Author Archives: Mark Corner

A Tale of Two Polls

There have been two much-publicised polls in recent days which have produced headlines in the press for their common message that the Conservative government is in deep trouble. A Survation Poll suggested that there would be just 98 Conservative MPs after the next election. The other, a YouGov Poll, suggested that the Conservatives would win 155 MPs. Quite a large difference, but in either case adding up to huge Conservative losses, and that is what the media have concentrated on. If they’ve mentioned any other party, it has been the Reform Party and its effect as a ‘spoiler’ of the Conservative vote.

What was much less commented upon was the fact that these two polls, both published at the beginning of April, and both based upon interviews conducted during mid-March, were widely divergent in their estimates of how the third and fourth parties (in terms of seats in the House of Commons) would fare. The YouGov poll suggested that the SNP would win 19 seats, a substantial loss compared to 2019, while the Lib Dems would win 49, restoring them to third-party status. The Survation Poll, on the other hand, had the SNP maintaining third-party status, losing only 7 seats (from 48 to 41), while the Lib Dems, despite doubling their seats to 22, remained very much in fourth position.

It might be thought that the massive discrepancy over the projected seats for Lib Dems and the SNP in these two polls would arouse some interest in the media. Yet it hasn’t. The only thing that hit the headlines was the coming Labour landslide (of which the politics guru John Curtice appears to be 99% certain now) and the huge Tory losses. No one pretends that these aren’t the main finding of the two polls, but the question of who comes third and fourth matters too.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 46 Comments

A taxing question

The UK needs to spend a lot of money in order to deal with its collapsing public sector. There are daily reports of crumbling schools, poor transport infrastructure, shortages of staff and beds in the NHS and so on. Any new government is going to face the problem of where the money to restore public services will come from.

The question of how to pay for better public services is a much more acute one today than it was a generation ago when Tony Blair came to power. Partly because of this, the present Labour Party sounds almost fatalistic in its lack of ambition. The Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, talks of funding additional expenditure out of economic growth – but what growth is she talking about? She may well not inherit any growth at all if and when Labour comes to power. So Labour ministers avoid talking about any new spending commitments at all. ‘Wait and see till we’re in government’ tends to be their approach. Is that why we’re meant to vote for them? So we can wait and see what happens if we do?

In fact, it is difficult to see how a future Labour government, whatever the extra money brought in by measures like going for the non-doms, can afford to do very much. It is already giving up ending the two-child benefit cap, watering down its plans for a green revolution and refusing to say that it will spend more on education. But to be fair to Labour, what choice does it have? Isn’t the question of where money for new spending is going come from a real one?

Should the Lib Dems revisit a policy which they were the only party to advocate in 2001 (and which arguably did no harm to their electoral chances at the time), namely a small increase in the basic rate of taxation? As the recent Lib Dem conference recognised, there is a problem here. In 2001, when people were doing relatively well, promising to raise taxes a little was acceptable to a lot of people. In 2023, when there is arguably a more urgent need to spend more and public services are in a state of collapse, it is easy to understand why people might see an extra tax burden as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Haven’t they just had to deal with inflation and rising mortgage rates? Is the government really going to take away even more of their money? It’s when a tax rise is most needed that it’s least acceptable.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 36 Comments

The Real Problem with Constitutional Reform

Despite being a Labour MP, House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is opposed to Labour’s plan to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber. His view is that it would undermine the authority of the House of Commons. This has always been the problem with attempts to reform the Upper House. Change it into something democratic and accountable, and you are bound to ask why it doesn’t have more power. Leave it as a Ruritanian collection of robed elders, and you can defend putting limits on what it can do. For Hoyle it has a part in ‘tidying up bills.’ Like the cleaners, it plays a useful role that should not be criticised.

This will not do, but Labour’s plans for reform (so far lacking detail) may not do either. The trouble is their view of devolution, which has been focused on giving power away rather than sharing it. Yes, giving power away may be necessary to avoid too much centralisation. But often the most important thing is to allow authorities outside Westminster to participate in joint decision-making.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 9 Comments

The Independent View – A way forward for the Liberal Democrats

Political parties need distinctive policies. The Liberal Democrats had them in the 2005 election, with their own policy in foreign affairs (opposing military intervention in Iraq) and their own policy at home (supporting modest tax increases to pay for public services, something Labour had run away from ever since it lost the 1992 election).

Five years later, the Liberal Democrats went into Coalition government. That wasn’t a mistake in itself, but Nick Clegg did not insist upon one of the three ‘great posts’ – Chancellor, Home Office or Foreign Office. Compare the moment when Germany’s Greens went into coalition with the Social Democrats. Joschka Fischer became the Foreign Minister and had a clear impact on German foreign policy. As Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg may have had the effect of modifying government policy and making it less ‘excessive’ – like other deputies before him (Whitelaw? Prescott?) – but having a general watering-down effect on government policy does not mean giving it a distinctive flavour. Fischer was able to make a policy area his own (up to a point) and the Greens didn’t suffer too much electorally as a consequence. Clegg, despite some achievements, was not associated with a specifically Liberal vision and was punished heavily in 2015.

Posted in The Independent View | Tagged and | 42 Comments
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