Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Behavioural politics, day 15 of 30

Are we really only halfway through this election campaign? Things are no longer moving at the pace they started out. But there are still a few interesting nuggets each day from the behavioural point of view.

Gordon Brown is using a (by now standard) concession-and-request strategy, admitting that the liberalisation of drinking laws was a mistake and therefore gaining credibility on his defence of other policies.

Nick Clegg has made a populist suggestion that Goldman Sachs should be suspended as a government adviser while it's under investigation by the SEC for misrepresentation. A clever tactic, because it feels cost-free but satisfies voters' desire for fairness. Labour, as governing party, was forced to say that it would not be doing anything of the sort - of course, they probably have no choice (contract law, after all, being a rather fundamental part of our lives) but it makes look less tough on the banks.

David Cameron has ripped the head off a chicken (a human chicken that is, sent by the Daily Mirror). I'm not sure if this was a calculated attempt to show some personality - he seems to do best when out of his media-managed shell. We seek at least the illusion of affinity with people, even if we don't really want to see their flaws - so this would be a sensible policy.

The most interesting action remains tactical, though. Gordon Brown has made a surprising and strong effort to cosy up to the Liberal Democrats. This is understandable strategically, as Labour and the Lib Dems would have a strong interest in working together if the election does produce a hung parliament. As he suggests, it might marginalise the Tories semi-permanently. And no doubt he'd like to poach a few votes from them to strengthen his hand in a negotiation. But he causes a big problem by saying this out loud: at least half of the rise of the Lib Dems is an anti-Labour reaction. By suggesting that a Lib Dem vote is just like a Labour vote, he may be hoping to switch Liberal Democrats to Labour - but he runs as much risk of switching them to the Tories, which would be bad for both left parties.

Having said that, by making it clear that he wants to work with them, he legitimizes any prospective coalition. Nobody can complain now that they voted Lib Dem and didn't expect them to keep Labour in power. But to achieve that, he's risked gifting the Tories an advantage in the leadup to the second debate.

Ratings: Conservatives 6/10, Liberal Democrats 6/10, Labour 5/10.

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