“In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead.”
The fable of the Hare and the Tortoise, well known to anyone who has been to primary school, has two very different manifestations. The first, attributed to an ancient Greek slave named Aesop, told the story of a hare who lost a race with a tortoise because he underestimated his opponent and fell asleep. In the second, attributed to pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno of Elea, it is Achilles who loses the race because it is logically impossible for the tortoise to be overtaken. Fables are stories that are used to teach us about reality, and this story may be able to help us answer the question on everybody’s lips; who will be first past the post next May and who will be caught snoozing under a tree?
Labour are stubbornly hanging on to their lead in the polls, with the latest from YouGov putting them at 38% to the Conservative’s 34%, however YouGov also found that 60% of those polled don’t think that Ed is ‘up to the job’ of being PM. According to a Guardian/ICM poll David Cameron’s personal approval rating dropped from +5 to -2 from May to June, which could be considered a massive victory if compared to the figures for Miliband, falling from -25 to -39. So the race is on, but who is the tortoise and who is the hare?
Labour have certainly been the more proactive party of the two, with barely a day going by without a new policy being launched and promoted. With Labour’s important National Policy Forum coming up in early July there could have been a lot of momentum building up towards next May, but this momentum has almost entirely failed to materialise. The problem is that voters often focus on people over policy, and Ed Miliband’s chaotic PR campaign has failed at every turn to paint him in a good light. Who was napping under the tree when Ed was chomping on a bacon sarnie or posing with a copy of the Sun? Cameron’s press team is, quite simply, doing a much better job.
As yet, it is not unfair to say that the Conservatives have not given us much of a clue as to what their manifesto will contain but as with the case of the Hare and the Tortoise, perhaps the Tories can afford to be a bit slower off the mark. This is all the more so if they think they can rely on Labour to trip themselves up. The race towards next May could arguably be characterised as a contest between two tortoises, one popular and slow and the other unpopular but not quite as slow. If we take Aesop’s view the Conservatives could easily overtake Labour if Milliband’s popularity doesn’t pick up and he is caught eating sandwiches under a tree. However, if we ascribe to Zeno’s paradox, then the Conservatives may well be able to reduce the gap between themselves and Labour, but may never quite manage to overtake them. Indeed, in order for that to happen Labour also need to be moving forward and at the moment they are completely stationary.
He was formerly Head of Policy at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). With degrees in history and economics from the Universities of Oxford and London, Jake is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a trustee of the European Association of Philanthropy and Giving and advises several governments on public policy. He also advises clients on CSR and philanthropy activities.
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