Opinion  

I’m calling a ‘late break’ for the Tories

Ashley Wassall

So that’s it. Pension freedoms are finally here, the dust has settled on the Budget, parliament has formally been dissolved.

There’s nothing for it now but to start looking forward to the election.

I’d assiduously avoided writing about this in any depth until what could be called the proper ‘campaign’ was definitively in full swing. New fixed-term parliaments have left us with an interminable ‘phoney war’ that has persisted since at least the summer of last year.

I’ve also avoided committing thoughts to print because what opinions I have managed to form on the respective party policies are confused, contradictory and of little use to me in determining my voting choice as I’m sure they’d prove to you, dear reader.

However, I am repeatedly being asked what I think will happen on 7 May and I have begun to settle on a firm prediction in response. At the risk of being made to look a fool (very likely), I thought I’d share with you where I’m putting my metaphorical money in order to kick off the debate here proper.

I’m calling a ‘late break’ for the Tories, who will end up as the largest party in another hung parliament and leading a coalition not dissimilar from our current administration.

This election is one of the most ideologically charged in years. Voters are faced with a genuine choice between leftist redistribution and spending targeting a broadly defined notion of inequality; and small-state, low-tax entrepreneurialism with a dash of social conservatism.

It is this polarisation, rather than a nebulous (and nonsensical) perception that all politicians are all ‘the same’ that is confounding an electorate used to political battles in the comfortable centre ground.

It is also vexing the psephologists, who proved at the Scottish referendum that they are far more adept at tracking voter idealism than they are hard, pragmatic reality.

Remember 1992? I barely do (I was seven) but I do have vivid recollections of Neil Kinnock’s triumphalism in the lead up to the poll giving way to eventual, unexpected failure as the uninspiring John Major secured a slim majority.

Kinnock was thwarted by an insecure electorate, which held its nose and supported an unfashionable Tory incumbent amid fears over a fragile economy. Sound familiar?

Then as now Labour went into the election pledging to tax higher earners, invest in the economy and generally right perceived economic wrongs. Voters were too scared to buy into the vision. Then as now the Tories asked to be judged on a positive, but by no means perfect, economic record.

The coalition argument on the economy is statistically formidable, especially on jobs. Even the contention that this has not fed through to the bottom line for most is shifting as a result of plummeting inflation and (extremely) belated wage growth.