Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The electoral snowglobe begins to clear


So here at Public Policy and the Past we spend a lot of time wondering about the outcome of the next General Election, due in May 2015. We look at international examples. We study the numbers. We make predictions, our latest being that an overall majority is probably out of the Labour Party's reach.

But we also look historically at the question - in order to get a better sense of the problem's scale and scope. That's the problem with most political journalists, actually: reacting (quite properly) to every scandal and every twist and turn in the political battle, they don't stop to look around themselves at the electoral landscape itself.

So where have we go to now? Well, the electoral snowglobe is starting to clear. Some of the elements of the next election are beginning to fall into place. Let's mix our metaphors, shall we? As the arrow flies in the air, its target becomes clearer and clearer. If we sat behind it - remember that faux-exciting scene in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves? - we'd see its objective resolve in front of us. That's what's happening now.

Labour's lead has been decreasing, and there's some room for it to fall further. But that process was always a bit exaggerated, and seems to have stopped for now: the party's numbers have stabilised again in the high 30s. For now, that seems like the bedrock of the party's support: left-leaning Liberal Democrats having defected en masse to Ed Miliband's party, it's going to be difficult to squeeze them down below the mid-30s. That means Labour will make gains in 2015. We don't know how large they'll be, or whether Labour will be the biggest party - not yet. But they're going to move forward.

Now let's look historically at the question of the Government's, and the Conservatives', polling performance. The first thing to say is that Labour aren't doing all that badly, actually, by the standards of past Oppositions. Most of them were doing worse than Ed Miliband's party is now, just over three and a half years out of power; a cheering thought, perhaps, as he endures his terrible personal approval ratings.

The second thing to say on this is that, if the Conservatives are to get close to an overall majority in 2015, they're going to have to move further from their current mid-Parliament polling trough than any government has moved in modern times. It's a tall order, and they're probably not going to manage it from here. Add in an additional complication - the 'stickability' and popularity of local Liberal Democrat MPs, who the Conservatives are going to find it hard to shift - and the best David Cameron can realistically hope for is to be the biggest party in another Hung Parliament.

So there we have it. Not really a revelation, but it's good to have things quantified. Recent talk of 'Conservative advance' and 'Labour collapse' has been overdone. The likeliest outcome? A Hung Parliament, with the two parties quite close to each other in terms of seats.

We'll continue to keep you updated as the snow clears. Or the arrow nears its target.

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