An interesting contribution this morning from David Herdson, a rarity on politicalbetting these days, a thoughtful and coherent Conbservative. His subject is the Tory poll number which, in most polls, is similar or slightly higher to the Conservative performance in 2010. It's worth mentioning of course that the recent ICM had the Conservatives at 35% compared with the 38-40% shown in other polls.
David's analysis splits the reason for continuing high Conservative poll numbers is threefold: first is the "Honeymoon Period". I don't think David has this quite right. The Conservative shares fell below 30% in 1981-82 and in 1985-86 but recovered substantially to win elections. To argue that the Conservatives didn't really lose support until 1993 isn't quite right.
I think we can argue that the "softness" of the Lib Dem vote has meant that a significant portion was lost quickly (perhaps half, certainly more than a third). The experience of the 1979-97 period suggests the fallback in Conservative numbers doesn't begin until the second year of the Government so I think next year will be worse for the Tories than this year. The key is whether the loss in support can be recovered by 2015 - previous evicence suggests it will and the mid-term fall off is a "protest" which, with the Liberal Democrats in Government, might go to UKIP.
The second point in a way reinforces the first and is about the impact of public spending cuts. David argues accurately that expenditure cuts haven't hit yet but protests against them are developing whether it be the fight to save the local library or anger against perceived "perks" in the public sector. Again, we can argue from past experience that whereas "positive" developments (tax cuts) can have an immediate impact on poll numbers, "negative" news can take longer to filter through. We see petrol now at all-time high prices (132.9p per litre at my local Tesco's) yet the political fallout hasn't been that sharp as yet. By this time next year, and especially if a second round of cuts looks likely, things may look different. It's a difficult one to argue but I think people will accept short-term privations in exchange for a better future but if the better future keeps receding, that sense of willingness to accept privation may well recede with it.
The final point is arguably the most interesting - that the Conservative constituency has been won over by the argument that "something has to be done" about the deficit and that the consequences of inaction would be disastrous. They are forced to the Coalition because Labour appears, at least under Ed Milliband, to reject the notion that the deficit needs to be tackled (or at least pro-Conservative propaganda suggests that). When Ed Milliband spoke to the TUC rally at the end of March, he reinforced the perception that Labour stood against the cuts and against tackling the deficit - a big strategic mistake.
I'm interested in this part of David's analysis because it shows how much there is still to play for. David suggests that were Labour to accept the Conservative analysis that the deficit problem needs to be tackled, they would be back in the game and it's hard not to argue. Tony Blair's greatest achievement was to persuade a significant portion of the British electorate in 1997 that Labour was no longer a socialist party but a progressive party of the centre or centre-left and it was a party against which millions of Conservatives felt unable to vote.
There is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats too and some deft repositioning for Nick Clegg which could pay huge dividends. No one doubts that the Liberal Democrats understand and support the need to bring the deficit under control but the Liberal Democrat role is as much to mitigate the excesses of the most austere of the Conservatives as much as to counter the Labour argument of inertia. David Herdson argues that the majority of the "Cameron Coalition" aren't in favour of draconian cuts either but support a measured and appropriate response which curbs the perecived excesses of the public sector but doesn't denude public services which would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
This "middleway" (or third-way) approach looks like the sensible approach but will it achieve the end of bringing down the deficit? Yes, but probably not as quickly as George Osborne or some others would like but the key point is that while there may be an appetite for curbing the excesses of the public sector, there is no appetite for viundictive service reductions.
IF Labour can move to a position of being seen to be managing the process of deficit reduction and public service reform better (ie: more fairly) then the Conservatives, it will provide them with a huge opportunity to regain the political initiative by 2015 but, as so often happens to parties going into Opposition after long periods in Government, it takes the message that the body is moving in the wrong direction a long time to reach the brain.
It's tempting to fight yesterday's battles and defend yesterday's record but politics is about present and future far more than the past.