The Labour Party is (relatively) becalmed at the moment. Many of you will be out on the doorstep at evenings and weekends, campaigning for a Labour win in two weeks time. And across the country, a dedicated band of Labour members and supporters are campaigning for a Labour victory in the European and local elections. Whilst Labour’s lead in the national opinion polls is narrowing (down to just a single point with YouGov), the party has been leading the Tories for over two years. A return to Downing Street looks possible, but not pre-ordained. Winning the local and European elections comfortably with only a year to go until the general election should be an important part of Labour’s route to victory. Looking like a party that can win elections is an important part of winning elections.
And yet there’s a distinct possibility that in two weeks time we could be faced with a UKIP victory in the European elections. That’s certainly the way the EU election polls seem to be trending at the moment – some even suggest Farage and the Kippers could land a huge win – and the pessimism about Labour’s performance on May 22nd has now started to bubble up amongst the Labour grassroots too. 43% of LabourList readers think that UKIP will win the European elections (compared to 53% who think that Labour will be triumphant), according to our latest weekly survey.
Let’s not underestimate how much of a political earthquake Labour losing the European elections would be. Even William Hague (a man who is a watchword for failure in opposition) won the European election in 1999, something which the Tories – desperate to distract attention from their likely third place finish – will doubtless draw attention to. For an opposition party that wants to claim it’s marching towards general election victory a year later, winning the European elections has always seemed an imperative.
There are mitigating circumstances for Labour of course. Eurosceptics always seem more motivated to vote in EU elections that Europhiles (as the Lib Dems will doubtless discover). Whilst many Labour voters will think there’s no point in voting in an election that they don’t understand, UKIP voters by contrast are incredibly motivated to vote and show their loathing of the European project.
But there are also reasons why these European elections should be good for Labour too – there are metropolitan elections taking place in many of Labour’s heartlands on the same day as the European elections that should boost turnout across the board. And there’s far greater confidence in Labour’s likely performance in those elections, with 86% of LabourList readers telling us they expect Labour to gain the most local government seats on May 22nd. Labour will definitely perform better in the locals than the European elections, and as the local elections are counted on Thursday/Friday (compared to Sunday for the European elections), expect to hear the party pushing the importance of the local elections in the days before and after election day.
The next month is going to place a great deal of pressure on the Labour leadership. If we win both the European elections and local elections, Ed Miliband will justifiably feel he’s on course for Downing Street, the campaign that Labour has run (including squeezing the Lib Dems further) will have been vindicated and campaign chiefs Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore will have more power to their elbow in the run up to next year.
But if we don’t win both, Miliband will come under pressure for not pledging an EU referendum, questions will be asked about whether Labour are offering the right things to people who are choosing UKIP (a party of protest) over us and those who weren’t motivated to vote at all. Whilst his leadership position is secure, the sniping over the summer will intensify (as it has seemed to every summer under his leadership). Meanwhile, Labour’s campaign team will be put under real pressure to explain how we managed to lose the European elections to a party containing assorted cranks and racists when we should be powering up our campaign machine ready for the biggest year in a generation for the party.
The next few weeks will be crucial. Winning on May 22nd puts us in the driving seat, losing will create an unpleasant atmosphere. If you have time, get out on the doorstep to play your part in ensuring it’s the former, not the latter.