One year to General Election: Still all to play for
We have entered the home straight with only 365 days for the political parties to convince the electorate they are the right party to run the country – and it is all to play for. A recent poll gave Labour only a one point lead over the Conservatives. This is worryingly poor polling for the opposition at this stage of the electoral cycle, with governments typically receiving a boost in the polls in the lead up to the General Election. But this figure may be a little deceptive, Labour have much safer majorities than the Conservatives and favourable boundaries. Combined with the unknown impact of UKIP splitting Conservative votes, this one percentage point lead can still deliver a Labour majority. However, the momentum is currently with the Conservatives and this should not be underestimated.
What is becoming more apparent is that Labour are going to stay the course with their cost-of-living crisis narrative and tackling capitalist injustice – albeit fleshed out and developed over the coming year. This was epitomised by Ed Miliband’s recent interview in the Evening Standard, where he vowed to crack down on “ghost homes” of wealth investors. The Labour leader tackling energy companies, bankers and wealthy housing investors may not be going down well with business or financial world but it seems that Miliband is willing to bet the house on being a leader of conviction and principle on the side of the man in the street. He knows he has just has a year to convince an increasingly cynical electorate that this is true and they can envision him being Prime Minister. With Obama’s electoral campaign adviser – David Axelrod – by his side, the Labour leader has a man who has done this before.
For the Conservatives, the ever improving economy means they can now concentrate on negating the threat of UKIP. We have seen a gentle tack to the right. Tougher regulation on onshore wind farms, tougher welfare reform these are all policies that they hope will spoil Farage’s party. Nevertheless, this may only be a temporary tack to the right because traditionally to win swing voters and secure a majority – you must have the centre. It will be interesting to see if the Queen’s speech contains any centrist or softer policies?
For the Liberal Democrats, who will undoubtedly not be celebrating after the EU and local elections, their future is less clear at the moment. However with Labour sticking to the left and Conservatives moving a little to the right, they can push for their favoured centre ground. They are still in a position to be king maker if the nation is unable to decide on a majority government. But the Liberal Democrats know showing too much ankle to either party does not sit well, with some claiming this lack of principles is the reason they have lost so many voters. The party needs to define itself and will look to promote their calming influence on the Conservatives, while trying not to let the Chancellor take all the glory on the economy. It is going to be a tough 12 months for the formerly progressive junior coalition member, whose main claim to power now appears to be to act as a break on the two bigger parties. Strange times indeed.
There are still some significant political events on the horizon which may impact the outcome of the next election; the EU and local elections; the Scottish independence referendum, the Queen’s Speech, the Newark by-election, a potential cabinet reshuffle, and party conference season. What’s clear is that the next year will see some tough fighting and ups and downs for all, because there is a real choice at the next election, and so far the electorate seem unsure which lot they want to be in the driving seat for the rest of the decade.