Wednesday, July 17, 2013
As the polls go all over the place
The opinion polls are all over the place at the moment with the results in the past few days varying from Tories and Labour neck and neck to an 11% lead for Labour.
I personally suspect both of those are outliers and the real position at the moment is somewhere between them, but it doesn't really matter because the next general election is 21 months away and the majority of the electorate have not made up their minds.
The main opinion pollsters always ask "how would you vote if there was a general election tomorrow" to force a choice, and the answers to that question provide the headline figure the press report. But there isn't a general election tomorrow - it will be held on the first Thursday in May 2015.
And when opinion pollsters ask questions designed to elicit how likely people are to change their minds between now and the next election, the answers suggest that most people - nearly sixty percent on the last set of polling data I have seen - either have not made up their minds at all how to vote or say they might quite possibly change their mind.
So there is everything to play for at the next election. Whichever party can most coherently engage with the people of Britain and express a credible plan to deal with the issues they care about has a chance of winning.
It is certainly possible that either the Conservatives or Labour could win an overall majority, provided the Conservatives can avoid any more "Omnishambles" like last year's budget or provided Labour can avoid looking like a bunch of clowns or trade union puppets respectively. An outright majority for the Lib/Dems or for UKIP does not look particularly likely, but either might possibly be the kingmakers in a hung parliament.
Some people will tell you that voting does not matter or that there is there is no difference at all between any of the parties or some large group of them. I don't agree. Some things won't change whoever wins the next election - for instance there isn't suddenly going to be lots more money to spend - because an election does not magically change the facts facing the country. But between the Conservatives, Labour, Lib/Dems, UKIP, nationalists and greens there is a significant range of different policies and personalities on offer.
Britain might be an unrecognisably different place now if Michael Foot had won the "Missile Election" in 1983: it might also be quite different if Neil Kinnock had won the 1992 election although exactly how is incredibly difficult to project because "Black Wednesday" would almost certainly still have happened a few months after that election and the political consequences might have been incalculably different.
Some elections, like 1979 and 1997, mark a significant change in direction though they don't always cause it: some elections, like 1983, confirm such a change. Some elections are bad ones to win, with 1992 being the obvious example and the jury is still out on whether 2010 was another.
Some elections are very important, and I think the 2015 election might well be one of them.