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Dale’s Diary: Clegg’s drowning, Miliband’s a nice guy who won’t win and Farage’s bubble has burst

Dale’s Diary: Clegg’s drowning, Miliband’s a nice guy who won’t win and Farage’s bubble has burst

🕔07.Apr 2015

After the first week of the General Election campaign, chief blogger Paul Dale draws three important conclusions about events so far.

Nick Clegg is desperate

With his party’s opinion poll ranking as low as five per cent in some surveys, which really is wipe-out time, the deputy prime minister is thrashing about in deep waters like a drowning man.

Not much has been seen publicly of Clegg apart from an appearance on the magnificent seven party leaders television  ‘debate’ where he acquitted himself reasonably well with a reprise of the well-honed 2010 message of moderation. Possibly he’s been spending a lot of time in his Sheffield constituency where Labour is now clear favourite to take the seat.

But Clegg did pop up over the Easter holiday in an interview with Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, in GQ magazine where he described George Osborne as “a very dangerous man” whose plan for the public finances would result in economic “disaster”.

The Liberal Democrat leader vowed he would “do everything in my power” to prevent Osborne from carrying out his plan for balancing the books, which involve an extra £12 billion of welfare cuts and £13 billion slashed from Whitehall budgets without any tax rises, adding that the idea was “socially and morally unacceptable”.

He continued: “George Osborne is a very dangerous man with a very dangerous plan, and I will do everything in my power to stop it.”

He said the chancellor’s plans would do “so much damage” and added: “I don’t know of a developed economy that wants to do something as rigidly ideological as he wants to do, to balance the books through public spending reductions alone, not tax, with one section, the working poor, taking the biggest hit.”

This, then, is the very same Nick Clegg who has unwaveringly supported and encouraged his party to support, Mr Osborne in his unprecedented austerity welfare-cutting policies these past five years?

And note the use of the word “dangerous”. Clegg might have described Osborne as wrong, or misguided, or even out of touch. But “dangerous” would seem to hint at more than a little desperation on Clegg’s behalf.

Presumably, then, Mr Clegg can rule out completely any chance of the Liberal Democrats propping up another minority Tory government after the election, at least if Mr Osborne is the Chancellor?

Ed Miliband isn’t a two-headed monster, but the polls still look bad

The idea, if it was ever taken seriously by Tory high command, that Ed Miliband would collapse under the strain of the election campaign and begin to burble Marxist nonsense never seemed very likely to happen.

Mr Miliband is a clever, polite young man, if rather uncharismatic. With north London intellectuals, what you see is what you get. OK, so he can’t eat a bacon sandwich without spilling the ketchup, but then who can?

From what we can divine about a Miliband government, there would be a shift to the left, certainly, with higher taxes for people earning over about £40,000. However, attempts to portray his beliefs as a cross between Michael Foot and Tony Benn with a bit of Lenin thrown in are wide of the mark.

But, and it is a huge but, opinion polls spell out on an almost daily basis the huge mountain Labour and the Tories have to climb to form a majority government. For Labour, the main opposition party with five years of coalition austerity politics to attack and plenty of time to set out an alternative course, the polls are about as bad as the Foot-Kinnock years.

Of the 13 polls published in the week running up to Easter, the Tories were ahead in six, Labour in only four, and neither party received more than 35 per cent support. The New Statesman, no friend of the Tories, has published a poll of polls suggesting that Labour is on course for a net gain of just nine seats overall, leaving the party 11 seats short of the Conservatives.

Generally, but not always, support for the government of the day hardens as the election approaches. There are exceptions, in 1970 for instance when Labour’s encouraging lead evaporated at the last minute gifting victory to Ted Heath and the Conservatives.

Worryingly for Mr Miliband, the latest ICM Wisdom Index survey gives the Tories a one-point lead among the C2 voters, the skilled working class blue collar population that swung behind Mrs Thatcher in 1979.

Miliband, outed as a “happy warrior” in his notes for the leaders’ debate, has enjoyed the dubious benefit of Tony Blair putting in a good word for him, with a warning of “chaos” if Cameron gets re-elected and goes ahead with an in-out referendum on our membership of the EU.

It remains to be seen whether the Labour tribe regards Blair’s intervention as a help or a hindrance.

UKIP’s bubble has burst and Nigel Farage is looking like an also-ran

Five months ago, support for UKIP was running at just short of 20 per cent and it seemed possible that Mr Farage might end up leading a significant group of MPs and become a power broker in the new House of Commons.

UKIP’s rating in the latest YouGov poll is 12.5 per cent and falling. There are signs that many of the party’s supporters are returning home, chiefly to the Conservatives but also in some cases to Labour. That trend may continue over the next three weeks.

Failing to get support into double figures at the General Election would confine UKIP to winning no more than a handful of seats, if that. Mr Farage is by no means certain to win in South Thanet – the latest polls make it a three-way dogfight between UKIP, Labour and the Tories – and Farage has vowed to quit as party leader if he does not become an MP.

Finally, the notion that Mr Farage would sweep all before him and emerge victorious from the party leaders’ TV debate turned out to be complete nonsense. His man-down-the-pub act simply doesn’t play out well in a serious format and he comes across as an eye-bulging, shouty cross person, making Cameron, Miliband and the others seem calm and statesmanlike in comparison.

My money is on Mr Farage disappearing from the scene after the election. He will be remembered as a controversial and colourful figure whose views briefly caught the public mood, but who in common with so many far-right leaders simply lacked the staying power to remain at the top for very long.

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