On Monday this week, YouGov President Peter Kellner wrote about the ‘fundamentals that favour Cameron’ being re-elected PM in 2015. He lists some fair points, though I’ve argued before that Mr Kellner can be a bit selective in how he presents public opinion.
So let me offer you a counter-point: the fundamental factors that favour Ed Miliband and the Labour party in 2015. These are the reasons why I think Labour will emerge as the largest party after the General Election in 2015.
1) The improving economy isn’t cutting deep into Labour support
Peter Kellner rightly notes that as the economy has improved, so has the Conservative reputation for running it. A year ago, they were neck-and-neck on which could run the economy better – now the Tories are 11points ahead. Plus, Britons have noticed that the economy is improving: only 43% now think its in bad shape, down from 74% a year ago.
But such positive news for the Tories has barely been felt in the polls. This week pollsters ICM pointed out that many voters who prefer the Tories to run the economy ‘nonetheless decline to back the party’. Why? Either because that’s not their key concern or their hatred of the Conservatives overrides it. For example, American voters rated Mitt Romney much higher than Obama in managing the economy in 2012, but still didn’t vote for him in similar numbers.
If Britons are less worried that the UK economy is on the brink of collapse, their focus is more likely to shift to their standard of living. And the cost of living crisis continues to get worse. Furthermore, Labour supporters are less likely to benefit from an improving economy than traditionally wealthier Tory voters.
2) Ed Miliband’s personal ratings aren’t dragging down Labour support either
“I like Labour, but I’m not sure about your leader” – I’ve heard that while campaigning more times than I can count, as I’m sure other Labour activists will have too. There’s no point ignoring the fact that Ed Miliband hasn’t yet managed to define himself well. There have been flashes – his fight against the Daily Mail for example – but these are rare occurrences among a torrent of speeches, which he finds more comfortable.
But it’s not clear if that’s a drag on Labour support. Most Britons know they’re voting for a local MP not a President. Plus, Miliband has managed to avoid the Tories defining him negatively, and he will benefit from being able to speak to people directly during the TV debates.
Note: six months before the 1979 election, James Callaghan was 24 points ahead of Margaret Thatcher on who would make the best PM. In contrast, Miliband is only 16 points behind Cameron. Romney was also rated the better leader in three key swing states that Obama went on to win handily.
3) Labour’s share of the vote has been remarkably consistent and stable
Since the 2010 election, the Labour party has stayed above 35% support in the polls, rising to above 40% while the economy was in doldrums and the ‘omnishambles budget’ was fresh in people’s minds.
Former Lib Dem voters who migrated to Labour in disgust at their coalition with the Tories have so far stayed very loyal. Furthermore, they are very unlikely to vote Conservative at the election regardless of the state of the economy. If Ed Miliband can continue to keep them on side until the election, Labour will almost certainly be the largest party after it.
4) The rise of UKIP and changing demographics help Labour
The Conservatives have a more fundamental and long-term problem: they are being squeezed from both sides on the very issue they whipped up into a frenzy for years: immigration.
On one hand UKIP supporters are angry that immigration isn’t being cut, and around half refuse to back the Tories, as polling has repeatedly shown. They are very likely to attract more than 3.9% at the next election, which will deny many Tory MPs a win.
But at the same time, younger and ethnic minority voters (which are an increasing share of the public) – are turned off by anti-immigration rhetoric and stay away from them. Conservatives know this but are paralysed by indecision. This isn’t just a problem for 2015 but will continue to plague them after it too.
5) Labour votes are just better distributed
As everyone in Westminster recognises, Britain’s electoral geography and demographics are such that Labour voters are spread out more advantageously. The Conservatives need to be around seven points ahead of Labour in 2015 to eke out a win, as many Tory commentators recognise. Even if Labour manages to hold on to just 35% of voters, Tories would need over 40% to win. That is just not going to happen. Especially since many marginal constituencies have swung more towards Labour than even the national polls.
In other words, Tories have such a mountain to climb in the next year that they need a miracle to win. Fundamentally, the Labour Party is still better placed to be the largest party after the General Election in 2015.