EU Referendum

UK politics: leapfrogging to the general


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Although the next major electoral event on the UK political horizon is the euros – with some local government contests thrown in – the 2015 general election is never very far away from our thoughts. After all, it is the general, rather than anything that happens in the euros, which will shape events on the referendum front.

And through yesterday – as the political temperature rises in the run-up to the conference season, we saw three reports in particular which when read together, suggest we are in for a fascinating if unpredictable election.

The first report of note came with the Evening Standard claiming an "exclusive", telling us of a "dramatic" Ipsos MORI poll revealing that Labour had slipped three points from 40 to 37 percent since August, while David Cameron's Conservatives were up four to 34 percent.

Although Labour was just ahead, the lead was wafer-thin for an Opposition party in mid-term, said the Standard. It is not alone in questioning whether Miliband can pull of an election victory. Even with the inbuilt advantage to Labour, he is going to find it hard going.

Then, even worse for the "embattled" Mr Miliband, for the first time since he became leader, over half of Labour supporters (52 percent) are dissatisfied with him, compared with 40 percent who are satisfied. This contrasts with Mr Cameron's rating, attracting 71 percent satisfaction from his supporters, compared with 23 percent dissatisfied.

This is probably going to get worse as the election draws closer, to the extent that I think we are going to see a "Kinnock effect". People will have such difficulty seeing Miliband as a credible prime minister that they will turn away from him in their droves.

Now add another report, this one from Martin Kettle in the loss-making Guardian, which asserts that we are unlikely to see a great Liberal Democrat wipeout.

This is probably not untoward as the Lib-Dems have a habit of defying poll predictions and performing better locally than their national ratings would suggest. Although YouGov has them at a mere nine percent, down from 23 percent at the last election, Kettle's hunch is that they will hold on to most of the 57 seats they gained in 2010.

Into that mix, though, we have the "wild card", what is at last being recognised as the UKIP effect. Paddy Ashdown, late in the game but enough of a name to get quotes – reckons this makes the next election is "un-callable" and as complex as a Rubik's Cube.

Few commentators expect the UKIP to get any seats, but with the demise of the BNP and the increased popularity of the party, it could well affect the course of more than the 41 seats estimated to have been affected at the last general.

The trouble is that there is no sound way of calculating this effect. The UKIP vote is not homogenous and is also likely to be soft. If Miliband looks like presenting a serious challenge to Cameron, we could see the classic two-party "squeeze", with the minority parties losing support.

There is also the turnout to take into consideration. Generally, one might expect the rump of Labour voters to be more inclined to stay at home than switch sides, while potential Tory voters might be more inclined to switch to UKUP. Again, though, the effect might not be uniform, and the effect will be unpredictable.

Thus, although hardly original, Ashdown does have a point about the overall unpredictability of the election. But what we can no longer do is rule out the possibility of another Lib-Con coalition, with Mr Cameron remaining as prime minister.

Earlier., we have warmed to the idea of having Labour in office, so that when (or if) we are confronted with a "yes-no" treaty referendum in the next term, a combination of the Tories in opposition and UKIP are more like to deliver a "no" vote.

A Lib-Con coalition, though, would presumably relieve Mr Cameron of any obligation to hold a 2017 "in-out" referendum, which is just as well as he could not honour the promise he is making, even if the Conservatives did scrape together a majority.

But, against the current uncertainty, one almost yearns for the days of innocence, the two-party battles and the "swingometer" which could predict the outcome of elections with only a few results in. Such are contemporary developments, though, that even with the improvements in polling and better technology, the next 19 months to the general election are not going to make predictions and analysis any easier.