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State of the Parties 2013
State of the Parties
With less than 2 years to go until the next election, the outcome is far from certain and there are opportunities (however remote) and threats for each of the major parties going forward. Some are more obvious than others, the Conservatives have ground to make up if they’re to remain the largest party after the next election and the Liberal Democrats will struggle to defend a lot of their seats in the face of the backlash that appears to be coming for them after joining the coalition.
The Labour Party, however don’t have it all their own way. Their lead has narrowed significantly in the polls, at one point they commanded double figure leads over the Conservatives now their lead is between 3 and 5%. A figure that is almost certain to leave them the largest party, but it may leave the UK in the position where the smaller parties get to play kingmaker again. The question is, would they even want to be the kingmaker given the Liberal Democrats experience in government. There is also the looming threat of UKIP and the SNP, the former has been performing excellently in by-elections, the latter has formed a majority government in Scotland and is preparing for an independence referendum. The loss of Scotland to the SNP should ring alarm bells in the Labour Party, who may be in for a reckoning north of the border if they mismanage the referendum campaign. All of these potential difficulties don’t negate the fact that the Labour Party are in pole position and are facing a coalition government that is imposing difficult cuts, there are clearly a lot of potential voters who are looking for something more from the Labour party, whether they can provide it and retain their current electoral coalition is another matter.
The Conservatives by conventional wisdom ought to be doing much worse than they are right now. They are the senior partner in a coalition pursuing deeply unpopular policies and have consistently struggled to meet their stated targets when it comes to the deficit. Despite this they are clearly the party that the public feels has credibility when it comes to managing the nation's finances. That sentiment shouldn’t be underestimated on either side of that debate. The simple fact is that the Tories have come back from a crushing deficit in the polls to being within a reasonable distance of Labour. You don’t have to go very far back to find polls with them 12-15% behind. That means that with the right emphasis and careful, competent governance alongside the Lib Dems, the Tories could see themselves back in Number 10 following an election. There is the issue of UKIP, a lot of Conservative MPs are notoriously Eurosceptic and with UKIP demonstrating some viability in by-elections it may cause some of the more ideologically inflexible among the Tories to take a serious look at UKIP as an electoral vehicle.
The Liberal Democrats find themselves in the worst of all worlds, reviled by a lot of their younger supporters that made up such a large portion of their 2010 support, no longer an acceptable protest vote now they sit alongside the Conservatives, hated by both sides as “traitors” or an impediment to necessary reforms. One plus side for the Lib Dems is that the election is still some time away, so they will retain influence beyond their poll ratings until the end of the parliament. That influence affords them an opportunity, now that their poll ratings seem to have hit a floor they can begin the process of rebuilding a new base. The path of a protest vote is closed and the young may not be listening, but there are other avenues to relative success. Liberal Democrats tend to overperform in seats where they have an incumbent and with the looming threat of UKIP there are a lot of conservative minded voters who may not want the Tories to be beholden to a party to their right. The ultimate objective for the Lib Dems might be to show the value of themselves as a junior partner for both parties, that way they may be able to perform well enough in a close race to hold the balance of power in a more effective way than they did in 2010. It’s a long term process, but it might lead to a new style of politics in the UK.
The various minor parties also have several opportunities with virtually nothing to lose, they have a fractured political landscape where people seem to be on the lookout for something different. Whether it’s the SNP and the Independence referendum coming up in 2014, or UKIP and the European elections, there may be several shocks in the period leading up to the next election that may lead to all 3 of the main parties having to confront new realities as we approach the election scheduled for May 2015.
“Stalin: Stop sending people to kill me! We’ve already captured five of them, one with a bomb and another with a rifle… If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send another” - Tito