Samuel Goldwyn once warned, in his inimitable style, “Never make predictions - especially about the future”. However, I feel confident in predicting that Ed Miliband will be the next prime minister.
Nothing is 100% certain in politics. However, Miliband is now in a position like that of a star striker with the ball at his feet, standing yards from the opposition’s empty net. All he needs to do is keep his nerve, ignore the vicious abuse from the terraces and put the ball in the net. It’s almost certain that he will.
Many Tories do not take seriously the possibility of a Miliband premiership. They believe that an economic recovery and his perceived personal weaknesses will consign him to the same fate as Neil Kinnock in 1992. Equally, many Labour supporters do not dare to believe that Labour will return to government after a single term.
The latest YouGov poll shows a 7% Labour lead. National opinion polls have shown a consistent, if quite small, lead for Labour ever since the omnishambles Budget of March 2012. However, UK elections are decided not by most voters, who are in safe seats, but by voters in marginal constituencies and here the Labour lead is far larger. In September 2013, a poll was carried out in the 32 seats where the Tories are defending their smallest majorities against Labour. It showed Labour on 43% and the Tories on 29%. A lead in these seats of 14% points to a resounding Labour win.
Of course, voting intentions could change in the next 18 months. However, there are some crucial factors which favour Miliband.
In 2010, the Lib Dems won 23% of the vote. In today’s YouGov poll they are on 9%. Many Lib Dem voters in 2010 were on the Left and then switched to Labour due to Lib Dem actions after 2010. It is highly unlikely that anything that happens in the next 18 months will sway these voters away from Labour.
UKIP is now the UK’s third party, based on opinion polls. It is on 11% in the YouGov poll. It takes significantly more voters from Tories than it does from Labour. Even if UKIP end up with no MPs, they could cost the Tories many seats. Tories will, no doubt, try and scare UKIP voters by saying a vote for UKIP is a vote for Miliband but this may well have limited effect. Many UKIP voters hate David Cameron and all he stands for – not just on the EU but also on immigration, gay marriage and other issues.
When Cameron became Tory leader in 2005 he set about the necessary electoral task of detoxifying the Tory brand. Now, under the pressure of events and concerns about the threat from UKIP the Tories are becoming the “Nasty Party” again. Under their election strategist, Lynton Crosby, it is likely that the Tories will become nastier still on subjects like immigration and benefit claimants as the election approaches. This strategy may delight the core Tory vote and the press but it is not how to win elections. The British people are too decent.
The First Past the Post electoral system will give the Labour Party a major advantage over the Tories in 2015. It is partly the result of the way that Labour and Tory voters are distributed throughout the country and partly because of anti-Tory tactical voting. According to the IPPR thinktank the effect is dramatic, “the Conservatives need an 11-point lead to secure an outright majority, compared to the 3-point margin Labour would need.”
But what about the two factors that some Tories believe will trump the others and put Cameron back in number 10 - Miliband himself and the economy?
The Tory belief that Miliband is unelectable is wishful thinking. The latest poll has him narrowly ahead of Cameron on the issue of who is doing a better job. It is true that he is seen as less prime ministerial but so, by a wide margin, was Thatcher compared to Callaghan in 1979. Miliband may not be a vote-winner like Blair was in 1997 but nor is he a vote-loser like Kinnock in 1992 or Hague in 2001.
The Tories hope to be able to say that the economy is recovering well come May 2015. But elections are not won and lost on GDP figures. Most people by May 2015 will still be struggling. The question that will decide the election is - who cares about people like me? People think that the Tories care more about the rich than ordinary people. It is difficult to see what they can do now to change that election-losing perception.