Daily Archives: 20 December 2005

Sprawl balls

Coming in late, but what is Simon Jenkins on?

The implementation of single farm payments is thus critical to more than the fate of British farming. It will decide whether the countryside, at least in southern Britain, remains in a remotely rural form. Not only must the money be sufficient to keep farmers on the land but the rules must change. A new planning regime has to award rural Britain the same statutory protection long granted to urban Britain. Landscape must be listed and conserved. Otherwise, outside national parks, all is gone. There is no mystery about what this means: look along the coast of New England, round Los Angeles or on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Just how many houses does he think the UK needs? His dire prediction that the Single Farm Payment will lead to thousands of houses being built sounds remarkably like the answers to a lot of our prayers.

Yes we need proper planning laws, and yes we need to dissuade people from speculatively buying land, but with 99.9% of us living on just 8% of the land it will be a long time before we come close to the catastrophe that Simon Jenkins appears to think is just around the corner.

Keep your eye on the Brown ball

The Guardian has announced its latest ICM poll with great fanfare, declaring what we already new months ago: Cameron is quite popular.

But it is also quite good news for the Lib Dems. Standard disclaimers about opinion polls just being a snapshot notwithstanding, I think we should be pleased that the Lib Dems have stayed at around their General Election figure at the height of the Cameron honeymoon period and during a really difficult week for the leader. Indeed, half of the polling was done after Cameron’s plea to Lib Dems to defect to him, suggesting he made very little impact indeed.

The poll also asks how people would vote in a Brown/Cameron/Kennedy election. Here, the Lib Dem vote drops to 18% while the Tory vote rockets up to 41%. Michael White suggests that this shows the Lib Dems “losing votes back to Tory candidates.”

This is bizarre analysis as under this scenario it is Labour, not the Lib Dems who have changed leader. Why would we be haemorraging votes to the Tories? A more likely analysis in my view (ICM doesn’t provide switch analysis so I can’t say for sure), is that the Lib Dems are losing votes to Labour, but Labour lose many more votes to the Tories. The same thing appears to be happening with the “other” support.

Losing 2 votes for every 1 gained is not exactly a ringing vote of confidence in Gordon Brown, and the only way Brown can minimise that is by disappointing those like Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley who seem to think he is a socialist messiah and hasn’t really spent the last 8 years running the government at all. But that, in turn, is likely to minimise the loss in Lib Dem support.

What all this suggests is that there are in fact two faultlines in British politics at the moment, not just one: one between Labour and the Tories and one between Labour and the Lib Dems. Continuing on a course of competing with the Tories, as we have done for most of the last decade, would be disastrous for the Lib Dems. There are no more votes to squeeze out of them. We should be careful about minimising any loss to Cameron in our key margins to be sure, but our main target should be the disaffected New Labour vote that is attracted to Cameron’s liberal veneer and traditional Labour support in inner cities. Our message to these people should be clear: “don’t be fooled twice.”