Saturday, September 28, 2013
The next election is still wide open
The result of the 2015 General Election could be anything from another hung parliament to an overall majority for either the Conservatives or Labour.
Despite the fact that the events of the last few weeks will have moved many people involved in or commenting on politics from a fear that Ed Miliband might be a rather poor Prime Minister to an absolute conviction that he would be a disaster - and the disillusionment with Miliband includes some on the left such as David Aaronovitch, (see previous post here) and Dan Hodges (who explained here why Miliband's behaviour drove him to resign from the Labour party) - and despite the fact that he has deliberately ignored one of the most important rules you usually have to follow to win elections in Britain, by moving away from the centre, a lot of the shrewdest analysts of British politics think he has increased his chances of becoming PM.
However, Miliband has also increased David Cameron's chances of getting a majority, especially if the Conservative party can raise our game, because there will be other voters who are desperate to stop Miliband and realise that the Conservatives are the only party who can do so.
Among those voters who remember the 1970's - which is not a big chunk of the electorate, but is a rather larger proportion of those who actually vote - the Conservatives must hammer home the message that a vote for anyone except David Cameron risks letting in Ed Miliband and a return to the seventies. Not least because it is true.
There have been very few instances of a "core vote" strategy winning an election in a western democracy. George W Bush managed something of the kind in 2004. But whatever the subsequent mythology put around by her supporters and detractors Mrs Thatcher sought to appeal to a wider range of people than just Conservatives, and the fact that she won three times was in spite of the fact that many people saw her as extreme rather than because of it. She was also helped immensely by the fact that many, probably a majority, saw Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock (1987 version) as even more extreme than she was.
But the fact that Ed Miliband has apparently abandoned the political centre does not mean he has abandoned policies with a wider appeal.
His energy price cap proposal is insane, but trying to do something to lower the cost of living and energy costs in particular is not: whichever party can convince the electorate they have the most realistic strategy to control energy costs will find this exceptionally popular.
Perhaps one of the most important messages the Conservatives would be wise to get over is what a substantial chunk of the energy bills of the typical household is due to "green" taxes introduced by a certain former Secretary of State for Energy called - wait for it - Ed Miliband.
There were two very astute articles on Political Betting yesterday called
Forget the 70s new voters can't even remember the 90s, by Henry Manson, and
Goodbye to the middle ground by David Herdson,
which explain why Labour's apparently suicidal surrendering of the middle ground might work.
Neither of the two most significant group of swing voters who Ed Miliband hopes will put him in 10 Downing Street and make Ed Balls chancellor - those wavering between Labour and the Lib/Dems, and those wavering between Conservative and UKIP - are particularly centrist.
But both would applaud lower energy prices if - and this is the really big if - they think Labour would really be able to deliver them.
So let's have the debate about what the parties are going to do to get growth onto a faster track, to increase productivity so that firms can finally start to pay higher wages, about how we can keep family's energy bills under control, cut the deficit down to the point where we are not saddling unborn children with preposterous levels of public debt, ensure that those who do the right thing are rewarded. To some of these questions Labour has no answer, to the rest ridiculous ones.
The coming election will be close, extremely exciting, very important, and is at this stage impossible to call. Those Tories who are saying things like "Miliband's done us a great favour" are judging too quickly. But that judgement might ultimately be right if we can prove to the British people that we have answers to the challenge - and Labour don't.