The Bewildering Bewilderment of Benedict Brogan

by George_East on November 20, 2013

head scratchingOn Monday the Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph, Benedict Brogan, published a comment piece entitled The Baffling Recovery of Teflon Labour and Unpopular Ed in which he expressed bewilderment that Labour has regained a 6-10 point lead in the polls, after its lead all but disappeared over the summer.  The column has sparked a bit of a debate amongst the political commentariat (see for example liberal Tory MP Nick Boles and former Blair advisor John McTernan).

For Brogan: ‘nothing…is quite so head-scratching at the moment as the success of the Labour Party’.

The column typifies just about everything wrong with the Westminster Village world.   The pre-determined narrative since the early summer has been that with the economy now recovering, Labour has been completely blindsided by the brilliance of George Osborne, and saddled with the unelectable Ed Miliband as leader the Tories were now on course for certain victory in 2015.    There was, if you remember, even a piece in the Telegraph at one point referring to the Tories as being on a ‘glide path to victory’.  There are few things more infuriating to the world of the Westminster Village than reality intruding on their pre-determined narrative.

Yet a simple look at the reasons Brogan gives for it being bewildering that the Tories are not now powering home to a 2015 victory shows that all it would take is for him to open his eyes and it would be clear that Labour’s continued lead in the polls is not in any way surprising.

In a 17 paragraph column, Brogan spends three whole paragraphs on the Falkirk selection story.   This is, as we have written about on Allthatsleft before, an issue which outside of the Westminster bubble (and the right wing Westminster bubble at that) and a handful of activists in Falkirk itself, no one gives a monkeys about.   Yes, the Telegraph wants it to be some big scandal – but when it comes down to it, all it relates to is the selection process for a nomination in one safe Labour seat.  It is a internal Labour Party issue par excellence and I doubt has changed one person’s voting intention anywhere in the country.

Another paragraph is spent on the drug habits of the former Chairman of the Co-op Bank, Reverend Paul Flowers, as if this somehow makes the Labour Party unfit for office, on the grounds that Flowers was a Labour Party member (he has now been suspended) and presumably ‘the Co-Op!’ This is like saying that it is baffling that Tories are still in office when Jimmy Saville was such a committed supporter.   The Tories may want the Flowers story to stick to Labour but it is a silly and tenuous connection.  It does a journalist of Brogan’s seniority no favours when he cites it to explain is own bafflement.

Brogan goes on to deal with the economy and here he is a little stronger, but if he looks closely enough at what he himself wrote he will find the explanation.  Brogan writes:

The economy is improving rapidly, and it is likely that earnings will start to outstrip prices at some point next year’.

In other words as of now wages are falling (because earnings are not higher than inflation).  The economy may be improving in headline GDP terms, but the benefits of that improvement (such as it is) are not filtering down to most people, who find their living standards squeezed more and more – real wages are now at 2000 levels.  It is not difficult to figure out why the Tories are not being ‘rewarded’ in circumstances in which most people’s economic circumstances are still getting worse.

Brogan also says that, in contrast to the last Labour government, the coalition has ‘tried (with considerable success) to make things right’ .  This is a revealing sentence as this is where Brogan’s supposed disinterested analysis is shown for the right wing hack job that it is.    Of course if you are inclined to believe that the Coalition is ‘doing the right thing’ then you are likely to support them.  But there is no evidence that this is what most people think.  It is true that more of the public blame the last Labour government than the Coalition for austerity, but that does not mean that the public supports the policies of this government – the data suggests otherwise.

A classic Westminster Village example of this is Free Schools.  Everyone in the commnetariat pretty much seems to think Free Schools are a great idea (the journalists are of course mostly privately educated sending their kids to private schools).  The fact that all the polling suggests that the public is against them is another source of utter bewilderment to them.   They speak to each other and assume that everyone must think like them.

A further example was Ed Miliband’s energy freeze pledge.  This has been greeted by a lot of columns about its economic illiteracy (usually in pieces revealing just that flaw in the writer) and how it is just a gimmick.  Yet for most people in the country who are seeing their energy bills soar year after year (facing choices between ‘heating and eating’, as John Major described it), it is exactly the kind of policy they want to hear, as it at least shows that Labour is on their side.  That is why it has dominated the political agenda ever since.

No, the only bewildering thing about Labour re-establishing itself with a more comfortable lead since the end of the summer is that Benedict Brogan is so bewildered about it.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Killingworth November 20, 2013 at 3:30 pm

What I look for is not the size of the Labour lead, if any (it’s down to 4% to-day FWIW) but which issues are seen by the poll respondents as most important.

Labour do not yet have a lead on the key economic issues, which may mean no more than that people no longer think that politicians can keep income growth matching price inflation, if not better. And if they don’t think that, Labour remains vulnerable to an election fought on “right-wing” issues, notably (but not exclusively) immigration. Not that the Tories can be too complacent: such an election campaign could bounce back in their faces with UKIP picking up votes the Tories need for an overall majority.

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George_East November 20, 2013 at 3:45 pm

It is ‘at’ 4% today in Yougov, rather than ‘down to’ 4% I suspect. All polls need to be read bearing in mind the margin of error and not in isolation. The numbers in today’s polls are actually wholly consistent with a Labour lead still at the 6-9% level, which is what Yougov have been showing over the last week or so.

In trend terms it is pretty clear that Labour’s polling lead is a few points higher on average than it was in the summer. Of course it doesn’t mean Labour are going to win or even be the largest party. The point though is that in the circumstances it is not at all bewildering that the trend has been in the direction it has over recent months, even if it wasn’t in the Westminster Village script.

For what it’s worth I remain of the view that a Tory overall majority is a pretty unlikely outcome in May 2015. Not impossible, by any means – but the fundamentals are incredibly difficult for them. A 7 point lead over Labour, UKIP nipping at their right flank, stickyness of Lib Dem defectors, increasing the vote after a full term in office etc etc.

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Mukkinese November 23, 2013 at 12:49 am

The reason Labour consistently lead in the polls?

The Tory party…

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