Saturday, 27 February 2010

Is a Tory triumph inevitable?

An interesting - perhaps a little surprising - development in recent weeks is the closing of the gap between Conservatives and Labour in the opinion polls. A Telegraph poll this week even had Labour winning slightly more seats, despite taking a lower share of the vote than the Tories. The latest polls challenge the long-time assumption that the forthcoming general election will lead to a Conservative majority. A 'hung parliament' looks, unexpectedly, like a real possibility.

The commanding Tory lead has rested, first and foremost, on a collapse in support for the Labour government, the cumulative result of almost 13 years of disappointments and betrayals. It categorically didn't reflect a shift to the Right (which, at least to some extent, had happened in the late 1970s, leading to Margaret Thatcher's 1979 victory). A corresponding long-term trend is the decline in voter turnout: in the last decade, turnouts at general and local elections have been substantially lower than in earlier eras. The expenses crisis certainly won't have reversed that trend, which reflects disillusionment with the whole political class. Levels of trust in politicans have never been this low.

The crucial point is that most people don't want public sector cuts, yet that is the Tories' flagship policy. The official Opposition has singularly failed to exploit the damage done to the governing party by the economic crisis. Is that because of tactical ineptness or a failure to 'communicate the message'? No - it is precisely because David Cameron and George Osborne's message is out of kilter with the public mood.

The speculation is now that an incoming Tory government would swiftly impose austerity measures, with freezes on public sector pay and cuts to services (while slashing corporation tax). That's not going to help Cameron's Conservatives electorally. It reflects the party's undying allegiance to the capitalist Establishment; its ideological commitment to neoliberalism trumps everything else. Their ardently right-wing economic policies are advocated despite the popular mood, not because of it.

This inevitably prompts them to rely more heavily on promoting Islamophobia, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the politics of fear and insecurity. But these ideological motifs are unlikely to compensate for their problems elsewhere, notably the hostility generated by a slash and burn approach to public services. The priority for the left is to spearhead opposition to the cuts agenda now, to strengthen all those campaigning to defend public services - whatever happens in the general election.

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