— PolPics (@PolPics) October 25, 2014
How come poor CON/LAB/LD polls are being accepted so readily?
Time was when you could be reasonably sure that a party struggling in the polls would lead inevitably to speculation about its leader’s position. The media would talk about it, backbench MPs would talk about it and cabinet or shadow cabinet members would let their friends talk about it. What is remarkable about the last few years is that despite unprecedented combined unpopularity of both leaders and parties, there has been so little such talk never mind action.
Of course, the fact that all three main Westminster parties are so unpopular simultaneously may have something to do with that: it’s easy to console yourself that you stand a decent chance of recovery when your opponents are doing badly too.
Even so, this is very far from a zero-sum game. All three parties face an existential threat. UKIP has the potential to replace either the Tories or Labour (but not both) after the next election as the main party in their part of the spectrum if the cards fall well for it. Neither has a right to exist, never mind to success, and both parties’ former core vote is disillusioned. At the moment, Farage’s party’s mid- to upper-teens score would probably see them pick up only a handful of seats but were that to be upped to the mid-twenties that would do real damage.
The prospect of such a step-change in UKIP’s polling is far from inconceivable: they have polled up there on occasion, by-election victories between now and April would reinforce their current momentum and the debates – if they happen – provide a further opportunity to advance.
Strangely, a half-reasonable performance may be worse in the long run than a bad one as it’s far harder to fight off the threat while in government. Clacton has already demonstrated the risks to the Conservatives and Rochester may reinforce that message. Should Labour regain government, the danger may be even worse, polling as it is in the low thirties with the support of a great many 2010 Lib Dem defectors. A majority Ed Miliband-led government could easily leak that support straight back on one wing while being assailed by UKIP on the other. Gordon Brown’s Labour government bottomed out at 18% in the polls; an Ed Miliband one could go further still – and that might drop it to fourth place by vote share.
For the Lib Dems the threat is greater still and more immediate: their party has lost more than two-thirds of their 2010 vote, a level meaning it’s dicing with oblivion. True, local strongholds appear firm for now but results from the constituency polls sit uneasily with the national ones: my guess is that it’s the national ones and we’ll see Lib Dem support edge up as May approaches and people think more about their local situation. But it may not and didn’t in Scotland in 2011, where the Yellows lost all but two of their constituency seats (and Orkney & Shetland is just one seat for Westminster).
- With threats to their existence such as the parties have not faced in many decades, if ever, what’s remarkable is how calm the leaderships and parliamentary parties are.
There is grumbling about Miliband but no serious threat this side of the election. Cameron has suffered two defections – one reinforced by a by-election defeat – but despite their reputation for deposing leaders, Tory backbenchers have remained unusually quiet on the subject. Even quieter have been Lib Dems, who are polling worst of all and perhaps have most opportunity for change (their leader has the worst ratings, plausible alternatives are available and one of the causes of their woes – being in government – could be resolved by a well-timed withdrawal).
Will one or more of the parties brake out of their zen-like calm – or zombie-like sleepwalking if you prefer – before the election? I doubt it. It’s almost too late now to change strategy or leader and will be by the New Year. These things need pressure to build and that rarely happens quickly. It also needs anger, focus and division, and such factors simply aren’t present in sufficient quantity, particularly when there’s the belief that the other side(s) might hand you victory by default. It is somewhat ironic that the biggest upheaval in the political system since at least the early 1980s has produced so little reaction. But then maybe that’s the point: the changes are so far outside their experience, they can’t reach for a stock response and like rabbits in Farage’s headlights, produce none.