Sunday, 18 April 2010

The times they are a-changin’ – but they’re not really

It's clear that all polls taken specifically by those who watched the debate put Nick Clegg as coming out on top, Cameron in a distant second, and Brown usually a few points behind him. Furthermore, national polls have seen a rise in support for the Lib Dems. I don't think the reason for this support is that everyone has suddenly had an epiphany and concluded that they're a Liberal Democrat, but far more likely that Clegg was very good at separating himself from the other two and being the personification of change. This sudden surge in support has led to some Lib Dem candidates getting rather excited: "The Lib Dems TAKE THE LEAD!Poll in the Mail has us winning! History in the making. Be a part of it in Hertford & Stortford - Vote 4 Change!" Tweeted Andrew Lewin, and even more excitedly: "...At the current rate of progress, we are looking at Lib Dem majority Govt !" I think this excitement may be misplaced.



Other polls have also shown a surge in Liberal Democrat support, with many even showing the Lib Dems coming in second, pushing Labour down to third place. There's a marked slump in Conservative support in many polls, with Labour making a few losses. Coming above Labour in opinion polls for the first time ever can be attributed to the TV debates, and will likely have perked up the Lib Dems no end:

Let's take a quick look at two polls, courtesy of the Telegraph's stats for 17th April 2010



However, despite these poll predictions, I think the prospect of this Lib Dem support being maintained is slim, and even if it remains high, the chances of them forming a government are even slimmer. Here's why:

1. The electoral system

Though they won't give this as an argument, one of the reasons the Liberal Democrats are committed to a proportional system is that it will allow them to gain more seats. Currently, a party could receive a large percentage of the votes, but that share could be spread throughout the country and not concentrated in constituencies enough to win many seats, which is what generally happens with the Lib Dems. If we swapped to a proportional system, the seats would be distributed in close proportion to the number of votes, so 20% of the votes would equal 20% of the seats, or very close.

It's unlikely that a swing towards the Lib Dems would result in a massively greater number of seats - it's more likely that more votes for them would take votes away from Labour, making it easier for the Conservatives to gain seats.

The simplest way to see how unfair our system is to view the results in terms of votes, and in terms of seats won. These are the 2005 results:



I have omitted the smaller parties which gained a handful of seats, such as SNP and Sinn Fein. Our system requires parties to have a great deal of support in small areas in order to win seats. As we can see, the Conservatives only had slightly under 3% less of the vote than Labour, but they have a whopping 25% fewer seats. Under a proportional system, the inner and outer bars would be almost exactly the same, as seats would be given in proportionality to votes. 36% of the vote would mean 36% of the seats. Whilst the Liberal Democrats had a chunk of the vote that is not to be sniffed at, their proportion of seats is less than half that of their votes because they have difficulty in concentrating their support in enough constituencies.

2. Their policies will be scrutinised

[caption id="attachment_521" align="alignleft" width="75" caption="The Lib Dems' support for further EU integration and the Euro could lose them support"][/caption]

Foreign affairs weren't touched upon during this debate, and if I remember rightly, it's going to be the focus of the second debate, or failing that, the third. The European Union will undoubtedly come up during that debate, and since a large number of the population are Eurosceptic, or at least have concerns about integration, the Conservative policies to repatriate power and prevent any more transfer of power without a referendum could go down well, and the Lib Dems' unwavering Europhilia will likely be unpopular. If it is revealed that the party is committed to more European integration and joining the Euro, some voters may find themselves turned away from their new best friend.

They're also dogmatically against nuclear power, which just makes them appear idealist and lacking in pragmatism.

3. It's not personality that counts... I hope


I'm hoping people aren't going to vote based upon a few good appearances at a debate. It's mostly a test of personality and ability to play up to the camera, rather than a reasoned and proper debate of policy. The platform puts Gordon Brown at a disadvantage because he's not good at speaking, and it also put Cameron at a disadvantage because he appears best when interacting with the audience.

There's no doubt that Clegg is a very good performer and a great people-person, but when people look at the party's policies, they may not feel as enthusiastic. The reason I don't like these debates is because they encourage voting without scrutiny, and they've practically entrenched the presidential style of politics we've been moving towards; we're not choosing a President on the basis that he's a nice man and we think he'll do well - we're choosing a set of policies, a vision for the next 5 years, and that shouldn't be simplified into 3 one and a half hour slots. It would be abusrd to expect people to read the parties' entire manifestos, but policy summaries are available online in various places, and these should be used to determine votes, not ability to perform.

4. He's got a lot to live up to

Following his grandstanding performance at the first debate, he needs to be able to stay on top form for the next two if he's going to continue to ride on the wave of popularity. He's no longer the fresh-faced newcomer - everyone that watched the first time knows to expect a dynamic and skilled orator who is able to put forward his policies well and come out looking better when Cameron and Brown start going at each other. The audience will now be expecting a repeat of his sterling performance last time, and if he doesn't deliver, he'll come off looking worse.

Conclusion

Of course, I could be eating my words in a few weeks time when the results from the election come in, but I'll say now, I'll eat my hat if the Lib Dems win an outright majority. The polls, in the long run, predict a hung Parliament with the Conservatives having more seats, but those who run the polls generally predict a Tory overall majority, because they believe their stats show people will be voting for change on the 6th of May.

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