Yesterday, I listened to a BBC TV debate involving Ken Livingstone and Michael Portillo. I have to say that these two seasoned politicians were enjoyable to listen to as they dished out their analysis. I was particularly struck by one (almost certainly set-piece) comment from Michael Portillo just at the end of the debate. He has linked the MP’s expenses scandal with the rise in popularity of Nick Clegg, their policy of electoral reform and the prospect of a hung parliament.
“At the beginning of the campaign they [Labour and the Conservatives] thought they could frighten people with the prospect of a hung parliament.
“At the end of the expenses scandal, OK, the MPs cleaned up the expenses system. But I think people are kind of looking for some bigger sign that politics is going to be different. I think people are seeing during this election that by supporting the Lib Dems, not only do they kind of mess up the electoral arithmetic but actually they put this question of electoral reform at centre stage. So if you link all those things together, I think there’s quite a yearning for that something catastrophic should come out of this election to put right what happened in the last parliament.”
I have a lot of respect for Michael Portillo as a political analyst. There is a lot of logic in what he says. Certainly the expenses scandal is something that nearly all of the electorate are affected by. How that has impacted on each of the party’s fortunes is surely a much more difficult and complex question to gauge. I hope Michael is wrong. If he is not, then perhaps the Lib Dem surge might have occurred without a TV debate, as it has done in previous elections.
Political macro mind-reading is a most inexact science. Journalists try to master it but end up identifying more questions than answers. The fact is, too many different elements of the campaign influence too many people in too many different ways. People’s thinking is also likely to change as the campaign continues.
Perhaps after tonight’s TV debate, we might see one of the parties gain some momentum. My hunch is that we will be just as clueless about the outcome tonight as we are this morning. Whatever happens tonight, the Conservatives will retain good prospects of total victory right until the polling booths close next week.
Filed under: Conservative Party, General Election, Liberal Democrats, MP's Expenses | Tagged: Conservative Party, General Election, Lib Dems, Liberal Democrats, MP's Expenses, TV Debates, TV Debates | Leave a Comment »