Polls show a slight weakening in Tory support. This reflects my own anecdotal experience. Factors suggested include Conservative sternness about the state of the public finances and some Labour success in linking David Cameron on class grounds with the greed of bankers. I suspect there is a bit of truth in these explanations, but the refusal of the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is much more important. This is not only because a great many potential Tory voters feel strongly about Europe, and may now incline to Ukip, but also because the refusal goes against one of Mr Cameron’s greatest strengths. As an individual and in policy approach, he has the ability to identify with what economists call the consumer rather than the producer interest. When he talks about the Health Service, for example, he speaks as one who has used it in many a dark hour, rather than as an administrator. The refusal of the Lisbon referendum may make sense in internal party terms — the Tories are terrified of a bust-up about Europe within weeks of taking office — but to most voters it has confirmed the ‘they’re all the same’ idea. We were promised a referendum, by Labour and Tory alike, and now we won’t get one. The why-bother-to-vote argument grows dangerously strong.
So does the let’s-try-someone-else argument. At the next election, three political parties are in with a chance of winning a parliamentary seat for the first time. Reports suggest that the Greens may win Brighton, Pavilion constituency, that Nigel Farage for Ukip, aided unintentionally by the outpourings of Mrs Speaker Bercow, might beat Mr Speaker Bercow in Buckingham, and that Nick Griffin might win Barking for the BNP. Each victory would have a disproportionate effect on the rest of politics. One reason people go on voting for the old parties is that they cannot believe that new ones could actually win.