Saturday, January 02, 2010

Political preview of 2010

Sometimes, the political year is hard to predict. Back in January 2007, we could all be reasonably sure that Gordon Brown was going to become Prime Minister later that year – but what no-one foresaw was what a balls-up he would make on the question of whether to then hold a snap election.

Likewise 12 months ago, few pundits or politicians saw the MPs expenses scandal coming, although as I have pointed out in this column before, it should have been spotted down the tracks from a fair way off.

The year 2010, though, should be easier. There will be a general election, and barring a most extraordinary reversal of political fortune, the long period of New Labour hegemony will come to an end.

Indeed, the main debate among political crystal-ball-gazers has not been so much over whether Labour will lose, as over whether the Tories will win by enough to be able to form a government in their own right.

Several factors are running in their favour. Mr Brown has never managed to ‘connect’ with the British public, and has had to shoulder at least part of the blame for a recession that has revived all those old question marks against Labour’s economic competence.

Tory leader David Cameron, who has never been behind in the opinion polls since he took on the job, will be able to argue fairly persuasively that the only way to get rid of the Prime Minister is to vote Conservative.

Against that, there is the considerable obstacle of Britain’s skewed electoral system which means that the Tories will have to be 10-11 percentage points ahead of Labour in the national share of the vote to be sure of an absolute Commons majority.

And - perhaps the biggest hurdle of all for Mr Cameron – the fact that Labour’s unpopularity has still not been matched by any great surge of public enthusiasm for the Tories.

So, cards on the table time, what is my election prediction? Well, as ever, the historical precedents provide what I would see as the most meaningful clues.

Labour is hoping that this election might turn out to be a bit like 1992 – the year John Major won in the teeth of a recession because he was ultimately more trusted to deal with the economy than his opponent.

For my part, I think the mood in the country feels much more like 1979 – an election in which the public’s primary concern was to get rid of Labour rather than to elect the relatively untried and untested Margaret Thatcher.

What that points to is not a Conservative landslide, but a Commons majority of the kind of order of that achieved by the Iron Lady against Jim Callaghan – 43 seats.

Is there anything the Prime Minister can do to change the game? Well, I suppose the obvious thing would be to resign, and there is a small window of opportunity over the next few weeks in which it could yet happen.

I have always been among those who believed that, if Mr Brown felt he was damaging the party’s chances by staying, he would call it a day – but it has to be said that he has thus far shown no evidence of any desire to quit.

Nevertheless, I am still keeping perhaps 10pc of my mind open to the possibility that he will stand down, in a bid to give a younger successor a fighting chance of winning that elusive Labour fourth term.

And if that were to happen, then clearly all the many predictions that have been made about the political year 2010 would need to be very swiftly revised.

free web site hit counter


Vicarious Phil said...

Surely it's too late for a leadership change? Unless Gordon Brown has to step down due to his health. After the mistake of the Brown coronation, they'd have to have a contest. While labour are arguing about the leadership Cameron would seize the opportunity to pretend to be acting PM..."The election this country needs is a general election!"

Robert said...

I've not seen Political parties with so many dodo's Cameron would have been a nobody going back a few years, and brown was a nobody who had to do a deal to take power from a bloke who was better suited in the Tories "Blair".

The left within labour has been killed off with the use of the parachuted system of putting in place followers of the leadership, it's a mess.