Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Events, dear boy, events

I almost – almost – feel a little sorry for David Cameron. Since Northern Rock got into trouble last week, he and his gang have been manoeuvring to pin the blame on Gordon Brown.

He was no doubt encouraged in this approach by the TV interviews with people queuing outside the bank’s branches, saying that they worried what this crisis would mean for them and that they didn’t trust the Government’s reassurances. An opposition leader could listen to this and scent political blood.

Doing so, though, was to overlook the sampling bias. By definition, the people in the queues were the ones who were the most anxious; the ones whose vox pops were shown were likely to be those with the most critical things to say. The media were never going to send reporters to non-queuing customers’ houses to interview them – to say nothing of the large majority of people without Northern Rock accounts.

Now we have some better information. A Populus poll in the Times (conducted late Monday) finds that Labour has increased its already-large lead on economic competence in the space of ten days – from 34 points to 38 points. People are more likely to blame the Northern Rock management or the US mortgage market than the UK Government.

Another new poll, by ICM in the Guardian, finds Labour has further increased its voting intention lead over the last month, and is now ahead of the Tories by 40% to 32%. (And some good news for Ming Campbell: thanks to the ‘Cameron crumble’, he’s no longer the least popular party leader.)

Events can kill governments’ reputations; no chancellor or PM wants to see a financial crisis on their watch. But, if people judge that the events aren’t the government’s fault, then the reputation that suffers is usually that of the party already least trusted to handle the issue.

Were he not so dour, Brown might feel like laughing all the way to the bank.

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