Welcome to the second edition of FH POLL POSITION, your weekly email update from FleishmanHillard’s Public Affairs team in London.
POLL OF POLLS
As ever, we look first to the polls. There has been slight movement to Labour, but overall no side has pulled ahead significantly and due to the margin of error anyone could take the lead. The mood amongst the major parties this week has been relatively buoyant, with the exception of UKIP who have seen a further squeeze on their vote and the real possibility that Farage may not win the South Thanet Seat. Labour has been boosted by a series of positive polls which puts them – just – ahead of the Conservatives in the poll of polls. On top of this Lord Ashcroft’s polls of marginal seats have shown that the Labour still is pulling away from the Conservatives in the seats that matter. To compound this result the polling has shown that in the marginals Labour is winning the “ground war” with on average 10% more people receiving campaigning material from Labour as from the Conservatives. With the polls so tight, this could cost the Conservatives the election.
Last week’s leadership debate did not move the polls, so next week we are looking to the launch of the main parties manifestos. Will these give the parties the spurt they need to draw ahead, or will this campaign be remembered for both parties staying neck and neck. The only thing we can predict in this race is that whoever we wake up with on May 8th may not be the party we went to bed with….
DUP AND COMING
Roll up! Roll up! Place your bets please ladies and gents! This week Nick’s PA blackboard brings you the current state of the betting markets. Despite the polls, the betting markers still predict that the Conservatives will take the most seats, between 281-285; however, over the past week the gap between Labour and the Conservatives has slightly narrowed, so there is everything to play for from now until the election.
DIVIDING LINE OF THE WEEK
It’s a toss-up between two clear contenders: the scrap over non-doms, or the slightly more personal row that erupted over Trident. Perhaps it’s best to think of them as the same argument… more of that later.
Either way, there is plenty of smelly mud in the air – whether any of it sticks is another question. Labour and the Conservatives are showing that perhaps British politics is more polarised than we all thought, at least superficially.
In the wake of the leaders debates, FleishmanHillard’s social media analysis showed that the leaders viewed most positively were Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, in that order. The supposed triumph of the female ‘progressive’ leaders against the pale, stale and male establishment was hailed in some quarters – the Guardian suggested that it was only “the female participants who actually responded to what they were hearing and who seemed to be living in the moment”. Sturgeon had an excellent debate – her performance has justifiably attracted praise. Bennett and Wood, however, were mediocre. Bennett, in particular, was clearly a beneficiary of low expectations – having until then turned in such a car-crash of media moments that as long as she stayed upright and spoke in full sentences, she was always likely to get a pass. The reality is that the debates were pretty much what Cameron wanted – a score draw, with no breakthrough moment.
This week, normal political life appears to have reasserted itself. Miliband, in particular appears to have had a reasonable week. Others have had a more mixed ride, however. Of the four main UK-wide leaders only Farage has increased his footprint this week – this could be indicative of the increased exposure afforded the minor party leaders following the debates. However, Farage’s performance last week was controversial, with his reference to immigrant HIV sufferers certainly not helping him to attract more supporters – though it is unlikely to have put off existing supporters. The press coverage of UKIP this week has been mixed, at best, with many focusing on their apparently shambolic campaign and the failings of their candidates. Not all coverage is good coverage …
Labour opened by promising to abolish the ‘non domicile’ rules under which select groups of UK residents are only taxed on their UK, instead of worldwide, income. As the day wore on and the Tory defensive machine got into gear, Labour appeared to back-pedal into announcing a consultation on tightening the rules instead. The detail of the ‘residence and domicile’ tax rules are complicated and, frankly, irrelevant. Almost certainly, very few people will have understood much beyond the general intent to clamp down on rich people and possible tax avoiders. However, in narrative terms, the link with Labour’s previous noises on avoidance is clear, and the tactics are the same – Labour launches a policy aimed at a complicated bit of the tax code that no one understands. They paint themselves as the party of ‘fairness’ determined to stand up for ordinary people against the rich people whom the Tories have gone easy on. As a tactic, this helps to push the Conservatives on the defensive – but is itself unlikely to win over people who were not thinking of voting Labour anyway.
The Conservative response was, to borrow a metaphor from the playbook of Australian politics, to throw a dead cat onto the table. This refers to the use of a tactic so shocking and potentially tasteless that it forcibly moves the conversation on – even at the expense of some nausea from all who witness it. In this case, the proverbial dead feline was a putative SNP-Labour agreement to abolish Trident in return for Miliband getting to be Prime Minister. Michael Fallon, the Conservative Defence Secretary, sought to portray Miliband as someone so craven, dangerous, untrustworthy and yet ruthless for power that he would literally stop at nothing to become Prime Minister. He had knifed his own brother – he would have no problem with dismantling the defences of the UK if that was what it took. There is some inconsistency in the Tory messaging on this – they cannot quite seem to make up their minds whether Miliband is Frank Underwood or Jim Hacker. Logically, Miliband cannot be both the devil incarnate and a weak, rudderless, misfit. And their attack was so personal it evoked Miliband’s 2013 skirmish with the Daily Mail over his father, which actually ended up winning him widespread sympathy. Miliband, therefore, ends the week with the moral high ground. However, the Conservatives end with the focus back on him and his leadership. Time will tell who is better-placed.
TOP OF THE TWEETS
Slightly higher numbers compared to last week. Sadly, looking at the top tweets below, is there a single positive message in there? And is the impact of Farage’s comment on HIV any better than tweets about Joey Essex?
FROM OUR SCOTTISH CORRESPONDENT
“The political landscape in Scotland has been different to the rest of the UK for many years now, but never will the 59 Scottish seats be more critical to the overall outcome than this time round. Labour are defending a hearty 41 seats from 2010 and the still avowedly pro-UK-break-up SNP just six. But since 2010, the SNP have stormed to a landslide in the Scottish Parliament and played the referendum NO vote like winners. They have been rewarded with 80000 new members and an influx of activists and resources that make eyes water amongst the other parties.
Scottish polls this year have consistently shown an SNP lead in the low to mid 40s% – with Labour barely making it past 30%. The Lib Dems have yet to see double figures, and the last Westminster poll showed them on a dismal 3% which would see them wiped out in May. The Scottish Conservatives have maintained a steady position in the mid to high teens with campaigners in marginal seats complaining the core Tory vote is notoriously hard to squeeze.
Some evidence of anti-SNP tactical voting is starting to emerge in seats which voted heavily No last September, such as in Gordon, to try and stop former SNP leader Alex Salmond.
SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continues to make coy overtures to Ed Miliband, using emotive language like ‘locking David Cameron out of Downing Street’. Labour’s able Scottish leader, former UK Cabinet Minister Jim Murphy, struggles to put clear water between his battle-weary offering and the shiny new toys being offered to a UK audience by the SNP. The media reaction from this week’s leaders’ debates was that no-one scored a direct hit, although Nicola Sturgeon appeared less comfortable than the parallel UK leaders’ event last week.
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are as battered in Scotland as they are elsewhere and will struggle to hold even 3 or 4 of their 11 seats. The Tories might just hang onto their sole MP, David Mundell, and could snatch a second seat from former Scottish Secretary Michael Moore. And, of course, we have barely a hint of UKIP in Scotland. For now…”
Thank you to Devin Scobie, Director of Edinburgh-based Caledonia Public Affairs – www.caledoniapa.com.
FROM THE FRONT LINE
Liberal Democrat incumbent Simon Hughes, who has sat for various Bermondsey seats since a by-election in 1983, is being contested by Labour’s Neil Coyle. While the Ashcroft poll suggests Lib Dems might just hold onto this seat, it’s going to be a tight race and the Labour campaigning team is bursting with confidence. One local Labour councillor predicts a Labour win by 2500 votes (but refused to bet on it..)! Here’s what the people on the doorstep had to say:
“Simon Hughes is a good MP and it would be difficult to shift him. He knows me by name and calls me up to find out how I am doing and to see if I’ll vote. We see him here all the time.” – To Labour’s detriment, Simon Hughes is much liked by his constituents while our doorstep conversations would suggest the opposite can be said about the Labour-led council…
“I always voted Labour and I don’t know why. Politics bores me.” – Despite aforementioned boredom, this constituent proceeded to take two party posters for their front window.
“I wouldn’t vote Labour because they’re planning to hop into bed with the SNP. It’s not right that Scotland should decide on our future.” – This is proving to be one of the most successful attack lines deployed by the Tories, receiving considerable traction on the doorstep.
“I watched the debate and liked Ed Miliband. He seems like a nice, decent man.” – many have expressed the same view since the first leaders’ televised event. Considering Ed ‘Happy Warrior’ Miliband’s dismal leadership score prior to the event, his approval ratings could only get better, and they did. Miliband appears more human as can be seen from a YouGov poll earlier this week, which shows “meaningful shift” in the public’s perception of the Labour leader.
On Tony Blair – “That man is not to be trusted.” Probably not the reception Labour hoped for when they recruited Tony as this week’s face of the party. His grand rhetorics may be inspiring to some, but they failed to strike a chord with the public of SE16.
“Why should those born outside of Britain get council homes, when my children won’t get put on the housing list?” – variants of this quote are quite a common sentiment on the doorstep, often accompanied by hot anger or a few tears. The advantage immigrants take of the welfare system, perceived as highly unjust by many, is a frequent point of discussion.
After months of relentlessly pounding the pavements, there is finally a noticeable shift in the public’s interest in the election. Canvassing, just like our leaders debates, are a crucial part of our democratic system, and although it’s hard to tell what difference, if any, the short campaign actually makes in swaying the voters, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The FT are on form – and a woman with more one-liners than Arnie.
“Political apathy is a mark of civilisation. Boring elections are proof of national success” – Janan Ganesh , Financial Times
“If this man is prime minister I will leave the UK. This man is not Great Britain. This is Russell Brand in a chuffing suit” – Katie Hopkins, referring to Ed Miliband on Twitter. Not strictly part of the mainstream media, but it’s a great line!
“Think of the prime minister as a wartime bomber pilot: if he manages to drop a few incendiaries somewhere near the target and make it back to base in one piece, then it is mission accomplished.” – Tim Bale, Financial Times
The snappily titled “Challengers’ Debate” is on 16th April. It doesn’t involve tanks or anyone from “Gladiators” – which is possibly a shame. There’s probably not a lot else on, it’s a Thursday in spring.
You can follow us on our new election twitter channel @FHUKPolitics where some witty or insightful comment may be made.