OPINION: Voters usually prefer the devil they know

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the political chattering classes get as much egg on their faces as they did recently, in predicting the unstoppable rise of Barack Obama in the US presidential primaries.

What is most annoying about political pundits is their deluded belief that they are always right. What fun we had listening to the Today programme telling us of an historic comeback for Hillary Clinton, having read the papers last week about her demise.

The political classes, though, have a knack of being able to turn events around and completely change history. When we saw pictures of Hillary close to tears as she contemplated defeat, we were told this showed she had 'lost it'. Roll forward a few days and the tears were clearly the turning point. She had, we were told, 'shown her human side for the first time'. Cue double-page spreads on previous tears, featuring footballer Gazza and all.

My mind goes back to the 1992 election with John Major on his soapbox. With Neil Kinnock ahead in the polls, the political pundits laughed at the hapless Major being heckled by the punters. On the last day of the election, the same scribes and TV pundits praised Labour's 'slick rally in Sheffield'. When Labour lost, though, suddenly it was Major 'getting close to the people' that had won it.

There was not a shred of evidence that the events mentioned had the slightest impact on the voters, but it was a convenient way of getting us to forget that the pundits had got it spectacularly wrong.

I look on with mild amusement as Westminster hacks enter the US political fray with little or no knowledge of what is happening there. One day Gordon Brown is finished because he's like the Clintons, and the next? Well, who cares - that was yesterday's chip wrappings.

More sensible people such as my own trade union Unite have sent representatives over to the US to learn about the latest election strategies, which they will use in Britain come the next election.

For the followers of campaigning slogans, about the only half-decent debate has been about 'change'. Both Clinton and Obama supporters have been holding up placards pronouncing 'change'.

In Britain, 'time for change' has been one of the most overworked - and unsuccessful - slogans. Voters often prefer stability ('better the devil you know'). Yet something 'new', as Labour learned, always goes down well.

Gordon Brown will be relieved that Hillary came through in the US, if only because pundits here were bizarrely identifying her with the Prime Minister.

Email: charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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