Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Tories (courtesy of Smamms)

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

The Polls. Uh oh…

There’s not a whole lot of good polling news for the Tories at the moment. Comres, Populus, and, as of today, ICM put us below 40%. As I have pointed out before, the Tories are very unlikely to win an overall majority with less than 40% of the popular vote, due to the inherent bias in favour of Labour, whose vote is more evenly spread in the FPTP system.

My uniquely biased Conservative polling average currently stands at Con 39.5/Lab 35.5/LD 14.25 and using UK Elect, this yields:

Lab 311 (-36)

Con 285 (+72)

LD 25 (-35)

Others 29 (-1)

Lab short by 13

We must constantly be reminded of how far ahead we must be in order to win, and also how quickly a 20-point lead can disappear.

I am still unsure, based on better Labour polling figures, whether or not Gordon will go to the country in early to mid-2009. I am also unclear as to if we would be able to win such an election. We have not yet been able to convince the electorate of the government’s fiscal recklessness – nor, do I believe, are people convinced that Gordon Brown’s chancellorship is one of the major causes of the current crisis. It is highly likely that the electorate would vote substantially against Labour in the latter stages of the recession, and when the inevitable tax rises come along. As we now enter (probably) the worst phase of the downturn, however, many people feel obliged to trust Labour to sort things out. The Conservatives are at a natural disadvantage anyway, as they are not able to be seen to be doing things. Gordon can stalk around claiming to have saved the world, and that everybody agrees with his approach – bar a carefully selected German few – whilst good old David Cameron is pretty much stuck with motherhood and apple pie along with a bit of anti-borrowing rhetoric. Unfortunately, credible though the cause is, such an approach is inadequate at this stage.

In January, it is highly likely that DC will carry out a fairly extensive shadow cabinet reshuffle, with Ken Clarke strongly tipped to return to frontline politics. I am a Clarke fan, and no matter what Tim Montgomerie says, I believe that he is a popular figure who can provide immense gravitas and experience, especially with such a poor economic backdrop. The favourites to leave are Duncan, Villiers, and Ainsworth – Peter has had enough chances in the shadow cabinet now, and should return to the backbenches. Villiers has been weak at transport, despite her bold opposition to a third runway at Heathrow. Alan Duncan seems to me not to be serious enough about high office, and lacks the necessary firepower to deal with Lord M. Clarke for Shadow Business? I hope so. I would also like to see Michael Fallon and David Davis return. We shall see. Apparently Dominic Grieve is safe where he is, but of his two current jobs, there may be a vacancy at Shadow Attorney General which could be ably occupied by a senior figure in the Party. This could provide David Davis with a stepping stone to higher things. He deserves another opportunity to become Home Secretary in a Conservative government.

Monday, December 15, 2008

On India’s Victory (Cricket)

Nobody can deny that India’s performance in the last four sessions of this test match was exceptional. Their batsmen batted with great style and confidence. They were not, however, put under nearly enough pressure. This was mainly down to two things: Pietersen’s field placings appeared to be somewhat wooden in the circumstances. Off-spinner Swann was constantly worked through the leg-side for easy singles and twos; secondly, Anderson and Harmison bowled too wide and too short. It is critical that bowlers land the ball on a fuller length in India, and bowl consistently at or slightly outside off stump. Sehwag’s astonishingly innings was allowed to get underway quickly due to the bowling being deficient in this way.

It is a great shame that the margin of India’s victory shows little of what character England displayed for the majority of the match. Strauss played excellently in both innings. Collingwood showed us, once again, that he’s able to put a patch of dire form behind him and battle his way to a commendable hundred. Flintoff’s bowling was consistently of a high standard, always challenging the batsmen outside the off stump. Graeme Swann’s debut was certainly distinguished – and had he had better luck in India’s final innings, he might have picked up more wickets. The trouble is, England constantly failed to create pressure by bowling maidens. The pressure applied by a good 4 or 5-over spell from Flintoff or Swann was always squandered by the bowler at the other end, be that Anderson, Harmison, or Panesar, whose bowling appeared to be seriously off-colour.

Panesar appears to struggle to change his bowling speed and flight – he has been mechanical and utterly predictable in this test, with Swann getting far more turn that he did. He must learn that these Indian wickets will respond far more favourably to cannier deliveries which are tossed up and delivered above the batsman’s eyeline. Monty seems to be unable to drop below 55 mph, and his bowling trajectory is, all too often, far too flat.

It might seem a ludicrous suggestion, but I’d be tempted to drop Panesar for the final test in favour of Adil Rashid. Rashid brings better batting and fielding, and the mystery of a wrist spinner. His googly is far better than once it was. In combination with Swann, they should prove a greater threat to India. Of course, one has to allow for the leg spinner’s occasional bad deliveries, but this is to be expected of a debutant. Rashid is highly talented and is a great prospect for the future, and if Panesar isn’t careful, his lack of variation may prove his downfall. Quality English wrist spinners are few and far between, and I have no doubt that Rashid will prove to be a far better pick than wrist spinners of the past – Salisbury, Schofield, et al.

So, in summary:

Strauss – 9/10. An excellent game and more performances like this will make him a permanent fixture in the England team.

Cook – 4/10. No scores in this game, but got a devil of a delivery from Ishant in the second innings.

Bell – 3/10. Looks a bit out of sorts at the minute. His fluent style of batting may not be suited to these conditions.

Pietersen – 3/10, captaincy 5/10. He suffers from a bizarre inability to play Yuvraj’s tepid left-arm spin. His captaincy is fine when things are going well, but he lacked imagination in the final innings, which, perhaps might have been better handled by his predecessor.

Collingwood – 8/10. He was unlucky to be dismissed without hitting the ball in the first innings, but his second innings was a triumph of grit and substance.

Flintoff – 7/10. His bowling is still excellent, but, as ever, his batting lacks finesse and concentration.

Prior – 8/10. An excellent game for Prior, both with the gloves and with the bat. Unbeaten fifties such as that in the first innings will go a long way to convincing England’s selectors that he’s the long-term option for the team.

Swann – 7/10. Well played. He constantly posed a threat, and possessed more guile than Panesar by a country mile. A fine debut.

Harmison – 4/10. The pitch was not suited to him, and he seems to find bowling a more consistently full length difficult. If his length is lacking however, his line is much improved.

Anderson – 5/10. Bowled a couple of good spells in India’s second innings but lacks consistency.

Panesar – 2/10. Bowling was mostly poor and uninspired. His failure went a long way to handing India victory. Rashid, anyone? 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

‘Saving the World’… oh no

A truly horrifying (and yet delightful) gaffe from Crashy at PMQs today – the Tory benches couldn’t quite believe their luck. It appeared to cause Gordon to lose complete momentum during his exchanges with DC, where DC continually berated the Prime Minister about the inadequacy of his £1bn plan to help small business lending, which is not working. The ‘do nothing Party’ line will not wash with the public for much longer, as Labour’s own measures are seen to not be working. The VAT cut will look completely ridiculous when we look back on this episode in a few months’ time – not that it doesn’t already, of course. An easy win for DC.

Clegg also managed to make himself look silly with a classic ‘single mothers have visited me’ line. He failed to recover from that. Lots of playground banter, as the substance of PMQs is overshadowed once again. Purnell’s stolen welfare reform plans will probably obliterate any coverage of the exchanges in tomorrow’s papers anyway.

Cameron 7, Brown 4, Clegg 4.

From ConHome - ‘Do we need a ‘no cuts here’ list?’

There is no theoretical reason why there shouldn't be cuts across the board, where it is deemed that public money is being wasted. It may be politically expedient to ring-fence 'sensitive' public servants, and Labour might find it more difficult to attack us for targeting our savings on management, however, political parties should not exist to provide somehow 'acceptable' policies. They should be the right policies.

All Conservatives should be agreed that the public sector should not grow indefinitely - the recession has now given us the stage upon which we can more confidently assert this. It is not yet clear whether or not a policy of 'cuts during recession' is good politics or not. The polls show that the electorate remains bewildered about the causes of this downturn, and there is no clear vote of confidence in either Labour's approach or the Conservatives' approach.

The question is, is David Cameron prepared to do what he believes is right, and risk losing the election? Unless the electorate agrees with us, we will not win. It is our job to persuade the voters that our economic policy is the best one. It should not be our role, in dire economic circumstances such as these, to fashion specifically an economic policy that is protected from Labour's attacks, or the give the electorate what it thinks it wants. The greatest achievement of any opposition party should be that it is able to change the electorate's mind in order to gain power. Hence, the next election may well have to be one that the Conservative Party has to win, not that the Labour Party has to lose.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Is Cameron preparing for a New Year clearout?

A couple of days ago, over at the Telegraph, Andrew Porter suggested that Cameron might be planning a return for some Tory Party 'big beasts'. I sincerely hope that this is true, because at the moment, the Tory frontbench is in need of some bigger hitters, and bruisers such as Michael Fallon and Ken Clarke would be hugely welcome in the team.

However, now that Osborne appears to be an much firmer ground, Ken Clarke won't become Shadow Chancellor, but perhaps Shadow BERR Sec - he would be more than a match for Lord M. I've always liked Ken Clarke - he was, in my view, the best leader after the 2001 election, and I briefly backed him in the 2005 race, before changing to David Davis, and then to David Cameron.

He has a tremendous record, having, rescued the country from a very poor economic position in the early nineties, and had left Labour a golden economic legacy by 1997. He is the ideal straight-talking candidate to take on Mandelson, who, at the moment, looks intent on destroying the electoral platform the Conservative Party has ventured to create for itself, be it by stealth or by dastardly spin.

A return for Iain Duncan Smith is also a possibility. He has done terrific work at the Centre for Social Justice, and despite the difficulties he faced as leader, he deserves a post in a future Cameron Cabinet, possibly at a re-hashed Work and Pensions department.

The Polls

The link above provides access to my unique Tory-biased poll collection, which carefully selects only the finest (and freshest, etc) Tory results every month from the various polling entities. The worst results are not included in the data table, including, for example, ComRes' latest poll which showed the Tories only one point ahead.

I can, however, claim there to be reason in this blatent bias. Mike Smithson on Political Betting has long proclaimed that the most accurate poll at any time is the one that shows Labour polling worst; although, admittedly, that is not necessarily the same as the poll showing the Conservatives doing best. Never mind.