Six Reasons Why The Tories’ New Found Optimism May Be Misplaced

by George_East on July 24, 2013

david-cameronEver since Labour made the monumentally stupid decision to accept Tory spending plans, thereby conceding austerity economics, they have been on the defensive.    Consistent ten point leads in the polls which have been a constant ever since George Osborne’s politically disastrous budget in 2012 have now shrunk to the mid-single fingers (or if ICM is to be believed, completely gone).

Labour looks clueless, directionless and, as Charlie East-West said in a post a couple of weeks back, as if it is doing everything it can to ensure that it loses.     Instead of setting the agenda, Ed Miliband has been reacting to it.  Each move apparently designed in order to get a critical press pack back on side.   As I have written before, this will never happen.  There is absolutely no point in fitting a narrative around the desire to please the Westminster Village – they have their narrative (Ed Miliband is a weird nerdy loser, George Osborne is a Machiavellian genius etc) and whatever happens or however wrong it is, it won’t change.    To watch Labour turn an internal dispute about the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk into an exercise in self-flagellation in which the Labour leader is effectively now pushing for the defunding of his own Party, beggars belief.  No one out there gives a shit about Labour selections.   It is a purely internal matter that could and should have been dealt with administratively within the Party.  Miliband has by his actions ensured that the story will remain live right the way through to the absurd proposed special conference next Spring.

Unsurprisingly, the Tories are more chipper than they have been since the halcyon days of the summer of 2010.   They sense blood and for the first time in a couple of years, you get the sense that they think they will win an overall majority in 2015.  Michael Gove today declared victory in the next election.   With an economic recovery underway (however weak and however much unnecessary damage has been done along the way) and, for now at least, a relatively united party, David Cameron starts his summer break with the political winds appearing to blow strongly in his direction.

However, there remain many good reasons why Tory optimism may well be misplaced and many reasons why, despite the Labour Party apparently concentrating all of its energies on losing the election, for us not to despair quite yet.  Here are six of them:

1.       Tory unity is not likely to hold

David Cameron’s concessions to his Party’s swivel-eyed loons over Europe have, for now, papered over divisions in the Conservative Party, which looked at points earlier in the year to be becoming almost ungovernable.  This was, in part, fuelled by the rise of the UKIP vote and what appeared to many Tories to be a credible threat from their own right flank.

However, next year will see the Euro-elections, which polls suggest there is every chance UKIP will be in first place.  The inevitable publicity that the Euro-elections will give to Nigel Farage is also likely to see them begin to creep up the national voting intention polls again (they appear to have lost up to half of their support since their peak earlier in the year).    Farage’s no-nonsense style remains a bigger turn on to much of the Tory grass roots than David Cameron’s metropolitan poshness.   As the Euro-elections get nearer and UKIP begin to rise again, except to see the anti-Cameroon faction within the Tory party re-emerge as bitter and nuts as ever.

2.       David Cameron Needs a 7 Point Lead for an Overall Majority

Nick Clegg’s sulky (and self-interested) vetoing of the plans for boundary changes may be the one thing he has done for which we should feel grateful.  The consequence is that the Tories will need to be ahead of Labour by approximately 7 points to ensure an overall majority.    It can, I think, be assumed that unless Labour completely melts down (not completely impossible given the experience of the last couple of months) that it will do better in 2015 than it did in 2010, given the circumstances of that election.    Even if Labour ends up on, say, 33% (as compared to the 29% of the vote they received in 2010), the Tories will need to get 40% of the vote for an overall majority.    They have shown no signs, even in the most optimistic polls, of achieving anything like this.  To put things another way, for an overall majority, the Tories need to take seats off Labour that Labour was able to retain, even in the circumstances of 2010.

3.       UKIP fade, does not mean UKIP are irrelevant to 2015

Unlike some, I have always been less than convinced about UKIP’s ability to sustain poll ratings into double figures to the election.  The talk of UKIP hitting the mid-20s and even overtaking the Tories always seemed to me to be highly unlikely to happen.    My best guess is that they will, for the reasons discussed above, have a bit of a revival next year around the Euro-elections and then fade back to single figures by the time May 2015 comes around.

However, this does not mean that UKIP are irrelevant to the outcome in 2015.  Far from it.  In 2010 UKIP only managed 3% of the vote.  It is pretty difficult to see how they don’t beat that in 2015, quite handily.  Even 6% of the national vote could make a significant difference, given that UKIP take votes from the Tories at about twice the rate they take votes from any other party.     There is no occasion in recent British history in which there has been a split at a general election in the centre-right vote.

4.       The Lib Dem defectors are likely to be sticky

In previous election cycles, the swing in the vote between the parties in the opinion polls between elections has very largely been a swing between the Tories on the one hand and Labour and the Lib Dems on the other.  The consequence of this has been that Labour has had to win and then cling on to former Tory voters if it is to win at the next election.  By definition these voters had no problem, in principle, with voting Tory.

The next election will be different in that much of Labour’s rise in the polls since the 2010 defeat – and even after the last couple of months, it is still polling at 6-10% above the last general election – has come from Lib Dems (not Tories).

The Tory vote now it has recovered from the UKIP induced mid to high 20s is back in the low to mid-30s, not far below what David Cameron achieved in 2010.  The Lib Dem vote has, on the other hand, collapsed from 24% to about 10-12% of the vote (some pollsters over the last couple of weeks have the Lib Dems as low as 6%, ICM as high as 16%).  This vote is very largely the anti-Tory Lib Dem vote, which has gone across to Labour.   This vote is inherently anti-Tory and will be very difficult for the Lib Dems to win back, given their role in the coalition.

The consequence of this is that it is very likely that Labour’s base vote (its own base + centre left Lib Dem defectors) is probably now around 34-35%.

5.       The Tories are still the least liked Party

Unlike in the 1980s, there are serious question marks over whether the Tories are capable of obtaining 40%  the vote, that they probably need for an overall majority.  Recent polling showed that only that percentage of the population would even consider voting Tory.  The Party’s toxicity is very much still in place.

Remember David Cameron could not get an overall majority in 2010 when faced with a tired and divided Labour government under the least popular Prime Minister since records began following the biggest economic crash since the Great Depression.  It was the easiest election to win for the Tories since 1987, and David Cameron blew it.

6.       Parties in government rarely improve their vote after serving a full term

The usual pattern for a party winning an election is that the moment it first enters office will be the peak of its election popularity.  Thus the two long governments of recent times: the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major of 1979-1997, and the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of 1997-2010, saw their popular vote decline at each subsequent election after their first.

Indeed the last example of a governing party serving a full term in office and then increasing its vote at the subsequent election was Anthony Eden in 1955, who increased the Tories percentage of the vote from 48% (in 1951 under Winston Churchill) to 49.7%.    Harold Wilson did it twice, in 1966 and October 1974, but both times were ‘cut and run’ early elections.

So, despite Ed Miliband’s best efforts, I would still (marginally) rather be in his shoes than David Cameron’s at this point in the election cycle.  Labour I think remain favoured to be the biggest party and are considerably more likely to end up with an overall majority than the Tories, as matters stand.

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