Wednesday, 7 May 2014

One year to go: prepare for another Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition

A year to go before the so-called experts eat humble pie.

The prevailing view (for which read: the fall into line/ afraid to dissent view) is that Labour will benefit from a voting system heavily biased in their favour, thus putting them on course to sweep to power. They’ve been consistently ahead in the polls month after month. The Conservatives need to do a lot better than Labour to secure an overall majority. Labour only needs to do a little bit better than the Conservatives for things to go their way.
Failing that, commentators fall back on the prediction that Labour will at least be the largest party, forced to go into coalition with the Lib Dems, however much they currently protest. I note how few Leftist pundits now refer to it as a ‘progressive’ coalition.

Some believe we’ll end up with another Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (yours truly, included). Although The Guardian confidently brushes this option aside, putting the odds on this happening at a miniscule 5%.
Another way of interpreting the prevailing view is to see it as the safe conservative view.

It seems most commentators are prisoners of day to day opinion polls, ignoring historical polls or trends. Few are willing to stick their necks out and look beyond a Labour victory. Of some sort.
The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges has been almost a lone voice in predicting a Tory majority. What’s more, this brave soul has stuck by this view pretty much from the moment this parliament began. Going with the herd has never been his style, and political commentary is richer for it.

Here’s my take on what I believe will happen next year.
In short, I can’t see past another Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. Failing that, I’d bet on an overall majority for the Conservatives.

What I definitely can’t see happening is a Labour win. In fact, whichever way I look at it (as does most of the country), I’m afraid I just cannot see Ed Miliband in number 10. Whether alone or in coalition.
Labour’s lead has been squeezed from double figures to around 3-5 points. The Conservatives have nudged up to about 33 or 34%. Even with Ukip on an unsustainable 14%, or more.

We know that Labour’s strategy has centred around their core vote and the exiled Lib Dems. A strategy that will prove to be their undoing.
I don’t envisage Labour doing that much better than the 29% they polled in 2010.

Ed Miliband still lags behind the popularity of his party. Osborne and Cameron are pulling away in terms of which partnership the electorate most trusts to manage the economy.
Cameron wins the head to head. The qualities that Miliband leads on are not those people tend to want in their PM. Cameron is seen as stronger and more relied upon to make the difficult decisions. Miliband wins on the softer skills.

It’s fair to say that the public made their mind up that they weren’t too bowled over by Ed Miliband quite a while back. And there’s nothing the party can do about it.
Labour stubbornly and naively overestimate how many 2010 Lib Dems will stick by them. The reality is that some will stay, but enough will either return home, or more likely vote for one of the minor parties, such as the Greens or even Ukip. Many won’t bother to vote.

The public sector middle class liberals, furious with Blair over Iraq, who may have switched to the Lib Dems last time around but won’t dare back them again, are the ones Labour aren’t convincing. These are the people who vote. And not enough of them are willing to endorse Miliband.
This is why I wouldn’t be surprised if Labour polled something between 31-33%. I’d say 33% is the very best they can hope for.

What the pundits barely comment on is how well the Tory vote has held up.
Every major speech has had cuts at the centre of it. The theme of this parliament has been about getting through the tough bits for better times ahead. And on the whole, the public have swallowed this message. In this context, amidst all the doom and gloom, to be getting 34% a year before a general election is quite astonishing.  

I think that the Tories will break with recent historical precedent (of the incumbent increasing its share of the vote) and outperform their 36% in 2010. I doubt they (or any party in the short to medium term future) will be getting 40%, but wouldn’t be surprised if they managed 38% of the vote. In fact, I don’t believe they’ll get less than they got in 2010.
I predict they’ll poll something in the range of 36-38%.

The Lib Dems are probably looking forward to the next year like a hole in the head. I bet they’ll want it to be done with it so they can regroup and work out which direction they should be heading in. Are they a party which is naturally allied to Labour, or one more at home with the Conservatives? Or will they, in true Lib Dem fashion, be a bit of both, depending on circumstance? Considering I expect coalitions to dominate British politics for some time, they’ll have to get used to the traitor and/or hypocrisy charge.   
My feeling is that despite the misery they’ve had to put up with this parliament, things won’t turn out as bad as many were predicting even a year ago. Yes, they’ll be damaged. No, they’re unlikely to be rewarded for any of the good bits that have come out of the coalition. But, I don’t think it’ll be as bloody as Labour supporters are hoping.

The Eastleigh by-election is a glimpse of how resilient the party is. Expect the footsoldiers to be working their socks off trying to protect as many seats as possible.
Lib Dem gains are out of the window, but retaining 30 (out of 57) MPs should be seen as the smallest of small victories. The price you pay for being the minor party in a coalition. But also for a party adjusting to life in the big time.

Being in power means making unpopular decisions. Lib Dem voters can either seek a return to life pre-coalition, where they were everyone’s favourite protest party, or they can accept the huge role they are likely to play in future elections.
I can see them winning enough seats to be partners in government once again. Their impressive showing in 2010 actually resulted in fewer seats, such are the vagaries of our voting system.

A minimum of 12% and a maximum of 15% would be my estimate. Winning back much of their old support may be impossible. More likely, the party will have to reinvent itself and appeal to Tory voters wary of a lurch to the right. A very real possibility if/when Cameron once again fails to secure a majority.
Which leaves us with Ukip. Bored of bashing Europe, they’ve revealed themselves for what they are: an anti-immigrant, anti-immigration party. It’ll work for the European elections, when voters aren’t choosing a government, but put people off in droves come 2015.

Ukip will not be getting anything close to mid-teens in terms of their share of the vote. But, they’ll do enough to thwart the Conservatives.
A sizeable chunk will stick by them, but about half of what the polls say they’re on will jump ship. Of that half, most will return to the Tories. The rest won’t vote at all. Which leaves them on anything between 6-8%.

I very much doubt they’ll see their first MP elected, although a dogged and exhausting fight by Nigel Farage may pay off for him, it’ll do little for the rest of his party. It’ll probably be counter-productive in the long term, highlighting the fact that Ukip are a one man band. Without Farage, there is no Ukip.   
The biggest impact Ukip will have will be in the Tory-Labour marginals, with Labour the main beneficiaries. It won’t be enough however to sway the result decisively in their favour.

Overall, if I were to be pinned down and forced to predict the exact result of the 2015 general election, I’d say it’ll look like this:
Conservatives: 38%; Labour 32%; Lib Dems 14%. Ukip 7%.

This will see the Conservatives come agonisingly close to winning an outright majority, but it won’t be close enough. It’ll leave them about 10 seats (give or take a couple) short.
Some bonus predictions: Cameron will be in for a rough ride almost from the moment the bloody-thirsty right wingers in his party discover they’ll be lumbered with the Liberals again.

I therefore don’t expect him to see out a second term. More likely, he’ll bow out half way through the next parliament, paving the way for a return to what the Tories excel at: infighting.
Leaving Labour to resurrect the ghosts of New Labour. To a time when they won elections. 

This was first published on Speaker's Chair on Wednesday 7th May 2014

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