25 July 2009

Reflections on the Norwich North byelection

Obviously a poor result for Labour in Alan Partridge-land - as if any of you were expecting anything else? And it's annoying to have to see TV pictures of Dave Cameron mugging to camera with yet another fresh-faced loonie Tory candidate.

However, I don't think it looks as great for the Tories as some commentators have predicted. There doesn't seem to be a huge wave of people crossing over to the Tories - they might of course be out there somewhere, and they might just not have bothered to vote this time out (turnout was only 45%) - but if this was an indicator of a Tory landslide I'd have expected to see more Tory votes. Of course, UKIP got 10% and they might go back to the Tories at the election - or will they? Telegraph blogger Ed West - a deeply sad presence on the web, with a beard to match - reckons that UKIP could be a real force if they wanted to be. I'm not at all sure that he's right, but in a way I hope he is, because if the right-wing vote were to split at the next election - something that was already happening in 2005 when Michael Howard was Tory leader - that would be a big help to Labour.

With heavy concentration (perhaps too heavy) on the Telegraph this morning, there's quite a good piece by Charles Moore, who is worried that the Tories aren't popular enough to win a general election - they are just relying on Labour being unpopular. I don't think Dave Cameron is quite the genius that Moore thinks he is - a smooth operator in the mould of Tony Blair, for sure, but any fool could be in front in the polls if he or she were leading the Tories at this juncture.

The main thing holding the Tories back is that people feel - rightly - that they haven't got much of a clue on economic policy. For sure they are ahead of Labour now when people are polled on the relative economic competence of the two parties, but then Labour have just presided over the biggest recession since 1929. But so far there has been very little coherence to Conservative economic policy - indeed very little policy, beyond a slightly more aggressive package of public expenditure cuts than Labour. George Osborne looks to me like an empty suit.

The Tories are massively helped by the crapness of Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader - something Charles Moore rightly identifies - and also by the continuing "imitation 70s Soviet leader" stasis of Gordon Brown. Every now and then, flashes of inspiration threaten to emerge from the great man, before he thinks better of it, and offers up meaningless platitudes to the camera. It is highly unlikely that he will be toppled before the election now - if it wasn't going to happen in June, why would it happen now? And that, really, is the Tories' best shot at an overall majority.

I am actually hoping the Tories do get in because that's a prerequisite for the huge political enema that needs to be administered on the Labour party - get the awful crypto-Tories and Stalinists out of the party and start building a genuine alternative political machine. I am waiting for this project to start - and hoping for a crushing defeat, but not SO crushing that all the good candidates for the leadership get voted out. Anything else - including another 5 years of Gordon - would merely prolong the agony.

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