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EdM’s oppositon to an EU referendum could ensure that LD switchers are kept on board

January 25th, 2013

Henry G Manson: Marginal voters matters more

This week’s stance taken by Labour on the EU caused some surprise among one or two folk. The Guardian reported that some Labour MPs were twitchy about it. Many of them had tactical concerns that Labour would appear that it was effectively not trusting the public. That is a risk. Others such as the party’s Policy Review Chair Jon Cruddas had been on the record calling for an EU referendum for some time partly because he believed the ‘political class’ was too distant from voters on this. Some journalists wondered if it was a genuine gaffe for Ed Miliband to be so clear in PMQs about not having a referendum any time remotely soon.

    So far all the articles on polling, principle and political calculation on Europe don’t quite cut it and capture the new thinking among Labour strategists.

They recognise that the formation of a coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has in electoral terms been a once in a generation gift. The majority of those that voted Lib Dem in 2010 no longer supporting the yellows with and the bulk have shifted towards Labour recoiling at what happened. However there is no complacency whatsoever among key Labour figures and they are not taking that support for granted.

There’s one thing former Lib Dems saying to a pollster in 2012 or 2013 that they’re planning to vote Labour, and another thing actually voting in the general election in 2015.

There’s also a small but significant chance that Nick Clegg may decide to stand down as Lib Dem leader and be replaced by someone to the left making them a more attractive prospect once more. Vince Cable or Tim Farron could conceivably boost their party’s appeal and regain some votes from those that have supported the Lib Dems in the past. More of a risk is that Labour could do something that would remind those voters of the reason why they didn’t (or stopped) vote Labour in the recent past.

The most detailed and impressive piece of work on the importance of these voters has come from the Fabian Society. Their findings from last year remain on the mind of several Shadow Cabinet Ministers. Their report essentially argues that if Labour keeps hold of these new voters it won’t need to win considerable numbers of Conservatives to achieve a working majority. There’s something in it.

On Wednesday Steve Richards has made a good argument that David Cameron is less likely to be Prime Minister after his EU stance by making it even harder to work with Liberal Democrats in the case of a hung parliament.

    I’m sure Ed’s response in the Commons was emboldened by the belief that former Lib Dem voters now backing Labour would particularly welcome his clear stance on Europe.

    Just as Cameron was trying to eat into the UKIP tribe of voters, Ed Miliband really wants and needs to keep hold of those Lib Dems that are with him for now.

Whichever leader achieves and retains that broader coalition of support longest is the most likely to win the next election.

Henry G Manson