The other day, an ICM poll came out that put the Tories up by 4. A few weeks ago, there was one that had Labour up by 6. Each time, the political media jumps all over it for signs that one of the two biggest parties is definitively pulling ahead of the other one – but then the next poll has them back to where they have been for the last few months fairly consistently, the odd outlier aside: neck in neck.
A lot is made of the fact that despite the polls having Labour and the Conservatives at level pegging with each other, and the fact that the electoral system has an inbuilt bias towards the Labour party, the majority of the bets at bookies seem to be going the Tories’ way. Perhaps it is just the 1992 all over again atmosphere of the political terrain at present. Perhaps the punters know something we don’t. Whatever it is, we’ll figure it all out in a few weeks time by default.
I think the polls will stay roughly where they are now until early April: Tories-Labour tied, UKIP still in the teens, Greens between 6 and 8%. After that, I think we could see them go wild, like we did in 2010. But despite what will seem like the randomness of it all at times, the overall pattern that I can see emerging in April is this: shrinking UKIP numbers, Tory polling increasing. At some point during the short campaign, a really bad Labour number will come out, something in the 27% region. The corresponding Conservative figure will be something like 36%, making it that much worse. The papers will be filled with “Tory landslide ahead” type headlines as a result. How Labour responds to this will be much more important than what will be largely an outlier in and of itself. I could see Labour really flipping out and making the damage permanent. They need to play a long game and remember that the electoral system works better for them than any other party. Having said this, like I say, I don’t think they will react calmly.
What happens to the Greens and Lib Dem numbers, I’m less sure of. I feel certain the Green number will go down and the Lib Dems up – but how much, I wouldn’t like to guess.
The thing I’m most anxious about polling wise is the Tories pulling ahead by a consistent five or six points on Labour, and then the feeling of a Conservative victory becoming a foregone conclusion. People might be convinced to vote Tory on the basis of wanting to back the winner (a strange phenomenon this, but it is real, depressingly). I have really started to fear the Tories getting back into government again, but not for the reasons most people who would be scared of such a result are. I just don’t want to have to spend two years building up to a pointless EU referendum that will settle nothing whatsoever, while British politics stands still.