Over several weeks, a horrible feeling has grown inside me: that the Conservatives will not only form the next government but get a small overall majority. Some polls show a narrow Labour lead, others a narrow Tory lead. Though nearly all fall within the margins of polling error, the trend is clearly towards the Tories. This month, both YouGov and Lord Ashcroft have recorded a 3 per cent Tory lead and last month an ICM poll for the Guardian had the Tories ahead by 4 per cent, a result that the newspaper seemed almost too embarrassed to report. The polls show stagnating support for Ukip and no signs of a Lib Dem recovery.
Several other things should help the Tories. They will fight the campaign with more money than Labour. David Cameron, a former PR man, will almost certainly have a better campaign than Ed Miliband, a former policy wonk. George Osborne can use the Budget on 18 March to offer further bribes to voters. New rules on voter registration – everyone now has to register him or herself rather than leaving it to a “head of household” – will reduce the number of eligible young voters. Close to an election, people usually rally to the government because electing an opposition party always seems the greater risk.
However, I have a cure for my nightmare. To get an overall majority, Cameron needs to win 24 marginals. They include Great Grimsby, which has been Labour since the end of the Second World War; Derby North, which went Tory only in the Thatcher landslide of 1983 and returned to Labour in 1997; Walsall North, which stayed Labour even in 1983, though the Tories once won a by-election there; and Newcastle-under-Lyme, which hasn’t returned a Conservative since the 19th century. Some seats just don’t look Tory and, in the turbulent political weeks ahead, I shall keep a list of them to hand.
Nightmare? Having passed my 70th birthday, self-interest should persuade me to vote Tory. Cameron promises to preserve my perks – a free bus pass, winter fuel allowance and, if I hang around long enough, a free TV licence – as well as the extraordinary “triple lock” on the value of my state pension. I can also buy government savings bonds at preferential rates of interest.
Cameron says I deserve all this because I have “fought wars, seen us through recessions, made this great country what it is today”. But I was less than ten months old when Japan surrendered and, on a rough calculation, less than 2.5 per cent of all pensioners saw active service in the Second World War. Slightly more may have fought in the Korean war but almost anybody who fought in either Iraq war is too young to draw a pension. As for recessions, the past seven years have been, particularly for the under-35s, the toughest of any since the 1930s. No wonder politicians are held in low esteem when they talk such nonsense.
Launching an attack on the distinguished NS contributor John Gray for “a repudiation of the west” in his latest book, Daniel Johnson, the editor of Standpoint, writes: “For nearly seven years now, Standpoint has been defending western civilisation.” Standpoint is a monthly magazine published by the Social Affairs Unit, a think tank that aspires to a right-wing analysis of sociology. If the think tank’s mission were reflected in Standpoint’s contents, it could be interesting. But large sections of each issue are devoted to “the global Islamist threat”, which, according to one contributor, is “only in its infancy”.
Another contributor, the Anglo-South African R W Johnson – once a liberal politics don at Oxford, now a writer on Africa who has been accused of racism – seriously argues that, in the near future, there will be no Jews left in France and Denmark or, quite possibly, anywhere in Europe. “The only way that this is not going to happen,” he writes, “is if European countries find some way of diminishing their Muslim populations.” Whatever this means, it doesn’t sound nice and Johnson acknowledges that “liberal opinion” would object strongly. Western civilisation is indeed in dire straits if it needs a defender such as Johnson.
Mum’s the word
“Just one woman in ten is a full-time mum,” screams the Daily Mail across its front page, quoting official statistics. The Mail’s editors presumably think that this is a record low. It is more likely to be a record high. In the days when married women mostly didn’t take paid work, the vast majority were not “full-time mums”. They were full-time housekeepers, scrubbing and sweeping floors, washing clothes, pots and pans, cooking meals, shopping daily, and so on, without labour-saving devices or refrigerators. If you remember the real 1950s – rather than the romanticised version invented by Mail editors – you will know that.