Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Alas, poor Tories, and poor us: the lesson of Hallam

With just a day to go before the British General Election, there are a whole series of seats which are promising us “Portillo moments.” The term refers to former Thatcherite Minister Nigel Portillo. In 1997, he was beaten in an extremely safe seat, Enfield Southgate, to much rejoicing at the downfall of this notorious right-winger.

It’s unfortunate that such upsets are now named after him. Since leaving politics, he’s turned into rather a good broadcaster, taking honest, well-argued and – frankly – frequently liberal stances on a wide range of questions.

Still, there are still such upsets, many of which would be highly welcome if they occurred. 

It would be wonderful to see Nigel Farage of the dangerously far-right United Kingdom Independence Party losing his bid to enter Parliament in Thanet South. Equally, there would be a sense of Karma if the constituency of Sheffield Hallam waved goodbye to Nick Clegg, whose support for the Tories – in breach, many would argue, of fundamental principles of the Liberal Democrat Party he leads – made the government of the last few years possible.

Possible isn’t the same as bearable.

The reality is that Clegg will probably hang on in Hallam. In fact, the latest constituency poll, carried out by ICM for the Guardian suggests that he has a comfortable lead – 42% over 35%. Curiously, the second-placed party, historically in Hallam David Cameron’s Tories, is now Ed Miliband’s Labour Party. The Tories, indeed, are down to 12%.

Nick Clegg: unlikely to lose his seat
But the way he retains it may be highly instructive...
Hold on a minute, though. As well as asking whether voters would choose Clegg or one of the other candidates, ICM asked them to say which party they preferred. Which gave substantially different results.

To that question, Hallam voters split 34% for Labour, 32% for the Liberal Democrats, and 21% for the Conservatives. A 2% lead for Labour. That’s pretty much in line with the previous poll carried out by Lord Ashcroft.

A fascinating picture emerges from all this, doesn’t it?

What it says is that Labour supporters show some real conviction. Between the two questions, the Labour vote stayed practically unchanged. But of those who prefer the Tories, nearly half chose Clegg when they were asked about specific candidates.

That rather suggests a lot of Tories have identified Nick Clegg as a natural friend. A great many of us would say they’re far from wrong. He certainly already seems to be angling for a new invitation into government from his mate big Dave. And now it seems it’s a substantial group of Dave’s supporters in Hallam who might give Clegg his constituency back.

The poll, however, also implies that rather a lot of Hallam Tories need to be reminded that Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, the man who kept their party in power for the last five years, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is their local MP. And standing for re-election. By them. 

One wonders how many, prompted with his name, responded “who?”

Not exactly on the ball, one would have to say.

It’s not my aim to be unduly mean, but I can’t help feeling that this reflects a level of intellectual horsepower which might make a lot of other complex ideas difficult to grasp. Like compassion. Tolerance of difference. Human rights.

And certainly anything sophisticated like social justice.

In turn, that might go a long way to explain a lot of our problems. With Tories. Far beyond Hallam.

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