Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saturday Night at the Polls (part 2)

Tonight’s ComRes poll for tomorrow’s Independent on Sunday makes good reading for BOTH Nick Clegg and David Cameron on one side but has a lot of worrying data for those of us interested in the future of democracy (which I’m certain includes Messrs Cameron and Clegg).

The headline figures are:

Conservative          40%

Labour                    29%

Liberal Democrat    21%

The real problems lie in the detail with only 44% “absolutely certain to vote” compared with 56% in February 2005. The biggest fall is in the DE social group with only 13% “absolutely certain to vote” compared to 24% in February 2005. What we seem to be seeing then is a recovery in Conservative numbers aided by a substantial fall in Labour numbers. In the ABC1 social groups, I think we are seeing two anti-Labour forces at work – on the one hand, a number of Conservative supporters who haven’t voted since 1997 are coming back to the fold while the “Blair Labour” voters have fragmented to the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives or are abstaining.

In the DE group, it’s simpler – the Labour voters are leaving the party but not going elsewhere readily.

Trying to read all this into election numbers isn’t easy – I suspect the BNP won’t be making a breakthrough nor will the Liberal Democrats do as badly as some suspect. The Conservatives look set for huge gains primarily in the type of seats Labour gained in 1997 and has held since and could even regain seats lost in 1992 on that basis. The Lib Dem – Conservative battle is far harder to call and the war is on for the ex-Labour voters in these seats.

None of this matters as much as the frightening prospect of another low turnout – perhaps 55% or even lower with strong numbers in Conservative seats and perhaps 30% turnout in some Labour seats.

This is unhealthy for our democracy and illustrates the damage the political process has suffered from recent events. Irrespective of who forms the next Government, that administration must have the restoration of confidence in the political process as one of its highest priorities. In my view, this has to begin with a concerted and far-reaching overhaul of the process of Government itself beginning with the repatriation of powers from Westminster, Whitehall and quangos to directly-elected and accountable local authorities.

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