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Stephan Shakespeare: It's the geeks who actually fix things

Stephan Shakespeare The Shakespeare Report

With a few days to go, the situation remains impossible to predict. My theory of froth, made before the first debate, may well be vindicated: much of the polling bounce achieved after high-publicity events can be attributed to those least interested in politics being most influenced by the buzz - and they are the same people as are least likely to vote.

It's a function of being disengaged in something that you are likely to overrate the few events that do break into your attention. So while Nick Clegg has clearly had a good campaign, the effect on actual votes may well be a little exaggerated. He has found it hard to build significantly on his first big TV moment.

That should not allow anyone to dismiss the importance of what Clegg has achieved in these last few weeks: whatever one thinks of the policies, he has clearly found huge resonance among the population for his 'change-the-system' message, and the next parliament should respond strongly and intelligently to this evidence of continued public antipathy. It's not healthy that the campaign inspires widespread negativity: it should be a moment when the electorate positively embraces an agenda. That's not impossible, it does happen occasionally, as in America '08.

Over the weekend, it did look as if the Conservatives were starting to find their voice. Building on their 'contract', David Cameron gave an assured performance on Andrew Marr, getting across an important and substantive double message: that there would have to be more cuts, and that they would not be in front-line services. Obviously there will be endless arguments over what constitutes 'front-line', but his pledge is not unbelievable: most voters take it for granted that there's huge waste in everything the government does.

The argument that cuts in spending must mean cuts in services has no logic unless either (a) public services are currently operating at very high levels of efficiency, or (b) we cannot ever expect the quality of government to be improved. I don't think any sane person believes (a), while (b) has already been demonstrated by many councils (led by various parties) up and down the country.

"More-for-less" is of course exactly what the 'post bureaucratic age' is all about; more-for-less is the constant theme of business, but it has been anathema to establishment politics. Yes, I know, before you all start howling: PBA is definitely not something that should be mentioned in an election campaign, it's purely a geek's obsession. But the ideas behind it (as Janan Ganesh and I have written here) are the only possible basis for reducing the deficit while still improving the lives of the population.

That, by the way, behind the scenes, is something that the real thinkers in all the main parties actually agree on. And remember: in the end, it's the geeks - together with a few determined anti-establishment politicians to support it - who actually fix things.

Stephan Shakespeare, Founder and CEO, YouGov


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