The next election will break all the rules

In an era of coalitions and four-party politics — and with the left more united than the right — all bets are off

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

2 November 2013

9:00 AM

Ed Miliband’s aides used to scurry around the parliamentary estate, their shoulders hunched. A look in their eyes suggested that they feared their boss’s harshest critics were right. But times have changed. Now Team Ed marches with heads high. The success of his pledge to freeze energy prices has given them a warm glow.

Five weeks on from the Labour leader’s conference speech, his commitment still dominates political debate. It has boosted his personal ratings, helped his party increase its support in the polls and convinced his supporters that he might be Prime Minister after the next election.

In these circumstances, one might expect the Tories to be panicking. But they’re not. They’re reassured by the fact that their party leads Labour on economic competence and that David Cameron remains comfortably ahead of Miliband on the question of who would be the best Prime Minister. Add to this that the economy is now growing at a robust pace — which will probably increase the Tories’ lead on the economy — and one can see why they are confident. After all, no party has ever won an election trailing, as Labour currently does, on both the question of which party is better for the economy and preferred PM.

How can the Tories lead on the economy and leadership and still trail overall? There are three possible answers. The first is that economic growth doesn’t matter in the way that it used to because, as Miliband said in his conference speech, the ‘vital link between the growing wealth of the country and your family finances [is] broken’. If people don’t think that Britain’s recovery will benefit them, then general economic stewardship will matter less politically. Labour strategists argue that in these circumstances the candidate who can persuade voters to think his party will be better for them and their family will be far more successful than the one who can boast of economic competence.

Tellingly, when the Chancellor, George Osborne, responded to last week’s positive GDP figures, he sought to emphasise that – pace Miliband – there is still a connection between economic growth and the wellbeing of the average voter. ‘If Britain is growing,’ he declared, ‘then the finances of Britain’s families will start to grow.’ The next election will turn on whether Osborne or Miliband is right on this point.

As for leadership, a senior member of Labour’s election team points out that while Cameron might have an advantage on the question ‘Who would be the best Prime Minister?’, his reach into the current Labour vote is weak. YouGov’s polling shows that Cameron has an 11-point lead over Miliband on the PM question among all voters. But of the 39 per cent who vote Labour, only 5 per cent think Cameron would be better than Miliband. If the Tories are going to be the largest party in 2015, they have to win over some of those who are, at this moment, planning to vote Labour. But Cameron’s appeal to this group is limited. Ninety per cent of them say that he is doing a bad job in government.

The second explanation for this polling paradox is that the traditional rules don’t apply in this era of coalitions and four-party politics. The most important change in British politics is that the left is now united and the right is divided. The Labour base has expanded with the incorporation of left-leaning 2010 Lib Dem voters who won’t support a party that is in coalition with the Tories. At the same time, as Melissa Kite reports on page 14, the Tory core vote is being nibbled at by Ukip.

When I asked one senior Labour figure if he was concerned about the research of Stephen Fisher, an election expert at Oxford University who predicted that, based on current trends, the Tories have a 57 per cent chance of winning a majority in 2015 and an 88 per cent chance of being the largest party, he dismissed it on the grounds that Fisher hadn’t taken into account this changed political landscape. The particular problem for the Tories is that the Liberal Democrat vote has collapsed in precisely the kind of Labour Tory marginals where they need their coalition partners to take votes from Miliband.

The third explanation, and the one that senior Tories are confident is right, is that the headline figures are a lagging indicator. They hope that when the election campaign comes and people really start to think about whom they want to run the country, their edge on the economy and leadership will start to translate into votes. They remain convinced that they can push their own support up to the high thirties and squeeze Labour down to the low thirties.

The Tories will also try to overhaul Labour’s advantage on the cost of living. They’ll seek to show not only that the proceeds of growth are being shared but that they are getting household bills down. Downing Street is determined not to get caught out again in the way that it did on energy prices. Aides in Number 10 are now frantically trying to anticipate Miliband’s next move on the cost of living front.

More fundamentally, the Cameroons want to claim fairness for the right. One ministerial ally of Osborne says that at the next election it is imperative that the Tories can offer a tax cut for working people paid for by savings from the welfare budget. This, he claims, would embody the Tory claim that fairness is rewarding those who work hard.

Labour’s challenge is to show that they are economically credible. This is a struggle, given the fiscal record of the last Labour government. There is also a sense that for all the success of the energy freeze it might actually be working against Labour in this regard because it sounds just too good to be true; more than half of voters don’t think they will be able to actually do it. Miliband has made a mistake in not emphasising that he plans to use this 20-month freeze to push through changes to the energy market. At the moment, he sounds as if he wants to defy the market rather than reform it. This is not a good place to be if you’re trying to establish economic credibility.

The next election will be fascinating not only because it will be a genuine ideological contest, but also because it will be so unpredictable. The usual electoral rules may well not apply.

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  • Two Bob

    ‘there is still a connection between economic growth and the wellbeing of the average voter’

    Not if the jobs are going to immigrants and the cost of living goes through the roof.

    UKIP are consistently getting 20-25% in byelections, no different to their success in May. They will get MPs in 2015 as their support in migrant hit places like Kings Lynn and Boston is easily double that.

    Also, dont underestimate the power of apathy. The lower the turnout the higher UKIPs share will be as their voters will always turn up.

  • allymax bruce

    James, you’re being excrutiatingly too kind to Ed, and his Labour Party; they don’t have any policies that can trump The Conservative Party policies. I absolutely guarantee you that The Conservatives will announce a much better, and more ‘believable’ energy policy, that will actually cut fuel bills, reign-in the evil six energy companies, and modernise how we pay for fuel in the future. That should ‘best’ Ed’s price-freeze! And, only today, it was heard on RT that David Cameron is lining up an agreement with Germany’s Angela Merkel to disassemble the EU bank, lift red-tape restrictions, and look positively at ‘rewriting’ the Lisbon Treaty; what’s not to cheer about that! It will kill-off the UKIP EU consternation support, and bring back the ‘old fossil’ Tory voters; they never really wanted to vote UKIP anyway, it was only a ‘protest’ support after-all. Like I’ve always said, David cameron is on-track to win an outright majority in the Westminster 2015 general Election; but he’s going to need Scotland voting for Independence if he wants to sustain that victory for the next 15 years! I believe an Indpendent scotland will work just fine with a Conservative gov

    • Shazza

      If Cameron is lucky enough to win 2015 with a majority, he should be able to implement the boundary changes that Clegg in a show of spite and perfidy, sabotaged. This could go a long way in helping the Conservatives maintain power until the Labour Party morphs into a Muslim Brotherhood lite and then the fun will start.

      • crosscop

        But the Tories are just as much in thrall to the Muslims as Labour ( and the Lib-Dems). Cameron lies to the nation after every Muslim atrocity that it has “nothing to do with Islam,” has stated that we should integrate into their way of life rather than the other way round; and insanely claims that they should occupy leading roles in our society – even in our armed forces. In my opinion, like Blair and Brown before him, Cameron is owned by the Saudis.
        If Farage would only dare to use Islam as a weapon to beat the blatantly Islamophile establishment parties, UKIP could actually get some MPs and completely destroy the status quo. Just by showing the nauseating clips of Cameron, Miliband and Simon Hughes grovelling to Muslims that exist on You tube; and Clegg’s twisting of the Koran (after Lee Rigby was killed) on a UKIP pre-election broadcast, they could cause uproar and see voters turn their way in droves.
        Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen now lead the most popular political parties in their respective countries. They achieved this by showing the people the truth about Islam and Islamic colonisation. UKIP should follow their lead – but instead they do their own grovelling by appointing a Muslim businessman who deals in halal slaughtered meat as their finance spokesman. Come on, Farage – Wake up!

        • Shazza

          I agree with you. The reason I believe that it is important for Cameron to win the next election is to ensure defeat for Labour. My big fear is that should Labour return to power, they will accelerate their race replacement policy, gerrymander the voting system even further, shut down what is left of our freedom of speech thus ensuing that a right wing government will never, ever be elected.Don’t forget they have the BBC on their side together with welfare/immigrant voters, etc. However, in the event of a Cameron win, this just might buy us time for the Right to get their act together. It is possible that Farage can then play a bigger role and begin to really highlight the perils of islam and the subsequent inevitable decline of western civilisation. What do you think?

          • crosscop

            Farage appointing a Muslim (who is a dealer in halal slaughtered meat!) as UKIP’s finance spokesman is not a good sign that he is about to “highlight the perils of Islam” – when halal slaughter is actually one of the perils of Islam that has to be confronted.
            Personally, I want the Tory Party to die and be replaced by a patriotic nationalist movement (like the FN or PVV) that will dare to confront the Islamic colonisation of our country – something that UKIP appears to be afraid to do at the moment. Perhaps a crushing Labour victory may be what is needed to finally kill the Tories off and spur a real fight back led by a party formed by an alliance of both traditional Tory voters and Labour’s abandoned traditional voters. Whether or not UKIP can be that party remains to be seen – but I’ll still be voting for them as the best of a bad bunch.

          • Shazza

            I will definitely vote UKIP in the European elections and wait until closer to the GE before making up my mind. It is very disappointing about Farage’s reluctance to criticise the RoP and I am not too sure whether this is to try to prevent any accusations of UKIP being seen as racist.
            Unfortunately, I cannot see how a FN or PVV type party can materialise here; badly educated, brainwashed and ill informed voting public making up the majority with the ‘can’t be arsed’ attitude not forgetting the fierce and malign influence of the BBC and the MSM in countering any discourse that deviates from the accepted narrative. I read the comments under salient articles in the papers and weep. The person I find of great interest is Tommy Robinson. He is no fool and is a man of great courage. Cometh the hour, hey?

          • Roo Woods

            To win over all control in 2015 Cameron would have to do what no other PM has done in peacetime and increase his number of sitting MPs Labour are at roughly 7-8 points ahead at the moment and the Tories need to be roughly at 7-8 points ahead to win a small majority . So Cameron will have to change roughly 14-16 percent of voters to get a majority . Its not going to happen the very best he can hope for is to be the largest party and for enough Liberal Mps to give him a majority and even thats really unlikely at the moment . There are the wildcards of the Brooks trial and Scottish referendum to be thrown into the mix , I would think at best from the Brooks trial Cameron will come out with his judgement questioned and at worst will have a Watergate moment . The Scottish referendum is in the bag for the no vote as the yes vote is so far behind that its hard to see them winning . Labour have a hope of winning next time where as the Tories best hope is another coalition .

      • allymax bruce

        Shazza, I think you’re right; and I’ve noticed it, (the political differences/approaches from both The Conservatives, and Labour),is all about political ideologies. Conservative political approach is Capitalism, while Labour approach is Marxism; or Socialism is what they prefer to call it. To me, a wolf, (Marxism), in any clothing, and called by any other name, is still a wolf! I mean, I have always thought all Westminster Party’s are controlled by their Zionist bankers, (Rotheschilds etc), and the Party’s will inevitably jump to their masters tune. But, the Party’s seem to have different political approaches, in their political ideologies, in getting to the same place. Yeah?

  • Bonnielad

    Former core Tory voters like myself and my wife now vote UKIP because of David Cameron’s serial betrayals….on HS2, gay marriage, foreign aid billions etc etc…The man is a spoilt rich kid who grew up into a wishy washy liberal and chopped away his Conservative roots.

    • Simon William Kitt

      If you like russia so much why don’t you f**k off and move there. There is no room for homophobia in our tolerant society. And don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean… F**king ukip Really? Gay marriage is the only decent thing Cameron has done and you oppose it???. Man there are some backward folk going around

      • marshallman

        Wow how rude. Considering you talk of a tolerant society ive never seen such vile words coming out of someone. I for one just for the record believe in gay marriage. I also believe everyone has a right to an opinion. There are lots of people whos beliefs means they do not agree with things or have a view on things. Ie eating certain types of meats or marrige within a church for gay people. This is a persons belief. What this person means is that prior election the conservatives were anti-gay marrige this person voted for someone on what they promiced then they did the exact oposite. That was his point. Again I am absolutely for gay marrige but I strongly believe in free speach. Your disgraceful words are appalling. If you have an opinion and believe in it show your conviction by the power of your arguement not by your rude and backwards approach in turning the air blue. Argue for the facts ie my belief is that people should be allowed the same rights in marrige regardless of colour religion or sexual orientation we are all one people. Thats how to get your point accross

        • Simon William Kitt

          Shut up you nob and get a life! There is viler language on most you tube clips…

          Some one in a sensitive mood? argh you poor love!
          I mean if you want me to be vile trust me I can be a lot more bilious then that don’t tempt me you arse magnet…

  • rhys

    Nobody but nobody believes a word Cameron says.
    He believes in nothing but his own divine right to rule.
    You would have to be v v frightened of Milliband to vote for Cameron.

    I think Milliband is growing in stature by comparison ( admittedly not a high bar ).
    So is Farage – the electorate just needs to hear more from him and other senior ranking UKIP leaders such as the Deputy Paul Nuttal.
    If UKIP outpoll Lib Dems in 2014 how can N. Farage be denied participation in the 2015 debates ? That must be the nightmare of all three of the ‘ never worked in a real job ‘ ‘Leaders’ .

  • Oliver Ford

    I do think that they have made some modernizing changes and failed to make others which has been a net voter turnoff. Gay marriage alienated some of their supporters and will probably cost them votes in the election. In the long run, it was the right thing to do as younger generations are happy with it. But for 2015, fewer of the more socially liberal young people vote so gay marriage hurt them.

    Secondly, they’ve kept up a nationalistic, anti-immigration platform which hurts their ethnic minority vote. Particularly with the go home ads, they’ve turned off potential supporters from ethnic minorities. As Dan Hodges said in the Telegraph, as long as they keep doing things like that, Labour’s black vote is secure. The non-white proportion of the electorate is growing, like it or not, and for the time being Labour can pretty much take their votes for granted.

    I would advise the Tories to continue modernizing and liberalizing. It will hurt votes in the short term but as older social conservatives die off and younger, more socially liberal people grow up, they will still have a chance of getting a majority.

    • crosscop

      “The non-white proportion of the electorate is growing, like it or not, and for the time being Labour can pretty much take their votes for granted.”
      George Galloway and Respect have shown that’s not always the case. The Muslims will eventually either take over the Labour Party and remake it in their own image or they will abandon it completely for Respect or some new Islamic party. Labour is convenient for them to use it at present – but they are not socialists and its constitution and ideals are meaningless to them.
      I have always been amused at how easily Muslims will slide from one party to another. There was a Muslim councillor in Wales, who if I remember the sequence correctly, started as Labour, switched to Lib-Dem and then joined Plaid – all in a matter of a few years. Our parties are just flags of convenience to them. UKIP should take note.

      • Shazza

        Agree with you 100%.

    • Alexsandr

      not sure the ethnics are all that pro immigration. I have worked with a few who think immigration has been too much. I suppose it is spoiling it for long established ethnic families as much as the white English.

  • Warren O’Reilly

    People will vote labour simply to get rid of Cameron, next election there will be no 3rd party crap dragging down the vote and with UKIP splitting the conservative vote it’s going to be hard for Cameron.

    He couldn’t get a majority with Brown and he keeps coming up with draconian social policies nobody wants to hear emphasising more and more how important it is to get him out of office asap.

    • Simon William Kitt

      And herein lies the reality of the situation. Which is why I am voting green and hope many more do this time around. Or labor whatever just get some people with some sense of social justice back in power because the conservatives could not care less about any of us.this being the only FACT any one needs concern them selves at this point.

  • Simon William Kitt

    90% of journalistic statistics come out of said journalists arse. Not even parliament like the coalition government very much. I know labor will win again there is little doubt about that I will be voting green and hoping many others do as a don’t trust milliband with out a strong environmental dog lead around his neck. Of course the complicit among you are only capable of errrm shall i vote blue or red hmm which is my fav color. The fact is this time the disillusioned are going to vote at all costs just to keep con-dem (OR WORSE STILL JUST TORY) Out of parliament. You cannot expect to make an enemy of any one with less then you and maintain power. If the torys do get in again there will be riots and it’s not going to be pretty…

  • Simon William Kitt

    If you really want to see positive change in this country you have exactly 3 options open to you. 1. Vote Labor (This will be the majority vote) 2. Vote Tactically (Green Party Would be the best option here if you think about it . 3. spoil your ballot paper and put none of the above. If your going to vote tory or ukip you wouldn’t be worth pi**ing on if you were on fire…

  • Njiiri Karago

    I will vote labour just to get rid of the smug Cameron and his posh lot