In the YouGov poll, Labour is ahead, as one would expect, on the NHS (39-23%) and education (31-26%) – although both should be much higher – but also on Tax (28-25%) and Unemployment (32-23%). Yet, the Tories maintain a lead on the economy overall – 30-26%. Peter Kellner explains this further highlighting that Labour has a clear lead on fairness in the economy and the Tories have a clear lead on strength in the economy. However, when the public are asked to choose between economic fairness and economic strength – the split is 60-32% in favour of strength. Even Labour voters prefer economic strength to fairness by 50-42%. Labour’s task is to make people believe that the dichotomy is a false one – that strong economies have to also be fair to survive and prosper. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls need to be more focussed and resolute in this area. The divisiveness of the budget will help as will the demise of the spurious notion that ‘we are all in this together’. The Tories are right to be worried by the re-emergence of the ‘nasty party’ label, a budget for ‘millionaires and not the millions’ and the wealth surrounding the ‘Cam Dine with Me’ fiasco.

Some of the details of the ComRes poll are equally interesting and contain some real hope for Labour. Three points stand out – certainty to vote, the reaction to the budget and the ‘granny tax’. The ComRes results confirm that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote. Only 45% of 18-24 year olds said they were certain to vote compared with 72% of those over 65 and 68% of those between 55-64 and 53% of those 25-34. This is important in the context of a budget that hit the elderly hard and was perceived as very unfair. Labour needs to find its voice for this demographic and soon.

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement that “The measures announced in the budget show that the Conservatives are the party of the rich”, 66% agreed and only 27% disagreed. Interestingly, older respondents agreed with this more than their younger counterparts. Amongst 18-24 year olds, 57% thought the Tories were the ‘party of the rich’, 27% disagreed. But a whopping 69% of those over 55 said the Tories were the party of the rich whilst 27% disagreed. For those 35-44, the figures were 70%-26% and 67-28 for 45-54 year olds. This will worry the Tories enormously because, as we have seen, the older you are, the more likely you are to vote.

Amongst 18-24 year olds, 39% agreed with the ‘granny tax’ and 47% disagreed – compared with 30% of the over-65s agreeing and 61% disagreeing. But if the Tories think they are tapping into fairness agenda across the generations, as some suggest, then they will be disappointed. Only 23% of 45-54 year olds and 30% of 55-64 year olds agree with the ‘granny tax’ – 70% and 62% disagree respectively. Clearly those aspiring to a reasonable retirement are as appalled by the ‘granny tax’ as those already affected.

So, while there are some reasons to be cheerful from the events and polls of the last week, talk of post-budget bounces or supper club surges or big and secure Labour leads are very, very premature, dangerously delusional and complacent. Ed Miliband has shown that he has a real talent for identifying the key issues that are of most concern to the public – no-one laughs about the squeezed middle anymore. He now needs to move on to articulating a vision and response to these issues that both allows Labour to be heard again, and allows people to believe that we are worth listening to again.

We are on the way to achieving this and we would do well ignore both the Jeremiahs of doom and the Pollyannas of optimism – both will, in their different ways, be the death of us.

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