Last night I gathered with around 50 local Conservatives on a boat on the Thames to watch the final leaders’ debate. Of course we were all rooting for David Cameron but we were all surprised at how Nick Clegg came so publically unstuck. He often had the air of a petulant sixth former and seemed far less at ease than he had in previous debates.
It was noticeable that he was sweating more profusely than the other two leaders; he refered to his notes on regular occasions and he forgot to speak into the camera. Under pressure from Brown and Cameron he became flustered and less fluent, even stammering occasionally and often speaking far too fast. However, the most damaging for Clegg were the revelations about his real policies and the number of times he got his facts completely wrong. Let’s explore a few examples:
The Euro – It has long been Lib Dem policy to sign Britain up to the single currency or Euro. Their Manifesto published a few days ago says “We believe that it is in Britain’s long-term interest to be part of the Euro” (page 67). However, when under pressure from David Cameron, Clegg denied his own party policy. He said “No. I’m not advocating entry into the Euro”. Perhaps he realised that joining the Euro is desperately unpopular with the public, especially in the light of the need for Euro members to bail out Greece, and possibly other countries soon.
Illegal Immigrant Amnesty – the Lib Dem Manifesto pledges to allow illegal immigrants who have lived in the UK for 10 years or more the opportunity to earn their citizenship. In 2007 Clegg described this policy as “a selective amnesty, if you like, a route to earned legalisation for the up to 600,000 people who have been living in this country invisibly, illegally, often exploited by unscrupulous employers and others”. However, last night Clegg said “I’m not advocation an amnesty…”. He was not so coy in 2007!
VAT on New Homes – the final policy that Nick Clegg would have preferred to have kept under wraps is his party’s plans to impose VAT on new houses which are currently zero-rated. The Manifesto wording says “We will equalise VAT on new build and repair” (Page 81). Under EU rules the minimum VAT rate allowed is 5%, so this policy means at least a 5% increase in the cost of a new house. Hardly a policy that will find favour with first time buyers or those that need affordable housing.
Non EU Immigration – Undoubtedly the most outrageous inaccuracy in Clegg’s argument last night was his arrogant attempt to get David Cameron to accept or deny his claim that “80% of people who come here come from the European Union.” To his credit, David Cameron refused to be drawn, as he obviously did not have the numbers to hand. Clegg continued to shout at Cameron to agree or disagree with the figure. However, a quick check of the numbers shows that in 2008 net foreign migration was 251,000 of which 63,000 or 25% was from the EU. Over the last five years the average has been 31% per annum. (Source www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/Product.asp?vlnk=15053)
The British people have now begun to see through Clegg’s very smooth exterior and are looking beyond their first impression. Once it dawns on those who did not watch the debate that the Lib Dems would sign the UK up to the Euro, allow around 600,000 illegal immigrants citizenship (plus up to another 600,000 family members to enter the UK), and make new and “affordable” houses less affordable, they will turn away from the party. Add to that, Clegg getting his facts completely wrong on immigration figures and it was not a good night for him or his party.
I don’t expect the polls to instantly show the Lib Dems collapsing but as I have said before, I do think they will gradually drift down over the next few days running up to polling day. However, the one thing that could save Clegg’s bacon and that of the Lib Dems is if Labour voters decide that Labour is facing meltdown and switch to the Lib Dems. It is a growing possibility!
There is a new Harris poll reported in tomorrow’s Mail which shows the Conservatives and Lib Dems up and Labour down to just 24%:
Conservative 33% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 32% (up 2%)
Labour 24% (down 1%)
I do suspect that Harris are overstating the Lib Dems at Labour expense but it will be interesting to see the polls in the Sunday papers.
Conservative 34% (no change)
Lib Dem 30% (no change)
Labour 27% (down 2%)
This poll is a couple of days old as I believe fieldwork finished on 27 April.
Conservative 33% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 30% (down 3%)
Labour 23% (no change)
There is now a definite trend of Conservatives drifting up and Lib Dems down, as I predicted. More polls due tonight.
Reading Conservatives have expressed their shock at the impact of leaked Labour plans to increase massively the cost of parking in a residents’ parking zone. The Council is currently conducting a review of all residents’ parking areas but information has been passed to the Conservatives which shows that Labour are planning to stop the right to a free resident’s parking permit for many households and nearly double the cost of a second permit. Many addresses will therefore lose their entitlement to a first or second permit.
At present the first permit is free and a second permit costs £55, up to 20 visitors permits are issued free and subsequent books are charged at £12 per book. Under Labour’s plans for anyone moving into a residents’ parking zone, the second permit would rise to £100 and just 10 visitors permits would be issued free, with subsequent books being charged at £20 per book.
However, the biggest blow for residents will be the news that any address that has any off-street parking (whether at the property or elsewhere) will not be entitled to a free first permit. The homeowner will have to apply for a second permit at £100, and this will only be issued if the parking zone they are in is less than 80% subscribed. With the planned merger of over-subscribed zones with the under-subscribed ones, it is unlikely that any zones will meet these tighter criteria for issuing second permits.
Commercial vehicles will not be entitled to a resident’s permit and will have to apply for a business permit at £250. They will be restricted to one permit per business.
Discretionary permits applications will cost £50 per application with the actual permit costing £300 (the application cost would be deducted from the £300).
All residents’ parking zones (except the centre zones) will be changed to allow 2 hour parking between 10am and 4pm.
The Labour Group also wants to introduce higher charges for vehicles that are considered to be “gas guzzlers”. So older and larger vehicles would almost certainly pay even higher charges!
This will be shocking news to the many residents who live in residents’ parking zones. Many addresses will lose their right to a free permit completely and other residents will have to pay £100 for the privilege of parking outside their own property. Plans for even higher charges for older vehicles would also hit poorer families hardest.
Labour was hoping to keep this secret until after the local elections and then spring the news on local residents. Conservatives have pledged to stop these Labour plans for residential and visitors permits if elected and restrict any increase in charges to the rate of inflation. The existing deficit in funding the scheme would be met by introducing pay and display bays for non-residents between 10am and 4pm.
There is a new poll from Communicate Research reported tonight for tomorrow’s Independent and ITV News which shows the Conservatives opening up a lead of 7% and the Lib Dems down further and back in third place:
Conservative 36% (up 3%)
Labour 29% (no change)
Lib Dem 26% (down 3%)
Once again the Conservatives are up and Lib Dems down, this time by 3% each. This poll puts the Lib Dems well back into third place and the general trend now is the Conservatives beginning to open up a reasonable lead over Labour.
Today was a very revealing day for the electorate about the man who is seeking election as Prime Minister for the first time. For years stories have circulated about Gordon Brown’s bad temper and his dislike of being disagreed with. We have also more recently heard allegations of bullying and rages when he doesn’t get his own way. All of these have been strenuously denied by the Labour party.
Today an ordinary voter had a firm but reasonable public debate with the Prime Minister over a range of policies including immigration. Throughout Brown kept his cool and seemed to deal reasonably well with the lady’s questions. Indeed she made it clear that she was a natural Labour supporter who just wanted to make her constructive criticisms of Brown’s government.
When the conversation ended and Brown returned to his car he forgot that he had been wired with a lapel microphone with a live feed to all major broadcasters. When the doors were closed two things became very clear. Firstly Brown verbally lashed out at his staff for letting the woman speak to him. Hysterically he described the encounter as a disaster and sought to blame those around him for the whole event. Secondly he then abused Mrs Duffy, describing her as a “bigoted woman” presumably for having the temerity to raise the concerns of many people over the level of immigration.
When Brown was played the tape of his remarks he wriggled, claiming that he had “misunderstood” what Mrs Duffy had said to him. Initially he offered a half-hearted apology for any offence he may have caused. Only later did he speed back to Mrs Duffy’s house to offer a full apology which he assured the assembled media, she had accepted. He claimed to be “mortified” whilst grinning throughout his statement. Unfortunately so many spin doctors have told Gordon to lighten up and smile that this is now his default setting, however inappropriate it may be at the time.
This gaffe will undoubtedly continue to dominate the news up to tomorrow night’s final TV debate. I am sure that it will be the front page story in every newspaper tomorrow morning and the news that Mrs Duffy has appointed a PR specialist is very bad news for Brown central. They will advise her on how to get the maximum exposure and revenue for her story – the last thing Labour needs right now.
Today Gordon Brown was condemned out of his own mouth. His insecurities and instinct to blame others was highlighted to the whole nation. The man is unfit to be Prime Minister and I think many more people will reach the same conclusion by 6th May.
Conservative 32% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 30% (up 1%)
Labour 25% (down 1%)
All changes are within the margin of error and it will be interesting to see what the other polls due tonight will show. I don’t yet know when this poll was conducted.
It has been obvious to me for some time that Labour in Reading was facing disaster on 6th May. Locally houses that normally have posters in the window or on stakes in the garden have none. There is little sign of Labour canvassers or leaflets in most wards and our canvassers are reporting former Labour voters coming over to the Conservatives. In our marginal and target wards the canvass returns are very good but they seem to be even better in wards that would previously have been considered “safe” Labour.
Confirmation of our findings have now been published in a MORI survey for the Local Government Chronicle looking at data gathered from February 2009 to February 2010 in 17 key cities and towns across the UK. The article specifically highlights Reading as a “bouyant city” alongside Milton Keynes, York, Brighton and Cambridge. It suggests that Labour support has plummeted by 21% from 35% to 14%, while Conservative support is up 9%, and Lib Dems up 7%. The data used predates the Lib Dem “surge” following the televised leaders debates but if anything Labour has gone down since then.
This election has been remarkable for the number of people contacting the Conservative offices in Reading East and West to offer their support and to request a poster for their window or on a stake. Frankly, we have struggled to keep up with the demand for Conservative posters, especially from areas in current Labour and Lib Dem wards.
It has also been remarkable for the fact that even some Labour Councillors and former Councillors do not have Labour posters in their windows. Everything I have seen suggests that the Conservatives will make further inroads into Labour’s traditional heartland on 6th May. It is worth noting the composition of Reading Borough Council as recently as 2002:
Labour 36 seats / Lib Dem 6 seats / Conservative 3 seats
Entering this local election the Council looks like this:
Labour 19 seats / Conservative 18 seats / Lib Dem 8 seats / Independent 1 seat
It is noticeable that despite all their bravado the Lib Dems have made almost no progress in Reading in the last eight years, despite the obvious crumbling of Labour support. In fact in the last few local elections the Lib Dem vote has declined in each successive year. In the elections on 6th May the choice in Reading is very clear – only the Conservatives can defeat Labour to provide a fresh start for our town.
For those people who do not have an LGC login the article is below:
Conservative 33% (up 1%)
Lib Dem 29% (down 2%)
Labour 29% (up 1%)
Changes are within the margin of error but overall the changes are in line with the earlier Populus poll suggesting the Lib Dems drifting downwards and the Conservatives up again.
Conservative 36% (up 4%)
Lib Dem 28% (down 3%)
Labour 27% (down 1%)
This poll suggests again that the Lib Dem tide is turning but Labour will be concerned that despite the Lib Dem fall they are still in second place.
A week ago I wrote about the campaign website of Reading East Lib Dem candidate Gareth Epps, which saw him promising “a Fresh Start for Reading West”. Of course it was swiftly amended as soon as I blogged it but a kind correspondent had screen-captured the blooper for me. You might think therefore that the Lib Dems would be most careful not to repeat the error.
However, a resident has passed me a copy of a “Focus” leaflet currently being distributed in Redlands ward. Not only is Epps once again advertised as the candidate for Reading West but he is described as the “perspective” (sic) candidate! The same caption suggests that “a resident” is posing for the photo with Gareth (Reading West) and Daisy Benson (Redlands). If you look closely, that “resident” bears more than a passing resemblance to Lib Dem Councillor Warren Swaine, who not only does not represent Redlands but lives in Katesgrove ward.
So that one Lib Dem photo and caption is confusing, misleading AND inaccurate. Quite an achievement!
Have a look at the leaflet here.
There is a new poll from Opinium published in the Daily Express tomorrow showing the Conservatives increasing their lead over the Lib Dems:
Conservative 34% (up 2%)
Lib Dem 28% (down 1%)
Labour 25% (down 1%)
The Lib Dems are maintaining a strong position although they are down a couple of points from their peak after the first debate and the Conservatives are a point or two stronger.
There is a new poll from Communicate Research reported tonight for tomorrow’s Independent and ITV News which shows the Lib Dems further narrowing the gap with the Conservatives and Labour unchanged in third place:
Conservative 32% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 31% (up 2%)
Labour 28% (no change)
ComRes also asked voters about the prospect of a hung parliament. 72% said they’d prefer a majority government, while 20% said they would prefer a hung parliament. When those who support a majority government were asked who they would prefer to see get a majority, 37% said Conservative, 29% Labour. Of those who said they would prefer a hung parliament, 27% opted for a Conservative government with Liberal Democrat support, while 56% opted for Labour government with support of the Lib Dems.
There is a new ICM poll in tomorrow’s Guardian which shows the race tightening again. All three parties are within a few points of each other:
Conservative 33% (down 2%)
Lib Dem 30% (down 1%)
Labour 28% (up 2%)
This merely reverses the changes in the weekend ICM poll and restores the exact party shares of the last Guardian ICM poll.