Yesterday’s YouGov poll put the Conservatives on 35, Labour on 33, Lib Dems 6, UKIP 14, Greens 7. The Tory lead is nothing to shout about at this stage; Labour could very well be up tomorrow, such is the nature of daily polling. However, I feel confident enough now to say that what was a key plank in Labour’s plan to get back into government in 2015, wooing deserting Lib Dems, has for the most part failed utterly.
This isn’t to say that many if not most (if not all, possibly) of the seats currently held by the Lib Dems in which Labour were the runners up in 2010 will end up as Labour seats after May 7th. Barring a miracle, that’s coming our way. But I don’t think this is because Labour convinced a whole lot of Lib Dems to vote for them in these seats. The Lib Dems were the protest vote in 2010; no longer, which is one of the reasons the UKIP vote has gone up so dramatically in these seats. Plus I reckon a lot of people who didn’t turn out in 2010, who had voted Labour in the past, will vote Labour in 2015. Such is the nature of having a Tory prime minister. As a result of all these machinations, Labour will probably get a lot of these seats back – but it won’t be via Lib Dems moving over and voting Labour, per se.
The Lib Dem vote that was supposed to fall automatically to Labour after the Coalition was formed seems to have gone to UKIP and the Greens instead. This fits in with what I believe are the two types of 2010 Lib Dem voter apart from what we might call the core Lib Dem vote (that eight odd percent that still tell pollsters they’ll vote for the party): left-liberals and the “screw everyone” types. The Labour Party has failed to engage either group in significant numbers, thus its position in the polls and the looming failure of the 35% strategy.
Let’s start with the left-liberal set. Many of these people would have been attracted to Ed Miliband in his honeymoon period. Rabble rousing Red Ed; letting everyone who protested on Whitehall against anything in particular know that they stood shoulder to shoulder with Rosa Parks in the pantheon of freedom fighters. Then came the House of Lords Reform Bill. Now, to most people in Britain this was a not particularly meaningful piece of legislature. Yes, most of the country doesn’t like the House of Lords and think it’s stuffy and probably corrupt, but they don’t really want an elected Senate either. But to the left-liberal, the idea of an elected second chamber is a holy mission. When Labour were in a position to let the Bill progress but killed it out of spite (which isn’t actually how it went down – it was more complex than that, but that’s what it looked like to the left-liberal), this set collectively went: “Oh yeah, I remember why I’ve never liked the Labour Party. Machine politics. Wedded to the system as is. Iraq, 2003, all that. I think I’ll see what the Greens are up to.” They hung around, on the fence, not really knowing which way to go – until Ed Balls started talking about matching Tory cuts like for like. That was the last straw. Thus, the Greens got a lift in the polls.
As for the screw everything types, they’ve gone to UKIP en masse. One wouldn’t think the Lib Dems could bleed support to UKIP given the two parties are essentially political opposites in most respects, but I’ve seen it happen personally. It makes sense if you see the Lib Dems’ essential value as being the outsider who will never get power; once power was got, another outsider needed to be found. The Liberal Democrats attracted a lot of these people around Iraq; they were against that war for wholly different reasons than core Lib Dems, but that’s beside the point. There was an article of agreement. But once the Lib Dems became a party of government, they needed to go elsewhere as that was the ultimate taboo to this set. Labour had nothing to offer these people, despite the party making half-hearted attempts every once in a while to get them on board (in contrast to the party’s treatment of the left-liberals, whom Labour seemed to have taken completely for granted).
The left-liberal set may even vote Lib Dem again. In fact, I think many of them probably will; enough to help the Lib Dems make their targets. The screw everything folks probably won’t vote in large numbers for anyone, thus depressing UKIP’s figures.
So in conclusion, Labour failed to pick up the stray Lib Dem vote, which mostly seems, for the time being at least, to have gone to the Greens or UKIP. Added to this, they look set to lose a significant portion of a formerly taken for granted heartland via an SNP surge. And yet, in this crazy time we live in, Ed Miliband still has a real shot at being the next prime minister. Go figure.