A tracker poll from the BBC reveals that the differences between the parties have hardly changed since December last year. Labour have 31% of the vote, the Tories 31%, UKIP 13%, Lib Dems at 8%, Greens at 4% and the others 6%, which includes parties that we can’t vote for in England anyway.
Those aren’t the figures for how the parties stand today, or the highest they have been over the last 6 months, these are the figures for the lowest the parties have been during the whole period and therefore represent the people who have never changed their mind about how they will vote. That means 80% of the electorate have remained consistently loyal to a party throughout and the remaining 20% represent the ‘don’t knows’ or ‘floating voters’.
So, all those manifestos published, all the policies announced over the last 3 months, all the hype, all the drama and all the name calling have been totally wasted. 80% of the voting populace knew in December who they were going to vote for and haven’t changed their minds. How many hours of broadcasting time have TV and radio wasted on this, how many tons of newsprint, all to try to persuade 20% of us to vote in a particular direction. The party leaders could have visited each and every one of us individually and not spent as much money.
This is actually quite disturbing. It means that people aren’t actually voting on the record of the government or the past record of the other parties. They aren’t voting on the policies that are being proposed by the different parties, for good or ill; they aren’t even voting on the basis that they like one party leader more than another. They are voting the way they will vote because that’s the way they have always voted. No wonder we end up with the governments that we do!
I count myself amongst the ‘don’t knows’ and I’m proud to do so, because we are the ones who will decide who the next government will be, also for good or ill. We are the ones who are listening to what the politicians are saying. We are the ones who are asking the hard questions because we aren’t going to give our votes away lightly. We are not the electoral cannon fodder, trudging wearily into the polling booths to mark our cross where we always mark it, to yet again have our trust betrayed.
How close am I to making up my mind? Pretty close. I was always leaning in one direction anyway but I was open to being persuaded in a different direction, but the parties failed to say the things I longed to hear them say.
I have strong feelings about the performance of the last Labour government and their failure to acknowledge their overspending, prior to 2007, is a major part of what I am talking about. Can I really say I am going to vote for a party who won’t acknowledge that they were running a £35 billion budget deficit by 2007, and who added £300 billion to the national debt before that year? I think you know the answer to that. Two of the people who served as Ministers in the Treasury, before and after the start of the recession, are sat on the Labour front bench today, but seem to have forgotten their involvement in what happened. One of them was the senior economic advisor to Gordon Brown.
That was the same Gordon Brown who on May 20th 1997, just after the General Election of that year, said that the new Labour government would make sure there would be no return to boom and bust. He said it many times while Chancellor, you can read them all in the Guardian but the last one was on 5th May 2007, just six months before Northern Rock went belly up to signal the start of the banking crisis and the start of the recession. At that time who was the Economic Secretary to The Treasury and principle advisor to Gordon Brown on all things to do with the economy? Step forward the MP for Morley and Outwood, Mr Edward Michael Balls. He is currently the Labour Chancellor in waiting.
Labour can blame the bankers all they want, but they were running the country so it’s they that failed to keep an eye on what the banks were doing and it was they that failed to put some money aside for the bad times. They blamed the global economy but only this week Ed Miliband was trying to persuade the ridiculous Toytown Trotsky Russel Brand that politicians could make a significant impact on what happened in Britain's economy. Which was it Ed? Was the global economy to blame for the recession or was it the way Labour ran the national economy?
Had Labour maintained the budget surplus that they inherited and paid down some of the national debt it would have provided a cushion for when the recession struck. But no, they did what Labour governments always do, they borrowed and spent. They didn’t even have the decency to tax the rich properly until just 6 weeks before they left office, something you can normally count on Labour governments doing. I don't suppose the MP for Morley and Outwood or the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford ever advised Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling to raise the top level of income tax, did they? They certainly had quite a lot to say when the Tories reduced it.
Now, if I may make use of a footballing analogy, if an Assistant Coach for my favourite football team was part of the coaching staff responsible for getting the team relegated from the Premier League, down through the Championship to the 1st Division and on the brink of dropping to the 2nd Division, would I want to see him come back into a more senior coaching job when the team were back in the Championship and on the brink of being promoted back into the Top Flight? No I wouldn’t want to see him back. I wouldn’t even want to see him coaching the third team reserves.
So, what about the current Coach? How has he done?
Well, it took some time, we weren’t promoted in the first season or even in the second and for a while further relegation was still on the cards, but we have clawed our way back into the play off zone of the Championship with promotion to the Premier League once more a possibility. I have to ask, is this the right time to sack the Coach and bring in a new one?
There are more people working in Britain today than at any other time in the past. Unemployment is at its lowest since the start of the banking crisis. OK, lots of the jobs created are on zero hours contracts or are part time, but that isn’t actually the point. The point is that they are jobs and more people than ever are earning money, not living on state handouts, or at least they are drawing lower levels of state handouts. Some are even paying tax and NI and therefore contributing to the country.
The economy is growing, which means more tax being collected which means more money to be spent on what it needs to be spent on. However, the economy is a fragile thing. The last quarter’s growth was a disappointing 0.3%, but all the more reason not to vote for a change to a party that oversaw the slide into recession.
On the negative side the Tories reduced the top rate of income tax to 45%, but still not as low as Labour had kept it for 12 years and 10 months in office. There is even evidence that more income tax was collected as a result of this because tax avoidance became less attractive, the so called 'Laffer effect'.
Immigration hasn't fallen as promised but that is down to two things. EU law on the freedom of movement and the fact that our economy is one of the most successful in the western world. People come here to work because there are jobs for them to come to. Net migration from non-EU countries is actually down.
There has been a big rise in zero hours contracts, but hey, who was in charge at the Department of Work and Pensions when the legislation that encouraged this was going through the European Parliament? Step forward the MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford, Yvette Cooper (also former Chief Secretary to the Treasury) and current member of the Labour front bench.
Funny that Labour aren’t reminding people of her last ministerial post, when unemployment was soaring. In fact Ed Miliband hasn't made a single reference to the 'successes' of his front bench when Labour were last in power. That speaks volumes. Fortunately my memory is longer than his.
I dearly wish that the Tories would tell us what cuts they are going to make if they get back into power, what taxes they will increase and so on, but none of the other parties are telling us that either, because it might cost them votes. They are telling us their manifestoes are fully 'costed', which isn't the same as saying they are fully 'funded'. They won't tell us what they will do to raise the money they need to fund those 'costed' spending plans.
Labour talks about the mansion tax (very selectively in London if the newspapers are to be believed) , but that is estimated to raise no more than £2.8 billion a year but they are promising spending increases for the NHS alone well in excess of that. So where is the rest of the money coming from? Silence is the loud reply.
There is still time for the Tories to persuade me that, actually, they don’t deserve another term in office. They could make a policy announcement today that would turn me off them. No doubt someone will put their foot in their mouth (probably Boris Johnson) or forget which football team they support, as if that makes any sort of difference, but I’m still leaning towards keeping the Coach we have for the time being. It’s a better choice than switching to the one who helped to get us relegated.
Speaking of whom, I don't know if Ed Miliband reads this blog (I do Tweet him a link) but ever since I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the inadvisability of getting into bed with the SNP Ed has been putting a lot of distace between himself and the Scots Nats. Well done Ed. We'll have to wait to see the outcome of the election, however, to find out if he will actually stick to his guns. Will the lure of power prove too much for him to resist? Even though he may mean what he says many of his highly ambitious party colleagues may wish to persuade him otherwise.
Next week the election will be over and I have no plans to speculate on which party will form a coalition or a minority government with SNP support, so I hope to give you a review of a book called Sweet Mungo, by Meriel Brooke.