Last week Labour retook a council seat in Harlow it had lost to UKIP. Council elections are not predictive in any sense and for the moment wise heads like You Gov’s Peter Kellner see Cameron’s Conservatives emerging with around 290 seats Labour far, far behind on 260. Kellner knows an awful lot about polls and polling and his prognostications are not to be lightly dismissed.
What does seem to be happening is that here is a slow squeeze on the UKIP and Green vote…but then that is rather how things might be expected to be in this phoney war before the election begins and the main TV Media have to report on a more equal basis. We also have to debates to consider which will doubtless bring some headlines the way of the minority parties which includes for the present the LibDems.
However, only the LibDems, the Northern Ireland Unionists and the SNP of all the minor parties seem to have any certain chance of emerging from the General Election with a sizable bloc of MPs. The obvious political question is whether or not a Nationalist group might equitably support a Union government – the answer is that the NI Unionists supported the Conservative Party until the troubles of the late 1960’s and until 1969 the Conservative Party was itself a coalition of two parties – the Conservatives in England and Wales and the Unionists in Ireland and Scotland. The unionists were themselves relics of that earlier fight for Irish Home Rule. From the time of Parnell, the Liberal Party regularly relied upon the votes of Irish Nationalist MP’s and continued to so do until 1921 and Irish partition. There is therefore no reason to assume that the SNP which lies to the left of Labour would not properly wish to lend parliamentary support to a government of the left in Westminster. If the Conservatives are over 300 seats there is nothing to suppose the NI unionists might not perform the same role in sustaining a government led from the right. The question of the EU is the thorn in the side of any such coalition for it is now hard to see the NI unionists would want separation from the EU anymore than the SNP want Scotland out of Europe. The problem for the Conservatives is that a failure of the referendum to take us out of Europe might take the die-hards out of the Conservative party. good riddance many might think but these would doubtless take with them many conservatives in local party associations. For Mr Cameron the referendum might change Paradise postponed into Paradise lost.
Meanwhile Mr Miliband endures – the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have given this brother of a David a couple of free slingshots at the Goliath of the Media – that’s David Cameron. Last week Ed hit home even if he didn’t slay the giant. The HSBC scandal – yet another from the augean stable that is our banking institutions – highlighted once more a weakness of the Prime Minister – his frank lack of curiosity about the background of his favourites when it comes to appointmenting them to his government. In that sense the real story was less about bank accounts in Switzerland and more about the Andy Coulson narrative. Cameron has long argued it was nothing to do with him when things went badly wrong – he asked all the right questions – but then along comes Lord Green who cannot but have known about the potential for money laundering in the Swiss arm of HSBC over which as Chairman he had governance and oversight. It perhaps serves as a timely reminder that Ed Miliband’s unique insight into politics in 2010 was that the Financial Crisis of 2007-2009 forever had changed the rules of the political game. We are about to find out if this insight amounted to foresight.
The Conservatives were pretty gung-ho in January that all their ducks were lining up nicely for an easy victory in May. This seems to be the received wisdom but the polls continue to tell a slightly different story. The marginals polling shows Labour doing better than nationally. The Lib Dem/Conservative marginals show the Lib Dems holding on despite their horrible national polling results. The polling in Scotland shows the SNP will sweep the board…but if their support goes to Labour that may not make the outcome very different. Thus far February has been kinder to Labour than January. This is a long, long campaign. Mr Osborne will be pulling rabbits from his budget hat next month – though many of his choicest bunnies may not run far it is highly unlikely the Finance Act will get through parliament before dissolution. Perhaps the most interesting sign of these times was at the BCC Conference. Mr Cameron pleaded for businesses to increase wages – slightly reminiscent of Labour leaders long past pleading for wage restraint at a Union Conferences. Mr Miliband has also taken to being interviewed on his right side profile…a trick that Mrs Thatcher once was taught too by her Media gurus.
In all of this I cannot help but think of Mitt Romney and 2012. To the end the GOP and news Media gurus believed they’d won the argument; that the Electoral votes were in the bag; that the polls were going to turn in their favour at the last minute. Obama still won after fighting a dogged if uninspired re-election campaign. Things sometimes do not turn out how the wise believe they should.
Below – the result from that byelection – no more than a straw poll but maybe a straw in the wind? Some one will surely emerge a winner – and maybe the misunderestimated Ed Miliband against the odds will oddly be the one whose Paradise is regained – who knows? Like so much in this election the latest polls are helpfully contradictory…
Mark Hall on Harlow (UKIP Defence)
Danny Purton (Lab) 586 (43% +8% on 2014)
Mark Gough (UKIP) 353 (26% -12% on 2014)
Jane Steer (Con) 334 (24% +4% on 2014)
Murray Sackwild (Green) 55 (3% no candidate in 2014)
Lesley Rideout (Lib Dem) 47 (3% -5% on 2014)
Labour GAIN from UKIP with a majority of 233 (17%) on a swing of 10% from UKIP to Lab