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19 July 2013

Heresy of the week: Labour is still on course to win the next general election

The Deep End has featured articles by Dan Hodges before (here and here) – which are typical of his fearlessly honest style. There are few political writers, especially on the left, so willing to take a subject close to their hearts and then poke around its underbelly with such ferocious abandon.

His favourite topic is the Labour Party, of which he is a longstanding member and activist – but also an unrestrained critic. In particular, it is his brilliant running commentary on the many failings of Ed Miliband that have endeared Hodges to the right, while attracting the fury of the left.

However, one might wonder whether it’s not all an elaborate ruse. Could it be that the self-declared “Blairite cuckoo in Ed Miliband’s nest” is in fact a Brownite sleeper agent out to lull Conservatives into a false sense of security?

The answer to that, of course, is ‘no, you'd better get out of the sun’. But, nevertheless, Hodges is one of the most convincing purveyors of a dangerously reassuring narrative. Consider the following piece from the Telegraph earlier this week:

There’s an acknowledgement that other polls still show a significant Labour lead, but that’s not the point, he argues:

All true as far as it goes, but there’s no reason why past patterns should continue to apply. During the Thatcher era we saw regular cycles of mid-term blues and election-winning highs, but then, following the ERM debacle of 1992, the Conservative Party flatlined at about thirty per cent for more than a decade. Contrast that to Labour’s post-2010 recovery, where, from a lower share of the vote than that gained by John Major in 1997, it took less than two years for the party to move into a sustained lead.

Furthermore, let’s not forget what Labour’s current support is composed of, which is their core 2010 vote plus a fair chunk of left-leaning former Lib Dem voters (which is all Ed Miliband needs to win). We shouldn’t expect these to swing back to the Conservatives as a matter of course because they didn’t swing away from us in the first place.

Ah, but, says Mr Hodges, Conservative support could swing back from a different source – UKIP:

Except that what most polls show is UKIP still polling strongly – and usually outpolling the Lib Dems. To have become the third party of British politics is surely a breakthrough of sorts. Certainly, it provides a base from which opportunities (such as those presented by next year’s European elections) can be seized.

At the very least, the UKIP factor is proof that past patterns of party support are not fated to repeat themselves down through the years.

Dan Hodges has one final card to play:

A good point, well made. But having a deeply inadequate leader didn't stop the French Socialists from winning. It is precedent that should, despite the current heat, cause us all to shiver.


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