RECENTLY I watched a repeat of BBC2’s excellent Mock The Week comedy quiz show, originally aired last summer. Subjects under “discussion” were last year’s floods and speculation that the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, might take advantage of Labour’s 10 per cent poll lead and call a snap election.
We all know what happened next. But it struck me that the current Tory opinion poll lead, though significant in terms of per centage share, is a very recent phenomenon. Yet the Tories’ confidence of winning the next election is utterly unshakeable. The very idea that Labour might yet stage a recovery is not only fanciful but unthinkable (evidenced by the comments in response to this very post).
In terms of number of seats in the Commons, the Tories are worse off than Labour in the 1983 parliament (Labour under Michael Foot won 209 seats; the Tories under Michael Howard won 198). Election victories are only secured by a large and sustained opinion poll lead, criteria which, arguably, the Tories have so far only half met.
The public aren’t yet convinced that ‘Dave’ – the man who advised Norman Lamont and who personally designed the “patient’s passport” as a means of diverting billions of pounds of NHS funding towards the private health sector – can be trusted. He’s certainly no Tony Blair, however much he’s read the instructions.
Which brings me back to the original observation about the Tories’ opinion poll lead being a relatively recent phenomenon. I can honestly say that that degree of arrogance, where defeat isn’t even considered a possibility – has rarely, if ever, afflicted the Labour Party. We’ve always been aware that election victories are hard fought for, and hard won.
For the Tories, though, opposition – even opposition when they were reduced to a rump in the commons, facing a Labour majority of 180 – was never more than a blip, a mere inconvenience on the road back to power. And power, for the Tories, was never a privilege; it is their birthright, to be handed to them on a silver platter by an electorate that has taken longer than they expected to come to its senses. Any suggestion, nearly two years before the last possible date for a general election, that it might yet elude them, is to be mocked and dismissed with a wave of the hand.
There are those in the Tory Party who share the arrogance of Grand Moff Tarkin who, when the Empire seemed on the brink of victory, dismissed the Rebellion’s fightback against the Death Star with the words: “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances!” And we all know what happened to him.
There. I bet John Bloody Redwood never uses Star Wars references…