This article has been appearing in my Twitter feed a lot this morning; it’s by the executive editor of ConservativeHome (and former MP for Wycome in Buckinghamshire), Paul Goodman, and predicts that 2015 is already lost for the Tories and the likely outcome is a Labour-led government. The reasons are mainly that the Left is united as Respect has failed to take off and left-wing Lib Dem voters have defected en masse back to Labour, while the Tories’ vote is being eaten away by UKIP. He also claims that the Tories need to increase their party’s share of the vote by four points or more, which no governing party has ever managed to do. I think the Left should beware of crowing over this article which has appeared nearly two-and-a-half years before the final date for any 2015 election.
It’s true that the Tories have good reason to be unpopular, having used an economic crisis to drive through swingeing cuts to public services that they would have wanted to do anyway, but other economic circumstances would not have given them the pretext. One of the worst-hit groups has been disabled people who rely on benefits, which the majority who are not extremely wealthy do as being disabled is an expensive business. High-profile campaigns have succeeded in getting some of these overturned and many who currently receive Disability Living Allowance are now not to be re-assessed until after the next election, which gives Labour time to abolish it early in the next Parliament if they win. They should make reversing this a priority, because enough evidence has been raised of the severe hardship these reforms (even though the last Labour government started them) are causing to make it a viable election promise.
The article is right in that the Tories are weakened because their vote is threatened by UKIP, which he believes will not win any seats in 2015. This is the same situation as in 1997 where the Referendum Party stole some Tory votes but only enough to lose the Tories what had previously been safe seats. Quite apart from the Tory vote being divided over Europe, however, the Tories were already mired in sex and corruption scandals and were regarded as a worn-out party with no new ideas, while New Labour was fresh and appealed to young voters and the middle ground. This is not quite the picture today; although Cameron and Osborne are widely seen as out-of-touch, privileged men with little experience of the real world trying to do Blair better than Blair, there have been no high-profile personal scandals in this government.
However, it’s only 2012 and this could easily be seen as “mid-term blues” rather than a serious threat to the next election. There is plenty of time for another major economic crash, an environmental disaster such as a major flood or drought, or a scandal to hit UKIP which would frighten away their working- and lower-middle-class Tory voters. In particular, the Scottish referendum and the EU debt crisis may well have an effect, because UKIP would have no relevance if there was no UK, and Scotland may well choose the EU over the UK if the UK is out (a distinct possibility if, for example, the EU gets the right to veto member states’ budgets). Although UKIP benefits to some extent from the EU crisis and being able to portray it as debt-laden, bureaucratic and inefficient, joining the Euro is now entirely out of the question, which is one major issue on which UKIP’s stance is now redundant. UKIP will also have to persuade people that the benefits we do get from Europe, such as being able to live and work anywhere in most of Europe, indefinitely, without a visa are worth giving up for whatever we can achieve by pulling out. Gay marriage is just not such a huge issue, and many of those for whom it is will never vote for them anyway.
I suspect Goodman was partly intending to lull Labour voters and campaigners into a false sense of security by writing that article, while encouraging the Tories to redouble their efforts. In a sense, they do have a lot of work to do, because the Coalition will not be running a united campaign and Labour can still say this is not a Tory government, and the last time we voted for a Tory government was in 1992 and look where that got us. Labour still has a fight on its hands to inspire voters and persuade them that they are not the same bunch of mean-spirited securocrats, cringing before US and tabloid power, that the last lot proved to be. That, after all, is why many of us voted Lib Dem last time.
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