Pundits more often wrong than right in poll predictions

  • Almost every political grandee expects the Lib Dems to be blown off the map
  • Widespread dismay among Tory back-benchers about government policy on defence
  • In the past, chancellors said nothing before a budget — how things have changed!
  • No need to warn David Cameron about possible leadership challenges

Have the pundits almost universally got it wrong about the fate of the Liberal Democrats after the general election?

And is Nick Clegg’s correct in his upbeat message, scoffing at the nay-sayers and insisting that the party “is here to stay” and will do better than anyone thinks?

Perhaps Nick Clegg’s optimism is not so misplaced

Chris Moncrieff

Almost every political grandee in the land (that is, of course, excluding the Lib Dems themselves) say they expect the party to be blown off the political landscape on May 7, and that Clegg himself might find he’s rejected by the voters of Sheffield Hallam.

In short, this offshoot of the once-great Liberal Party of William Ewart Gladstone would be consigned to oblivion.

But the pundits - although they will never publicly admit it - have more often been wrong than right about their political predictions.

Remember the last general election in 2010? Pretty well everyone then, including the opponents of the Lib Dems, forecast (if reluctantly) that the party would gain seats on that occasion.

But they actually lost five seats - thus confounding them all. When the exit poll was revealed, quoting this figure, I remember David Steel, a former Liberal leader, saying: “I just do not believe that.”

But he was wrong and the exit poll was spot on, not just about the Liberal Democrats, but about the performances of the other political parties as well.

So perhaps Nick Clegg’s optimism is not so misplaced.

(That said, I would not be tempted to put my life savings on his rose-tinted predictions.)

• There is widespread dismay among Tory back-benchers about what they consider the Government’s policy - or lack of it - on defence. Most people would expect a Conservative-led Government to pay more attention than has been the case to the defence of the realm.

Yet the Government’s policy of cutting back on defence is infuriating many Conservatives who believe that the party’s general election manifesto should include a solemn pledge to increase spending on defence.

They say that this should not just be a key policy of any Tory Government, but THE key policy.

Yet top military brass - who know more than most about defending the nation - are reduced to protesting that the Government is short-changing defence.

Even the White House and the Pentagon have publicly expressed alarm and concern at what they consider Britain’s down-grading of defence.

• Time was when several weeks before a budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer went into purdah, and said nothing until the day actually arrived. Any speculation in the newspapers - and there was no shortage of that - was pure guesswork, some of it educated, some not.

How things have changed!

Nowadays, Chancellors regularly go on television or make public speeches right up to Budget Day and the Treasury seems willing to leak, in dribs and drabs beforehand, many of the key proposals in the speech.

Sometimes the Treasury will indicate that things are worse than they really are, so that the contents of the Budget itself will come as a pleasant surprise.

So what has the Chancellor got in store for us this time? Well, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, may think wrongly that there are no votes in defence, but there certainly are votes in pensioners.

George Osborne, who will almost certainly be accused of election bribery, will put pensioners centre-stage when he speaks in the Commons. He will lay out sweeping reforms allowing no fewer than five million pensioners to trade in their savings for cash.

We can also expect tax concessions for those on low pay and measures to accelerate house-building. And no doubt with an eye unavoidably on May 7, some other “goodies” too.

So Wednesday’s Budget could be a crucial win or lose factor for the Tories on polling day.

• I see that David Cameron is being warned about possible leadership challenges. I wouldn’t have thought that was necessary, since party leaders always live with the fact that some of their subordinates will be eager to depose them, and will go to considerable lengths to do so.

Years ago, Harold Wilson got wind of clandestine plotting among his back-benchers to dump him.

He got up in the Commons one day and said: “I know what’s going on - I’m going on.” That put an sudden and shame-faced end to their machinations.