Thursday 6 May 2010

Election round up

The official history of this election will be written in due course, once all the results are in. But after a long and hard campaign, here are a few initial thoughts, untainted, as it were, by any actual numbers.

Clearly, both the main UK parties thought they were learning from Obama by stressing the words 'Hope' in the case of Labour, and 'Change' in the case of the Tories. But it has seemed to me from the outset that they've heard the words, but not understood the message, because my perception is that the campaigns have actually centred around two rather different words.

Labour's campaign seems to have been primarily based around 'Fear' - fear of the Tories and what they might do. The Tories, on the other hand, seem to have opted for 'Despair' - despair about Brown and all his works. In short they've taken two essentially very positive words, and corrupted them into two highly negative campaigns.

Yesterday, Nick Ainger had an article on the IWA website, in which he said "many supporters of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats have said they intend to vote tactically vote for me to ensure that the Conservative candidate doesn’t get in". I don't doubt that he's found a few saying that, as have I. I'm not sure about the use of the word 'many' though – but I'll come back to that.

Similarly, one of Simon Hart's leaflets carried a picture of a claimed 'Plaid supporter' who has switched to the Tories because "the only way to replace Labour is to vote for the Welsh (sic) Conservatives". He too has claimed that many others are saying the same.

Now, the fact that some supporters of Plaid and the Lib Dems are considering voting tactically against one or other of the main UK parties is no surprise at all. But I suspect that the extent of that is being exaggerated, and it's an over-simplistic analysis which ignores some other trends. Labour and Tory both need to exaggerate the trend, of course. So-called 'tactical' voting of this sort needs people to believe that lots of others are doing the same thing, or else it becomes pointless. In reality, to the extent that it is happening, I suspect that the two different sorts of 'anti' votes are largely cancelling each other out locally.

(As an aside, although AV is not a proportional system of voting, it does allow people to express a second choice, and have that second choice taken into account. I suspect that all parties would find that the second choices of their supporters are nowhere near as uniform as they seem to believe – and that some of them would be quite surprising. A topic for another day.)

The two trends identified by Labour and Tory candidates may be the only ones that they want to talk about – but they're not the only ones which are happening. There's a 'plague on both your houses' trend happening as well – traditional supporters of Labour and Tory alike, fed up at the sameness and bickering, who are looking for an alternative. Some of them will undoubtedly go to the Lib Dems on the back of Clegg's performance; but equally, I have picked up a sense that for some people, Clegg has simply 'joined the mainstream', and that the plague is now being cast upon all three of them.

Then we come to local factors.

'Hunting' is the one subject which the Tories have studiously avoided mentioning. It's easy to see why. Although hunting is a popular subject amongst a certain minority, it has no traction with the wider public. I suspect that even a majority of Tory supporters are opposed to repeal – I've certainly picked up some of them who will not vote for the Tory candidate because of this one issue.

Does the local campaign make any difference in the television age? I'm sure it still does, but it's hard to say how much. The Tory campaign, buoyed up by massive inflows of both financial and human resources from those whose sole aim is the repeal of the Hunting Act has been the strongest and most visible. Money talks – but is it enough to buy victory?

They've certainly had more posters up than anyone else, but most of them seem to be on farmland, which actually tells us little about the underlying strength of their support. And I've even heard suggestions that there have been landowners who have insisted on showing Tory posters even if the tenants are somewhat less enthusiastic. Now that would be an echo of the politics of the past, and of the reasons for the deep-seated hostility to Tories in parts of Wales.

The second strongest and most visible campaign has undoubtedly been the Plaid campaign. 'We've only seen you and the Tories' has been a common message as we've travelled around the constituency. We even picked up a hint over the weekend that the Tories were becoming more worried about our challenge than about Labour.

The Labour campaign seems to have been much patchier than I've ever seen it before – little evidence of a serious effort in many areas. And the Lib Dems have been all but invisible; their campaign has depended totally on the performance of Clegg in the media.

So – where does that leave us? A week or two ago, Vaughan Roderick blogged that no-one had a clue what was happening. I agreed with him then, and still do today. There are movements in voting patterns, but without knowing the relative volumes, it's hard to see an overall picture. Each party - inevitably - concentrates on those switches of allegiance from which it benefits, and conveniently ignores the others. It's spin rather than analysis, of course.

Large numbers of people, even yesterday, were still saying that they hadn't decided. Traditionally, that's been a polite way of saying 'no' in some cases, but I think that there are genuinely more uncertain people this time around, and canvassers from other parties have been saying the same thing.

One final point, which much of the analysis of the latest polls seems not to take into account, is the impact of postal voting. Whilst those voting today will be taking account of all the final statements and news, many of those voting by post – around 9,000 in this constituency – will already have cast their votes on the basis of the position as it looked a week or ten days ago.

Overall, sadly, an overwhelmingly negative election, with no real enthusiasm either for the present government or for the official opposition. And they know that as well as I do.

Enough navel-gazing – out to get on with another sort of roundup.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Lib Dem here in Merthyr has been the most visible
Plaid have been less than visible and Labour who think they have it in the bag havent even been seen
I am a Plaid voter , but i will be voting Lib Dem to get the Labour waste of space out and Plaid have no chance here
Shame as they used to be strong
The young woman standing for the LDs has been an inspiration,she has really cmpaigned and fought and has had a young army behind her
That is where other parties need to look.