Dead Men Left

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The fantasy world of Nick Cohen

Nick Cohen is becoming confused. He seems to think that the Tories could creep dangerously close to power due to the collapse of the "anti-Tory coalition" that has kept them out of office for eight years:

For the Tories to win an outright majority is all but impossible. But if there was a hung parliament, they would be back in business for the first time since the early 1990s and be in a good position to get into power at the next election. They can hope to be the beneficiaries of the real movement in politics at the moment, which isn't the battle between Labour and the Conservatives but between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The number of seats in which a sitting Labour MP faces convincing second-place opposition from the Lib Dems is very low. Really very low, especially if you've been taken in by dire warnings against self-indulgent tactical voting from New Labour figures. There are precisely 4 seats in the top 20 closest contests in 2001 with second-placed Lib Dems that are Lib Dem-Labour fights: Cardiff Central, Oldham East and Saddleworth, Bristol West and Birmingham Yardley. Of the top 75, the Lib Dems are second place to the Tories in 57. Having snarled at the "middle-class left" for daring to hint about not voting Labour, Cohen says that

If the Lib Dems are in second place to a Tory, it would be mad for any civilised person who is sickened by Howard's hard right stunts to do anything other than vote for them.

As I said, "confused". Looking further down the list of second-placed Lib Dems, areas where they challenge Labour are areas where the Labour vote is weighed, rather than counted: Barnsley East and Mexborough, with a 26% Labour majority; Knowsley South on 30%; and Bootle, where Labour leads by 34%. I'm not sure if Cohen enjoys some special insight into the minds of Labour voters not shared by the rest of us, but - speaking as an enthusiastic advocate of Respect - even I doubt the kind of swings necessary to shatter these Labour strongholds will emerge this time round. Still less will a Tory gain a seat out of the split in the vote.

What about the "risk" claimed by Cohen that Labour voters, deserting to the Lib Dems or None of the Above in marginal seats, will enable the Tories to sneak through the middle? Of the 100 most marginal Labour seats, the Tories are second placed in 93. These 93 seats define the absolute limit of the risk; however, few of them are likely to change hands, with most having Labour majorities in excess of 6 or 7%. As this list shows, the overwhelming majority of seats with majorities greater than 25% are held by Labour. Labour seats tend, on average, to be safer than Tory or Lib Dem. This concentration of the Labour vote has been an historic feature; that it might now be decaying somewhat is indicative of a major transformation in British politics. It doesn't, however, mean the Tories are going to be in through the backdoor in many places.

A well-directed cull of the most obnoxious Blairites and warmongers would not go amiss. Cohen, as always, underestimates the intelligence of his opponents in assuming they do not have the ability to arrange such a happy occasion. The anti-war left - the genuine left - is not holding a scatter-gun, but a scalpel.