Tories don’t want a snap election – why I disagree with Jackie Ashley
Jackie Ashley has written an interesting piece arguing that the Tories may well want a snap general election this year. This is why I disagree. But I should be clear – I am not saying that there won’t be a general election this year, I’m just saying that the Tories don’t want one. Similarly, I am not saying that Cameron doesn’t want rid of the Lib Dems – I’m sure he does. I just think that Cameron would be a fool if he thinks he could be at all confident of winning. There are basically 2 reasons for this – who’d run a better campaign, and the economic context that the campaigns would be fought in.
Who would run a better campaign?
Jackie Ashley’s core argument is that the Tories still have lots of cash, while Labour are broke. I think she’s over playing that for a number of reasons.
1) Money isn’t the only resource in an election. While Labour do have very little cash, they have many more members and many many more activists than they had this time last year. In Scotland it seems they are managing full doorstep canvasses of key marginal seats – something they just couldn’t do even last year. In Scotland, they are up against an equally formidable SNP machine, but there are few places that the Tories manage to dominate ground campaigns this way. This kind of person power is a big deal in election campaigns. Labour may be cash poor, but they have a new, fresh faced army ready to pound the streets to boot out the Tories.
2) Money can only get you so far. A stark example of this is the election campaign in The Wrekin in 2005. The Tories reportedly outspent Labour by an extra-ordinary 12:1. Yet they only secured a swing of +3.5%. As it happens, this was enough to claim the seat, but a 12:1 margin is one hell of an out-spending to deliver a 3.5% swing in a year when the Tories were up 0.7% of that on the national swing anyway. Or, let’s take an example from the 2010 elections. Our old friend Jacob Rees-Mogg only won the seat of North East Somerset on a notional swing of 2.2%, despite rumours of vast piles of Ashcroft cash. So, yes, money matters. Ashcroft probably did put the Tories ahead of Labour at the last election, but it can only get you so far.
3) … and how far will it need to get them? Well, the latest YouGov poll gives Labour a 7 point lead. The last few polls have all given Labour a significant lead, so this isn’t a blip. Obviously it’s not unassailable, but it is nothing to be sniffed at, and certainly not cause for Cameron to relish facing the electorate. Jackie Ashley is of course right that this figure will be very soft, but soft polls can go up as well as down.
4) Support brings money. Labour are currently broke. But an election could well help change that. Whilst they were an outgoing and unpopular government a year ago that no one would give money to, they are now seen as the alternative to a government that many people passionately hate – remember that almost 1% of people in the country have already marched against them. I’m not saying that will all translate into cash for Labour (or other parties who might take seats off the Tories). But some of it will.
5) It is true that Labour haven’t got their act together, and that they are still basically quite shit. But, are the Tories really geared up for an election? Remember, their right is livid with David Cameron over what they see as his failure to win the election. Labour, though rubbish, are more united than they’ve been for a while – for the moment at least.
Surely even Tories see that the economy is crashing through the floor this year, and that they are likely to get a big dollop of the blame that they have so far partly managed to avoid? Global inflation is likely to remain high. Much of the Euro-zone is collapsing, and China is reining its growth in to control inflation. The export led growth strategy will fail.
At the same time, the bottom is already dropping (or, rather, being cut) out of domestic demand. In the last few weeks – since the cuts have genuinely started to hit – shops have reported a ‘chilling’ fall in customers. This adds up to rising unemployment and growing unease. The Tories think that this will all stabilise and come together in 4 years time. But even they accept this is going to be a hell of a year, and as things get a whole load worse while they are in government, are they really going to take a huge gamble on whether they can still pin the blame on Labour?
Add to this their most unpopular policy – total upheaval of the NHS – which will get worse and worse all year, and this would surely be a disastrous time for the Tories to go to the polls. Their whole strategy, surely, is to push through rapid and unpopular changes over two or three years, then have a couple of years of stability before going to the vote, in the hope that the ‘private sector growth’ they are praying for will carry them back in.
So, will Cameron want to face a renewed Labour activist army at a time that he is presiding over economic collapse (and the dismantlement of the NHS) and around 10% behind in the polls? This seems pretty unlikely to me. Much more likely is that some of the more progressive Lib Dems grow a spine as they see that the ‘cross your fingers and hope for growth’ approach to electioneering doesn’t work. If they walk out this might just pull the plug on the government. And so I’m not arguing that an election this year is off the cards. I just don’t think Cameron would relish it.
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I’m usually largely in agreement with Jackie Ashley myself, but I have to agree here. It’s highly unlikely Cameron is savouring another bite of the electoral cherry. Most of the accounts of the 2010 General Election highlight how despondent he was at not reaching a majority in spite of Gordon Brown’s un-electability. I don’t suspect that in the year that the cuts are going to hit and public sector redundancies take effect, that he’d tempt facing the public.
You raise another important point – in spite of their cash deficit, Labour activists are re-motivated and increasing in number. Whilst Green Party membership is rising, Labour is starting that inevitable shift onto our ground again. Things are about to get a lot tougher.
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said here, but reading your piece, and the one in the Guardian, I was left with the thought that it very much depends on your beliefs about the future of the UK economy. If you think things are going to be much worse in three years’ time, going now, with an appropriate-looking excuse, might be an attractive option.