Sunday, April 17, 2005
Neither up nor down
Are you a "drawbridge up" person or "drawbridge down"?
Stephan Shakespeare (a director of polling company YouGov) poses this question in today's Observer, in the most intriguing article I have yet read in this rather dull election campaign.
He uses the Rover crisis to illustrate how there are few real policy differences between the two main parties and thus relatively little choice. What is this election campaign really about?
So perhaps what the modern campaign is really about is defining our values. After all, we are now beyond ideology: the left have given up on the idea of total state control, even as a distant aspiration. The right have given up thinking about shrinking the state. The collapse of Rover is a political non-event. No-one seriously proposes a shift away from public services. Instead, there is a new line which separates one side of the electorate from another: recent YouGov research suggests that we no longer range along a left-right axis, but are divided by 'drawbridge issues'.Much of the comment on this election assumes that New Labour is the one political movement that will survive beyond polling day, and that it is the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who are struggling to define themselves and justify their existence.
We are either 'drawbridge up' or 'drawbridge down'. Are you someone who feels your life is being encroached upon by criminals, gypsies, spongers, asylum seekers, Brussels bureaucrats? Do you think the bad things will all go away if we lock the doors? Or do you think it's a big beautiful world out there, full of good people, if only we could all open our arms and embrace each other? Depending on which side we take, we regard 'drawbridge up' people as unpleasant, or 'drawbridge down' people as foolish.
If Stephan Shakespeare and YouGov are right, there might be a wholly different outcome. The Tories are clearly campaigning on a "drawbridge up" platform. The Liberal Democrats are unashamedly "drawbridge down".
New Labour is struggling, its old left instincts pulling in one direction and its short-term electoral calculations in the other. Its support is wide but shallow. Its drawbridge is neither up nor down.
Labour remains favourite to win this election but if, as in the USA, Britain is moving towards a values-based system of politics, then in the longer term it is Labour that is more likely to be the eventual loser.
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