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UK voters 'alienated' by politicians -

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UK voters 'alienated' by politicians

Broadcast: 29/03/2010

Reporter: Leigh Sales

Chief political commentator at The Daily Mirror in London, Kevin Maguire, wraps the political
situation in the United Kingdom.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: For more on political situation in Britain I spoke earlier to the associate
editor and chief political commentator at The Daily Mirror in London, Kevin Maguire.

Kevin Maguire, Thank you for joining us.


LEIGH SALES: Until fairly recently, the British election was seen as David Cameron's to lose. Why
has the Tory lead in the polls narrowed substantially?

KEVIN MAGUIRE: Yeah, it's been an incredible narrowing. 18 months ago, David Cameron was 26 points
ahead in the polls - he was lapping Labour. Gordon Brown looked dead in the water.

I think the polls have narrowed for two reasons.

One is, Labour has stopped making so many mistakes. Gordon Brown had the non Midas touch.
Everything he did went wrong at one point, but the economy has recovered, so that's allowed him to
put Labour's case - why Britain went into recession, why it came out of the recession.

But I think the other reason is, people are taking a second look at the Conservatives and they're
not quite sure what they see.

David Cameron says vote for change, but people are unsure what that change is.

And then when they do look at it, they're becoming fearful for their jobs and their mortgages and
their incomes.

They fear that a Conservative government coming in committed to slashing the budget deficit would
actually lead to rising unemployment and lower living standards.

LEIGH SALES: How is it that this close to the election that the Tories have allowed a situation
that the public is a little bit unsure about what they stand for?

KEVIN MAGUIRE: Yeah, it's an amazing turnaround. I've not seen anything like this in a British
election for many a year.

I think the Tories thought they were coasting. I think they took their foot off the gas. They
thought they had the result in the bag, so they stopped thinking, they stopped fighting, they
stopped campaigning.

They began making a lot of mistakes of their own on what taxes would be cut, what would be cut for

And the whole argument about the need to cut this deficit, which is huge in Britain at the moment
in historic terms, it changes when the economy begins to recover.

People feel a little more comfortable and they also begin to worry about the services rather than
the deficit.

So when the Conservatives used to preach last year an age of austerity - talking about drastic cuts
in public services, David Cameron saying it would be moral cowardice not to take a side and reduce
that deficit - well, all of a sudden people can see in practical terms what they might lose in
terms of a service in education at school or something from their local authority or a payment they
get, a benefit they get through the tax and credit system.

So I think people's focus has changed. They're not worried about the government being in debt any
more, they're worried about their own family.

LEIGH SALES: Is David Cameron's own party united behind him?

KEVIN MAGUIRE: David Cameron's position is very firm but there are mutterings about his own

His right wing want him to become much more of a traditional Tory, become harder on immigration,
tougher on crime, promise big tax cuts, even deeper reductions in public spending.

While there are a few so called modernisers in the Conservative Party feel he hasn't gone far
enough and is going away from the green agenda, which he championed once when he had a very famous
trip to the Arctic to hug huskies and be seen on a sledge and so on.

And I think David Cameron himself is kind of torn between these two, although he didn't want to go
off too far to the right because the Conservatives lost the last three general elections on a tax
cutting, anti immigration, reduced public spending program.

But he's in this very difficult position now. He looked as if it was in the bag. He was coasting.

He's in some trouble now, although it must be said he is still ahead in the polls but it's only a
few points.

Because of Britain's first-past-the-post, winner takes all electoral system, Labour could win fewer
votes and end up with more seats.

LEIGH SALES: You mentioned the factors that had allowed Gordon Brown to claw back those poll
numbers. From here on, what is Gordon Brown's best strategy to go on to win the election?

KEVIN MAGUIRE: Gordon Brown's best strategy is to play the fear card. To say, "Look, you may not
love me, you may not really like me, but you know me. You can see what I'll do; I'm on your side".

And you play on that fear of the Conservatives getting in, returning Britain back to the 1980s, the
spectre of Margaret Thatcher returning, and he's got two weapons to do this, does Gordon Brown.

One is the Conservatives, David Cameron, his Treasury minister George Osborne, are both very rich,
come from privileged backgrounds. They used to be members of an elite dining club called the
Bollingdon in Oxford.

So he can say "Look, they don't know your life, your family. Their priorities aren't ours".

And that plays somewhat with the public, that class card, for want of a better term.

But also, he's going to bring back Tony Blair. Now, Tony Blair's a very controversial figure in
British politics. Not least because of Iraq, where many people felt he took Britain to war on a lie
about weapons of mass destruction.

However, Tony Blair, who tomorrow night will speak in Labour's favour and against David Cameron,
say "David Cameron's no heir to Blair - whatever he says, he isn't me, he hasn't modernised the
Conservative Party".

Tony Blair is still respected by a large group of the British electorate and the Conservatives were
painting Labour as going to the left, in the pockets of the trade unions.

Well, it's very difficult for David Cameron to do that when Tony Blair, who was clearly new Labour,
very much on the modernising wing of that party, is back on the scene, saying "No, look, Gordon
Brown and the rest, they still true to that new Labour ideal of rewarding aspiration and helping
people get on".

LEIGH SALES: Last time you were on the program, we were talking about moats and glittery toilet
seats and the MPs' expense scandal.

At the time, you described the mood there towards British politicians of all stripes as "filthy".

Is that still the case and how is the memory of that likely to affect the election?

KEVIN MAGUIRE: Yeah, the standing of politicians has never been lower because of what went on with
expenses, with as you said, you know, claiming to have moats cleaned which no one in Britain
thought moats were round houses for 500 years.

But there we are, we had a Tory MP in that case with a moat and asking the taxpayers to clean it.

Politicians, the standing of which has never been lower. People still abuse them in the streets.

We had three former Labour Cabinet ministers recently caught on TV actually offering themselves to
lobbyists for up to ?5,000 a day, one of whom who said he was just like cab for hire.

Again, the mood was treasonous - absolutely poisonous - on the streets. And I think the way it'll
play through to the general election is it's going to be very difficult to get people to vote.

There is no compulsory voting in Britain. It's a voluntary activity. We've seen at the last two
general elections, two in five people haven't voted.

More people don't vote than vote for any single party and I think the turn out will be very low,
which means some of the extremist parties on the far right, the British National Party, may do
better than they would otherwise, and it makes the result very difficult to call.

Traditionally, a low turnout has been against Labour and in favour of the Conservatives, but it is
very difficult to call at the moment, because people are just alienated by politicians. They just
don't like 'em and they don't trust them.

LEIGH SALES: Kevin Maguire, we'll keep watching with interest what's going on over there. Great to
have you with us. Thank you very much