Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Crazy Polls - even if they were reliable they wouldn't tell us so much...

It is important that those of us who made a point of not panicking when Mori suggested that the Conservatives had seen a serious downturn do not crow at the news that ICM suggests we are riding high (a 10% lead is high). Instead we're going to need to actually have a political debate without relying on the crutch of poll numbers.

Cameron's strategy clearly has risks. The policy groups could suggest division to the electorate, they leave the party looking temporarily shallow and policy-lite and we don't know how reconcilable their conclusions will be at the end of the process. Equally, it is plausible that the decision to deprioritise tax cuts is poorly timed.

However, it is affecting a deep change in the way that the Conservatives are perceived which is important to the party's ability to win the national debate in the future. The days of the Liberal Democrats being the prime beneficiaries of government incompetence appear to be gone. Finally, the time and effort of the policy groups should mean that the programme the Conservative opposition will be able to put to the electorate will be a stronger one.

The opinion polls cannot answer the question of whether the benefits outweigh the costs of the Cameron project; they're too short term and there are too many other factors. A better view of what is going on can be found by looking at what the policy groups are thinking or a less formal survey of changes in the media and popular response to Conservative and conservative ideas. Of course, this isn't as neat and quantitative as a voting intention percentage but it is probably more informative at this stage. Opinion polls will have their moment, but it will be closer to the election when the question of "who would you vote for if there were an election tomorrow?" isn't the kind of hypothetical question that invites a flippant answer.

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