Much as I hate to provoke, you have to say it’s been a very good couple of weeks for both the Prime Minister and the Labour Party. It is probably true that Labour SHOULD have won the by-election in Glasgow North East, but that is not what tends to happen with extremely unpopular governments these days, not even in Scotland. And Labour won with a certain comfort. Ah, but Scotland is different, you might console yourself (forgetting your glee when the government, for the first time in 50 years, ceased to be the controlling party north of the border.) Well, sure; but in the weeks leading up to the poll, the average of a bunch of opinion polls showed the Tory lead nationwide down to 10 per cent, which I would have thought Labour strategists would consider a manageable lead. Gordon Brown also reaped an unexpected wave of public sympathy over the letter he wrote to Mrs Janes, the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan. So what is going on? I refer you back to the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards where, in the six months before an expected Conservative triumph at the general election, it was Labour politicians who scooped the top awards. That, I think, is part of the issue: there is not much to write home about on the Tory front bench, and they are not particularly likeable, either.
There is also this: very generally speaking, the further you travel from London, the more Cameron et al are openly disliked. The difference in attitude and character between greater London (which, for a new definition, includes the nearest home counties) and the rest of the country has become a stark polarity, a vast gulf. In being so shiningly metropolitan David Cameron risks doing precisely what Labour did, and losing his party’s core supporters. You cannot see the Tories taking the likes of Middlesbrough – perhaps the equivalent, for Labour, of Guildford in 1997. You cannot see them, north of the Trent, taking very much at all.
I wonder if we are heading for another 1992. I know it does not seem likely, but I wouldn’t dismiss the notion entirely. The truth is that for Labour supporters in the north, the party is probably more attractive now than it was when led by Tony Blair.
One final observation; I wonder if the next election will be remembered for the sudden, cruel, reversal of 30 years of Liberal and Liberal-Democrat advance? They might be close to being wiped out in the south east. I put that down to leadership; better Charlie drunk than Clegg sober. Better Thorpe shooting dogs than Clegg patting them on the head.