Anthony Wells on 'What happened to Labour'

by Stephen Tall on June 27, 2008

Many Lib Dem Voice readers will be familiar with Anthony Wells’ name. He writes the UK Polling Report blog, which (though Anthony is a card-carrying Tory member) carries the most impartial and intelligent analysis of British political polls anywhere on the web.

On Politics Home today, Anthony analyses the results of the site’s PHI5000, a daily tracker of public opinion, to try and work out quite what’s behind the extraordinary slump in the Labour party’s fortunes in the past two months. You can read his full analysis here, but the conclusion is admirably concise:

What went wrong for Labour was not the local elections or Crewe and Nantwich, it was the 10p tax row, which destroyed the public’s confidence in their taxation policy, made the party look divided and made Gordon Brown look even more indecisive, ineffective and out of ideas.

The Conservatives meanwhile have benefited from comparison to Labour but – with the notable exception of David Cameron personally, whose reputation for efficiency and competence has been enhanced by local election victories – have not greatly improved their positive image.

In turn, this poses a question for the Lib Dems (one that is not unrelated to the Henley result)… Given that the Lib Dems were the first party to spot Gordon Brown’s 10p tax-con – on the day of the 2007 budget itself – how did we not manage to turn this into a reason for the public to protest against Gordon Brown’s decision and vote Lib Dem? Was it simply that the media refused to cover the party’s opposition? Or did we miss a trick by not making this a major Lib Dem campaign much sooner, ensuring the public identified us much more clearly with our opposition to this shameful policy?

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Part of the problem was a media that spent a year ignoring the issue until it actually came into effect. At which *everyone* suddently noticed how unfair it was.

by Graeme on June 27, 2008 at 4:39 pm. Reply #

We missed the trick.

We have a habit of doing this even when the cards are in our favour, partly because we have a relatively smaller team of MPs to take the strain and partly because (I think) they have a wider variety of interests and broader focus.

Vince Cable has built his reputation by being singularly focussed enough to concentrate on specifically marking out economics as *his* territory (Menzies Campbell is particularly respected on foreign affairs, Charles Kennedy on constitutional affairs and some others to a lesser extent), but who ‘owns’ taxation?

Few of our MPs have developed their brand to the same extent, so leaving their work undefended for wildcat conservative prospectors to lay claim to anytime we hit paydirt. It part of the ‘official’ privilege of shadowing government, and something our MPs need to pay more attention to.

Competence is all well and good at an individual level and required to be the lead actor, but we need a whole supporting cast of character actors to make best use of their personalities too.

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 6:11 pm. Reply #

Looking at the article in more detail, I disagree that it was only the 10p tax debacle which was responsible for Brown’s declining popularity, although this was the single most influential factor.

It is also clear that the constant stream of stories about knife crime hurt the government’s reputation on Law & Order, while I’m pretty sure that every single negative or controversial story (data loss etc) combined to create it’s own momentum of negative reporting with an expectation bias.

by Oranjepan on June 27, 2008 at 6:23 pm. Reply #

“Given that the Lib Dems were the first party to spot Gordon Brown’s 10p tax-con – on the day of the 2007 budget itself – how did we not manage to turn this into a reason for the public to protest”

We didn’t campaign on it. It would contrast with the 75p pension rise in 2000 which we were also the first party to recognise as an issue (from back when the relevant inflation figure was very low)

by Hywel Morgan on June 27, 2008 at 7:32 pm. Reply #

“We didn’t campaign on it.” This should be a question not a statement 🙂 I heard nothing about this issue from the immediate aftermath of the budget till around March time.

by Hywel Morgan on June 27, 2008 at 7:42 pm. Reply #

For one thing Fank Field spotted it and he stole the show. I am not sure if he spotted it before or after we did.
And secondly, although it is the case that Nick Clegg devoted a large part of his conference leader’s speach last March on poverty – which was very welcome – he did not mention the 10p rate. Imagine what would have happened if he did, and really made a point of it.
The problem is that there is no expectation from the electorate that the Liberal Democrats have anything special to say on inequality, and this is not helped by those who want to copy New Labour and claim that we are not interested in reducing the inequality of outcomes. We got rid of a popular policy for taxing the rich more, and although we replace it with progressive green taxes, the general public are not interested enough to take note what the new policy is.

by Geoffrey Payne on June 28, 2008 at 12:43 am. Reply #

There is another mystery in this which the Politics Home data shows up. The politican who gets 1st or 2nd overall rating in both their PH100 and PH 5000 surveys – and by some margin – is Vince Cable. Somehow we are not getting the mileage on Treasury and economic questions that Vince’s performance shold be giving us.

by David Heigham on June 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm. Reply #

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