2013 - the year in review: The battle for the 2015 election started two years early

This year's big political changes will shape the next eighteen months

Three events in 2013 were of overwhelming importance, simultaneously clarifying and transforming the political landscape. As a consequence of these three sagas the personalities and themes of the next election are now in place.

The first pivotal event was the by-election in Eastleigh, a constituency targeted by the Conservatives in the south of England. The Liberal Democrats retained the seat, the first formidable performance by the party in a national by-election since 2010 and one that ran counter to their abysmal national opinion poll ratings. Within a nanosecond of the declaration in Eastleigh, internal whisperings against Nick Clegg’s leadership were silenced. If his party had lost the seat his position would have been under constant destabilising critical scrutiny. Instead, the by-election victory made him the most secure leader of the three main parties, as the fickle critical focus turned to either David Cameron or Ed Miliband. Clegg used the space to move his party further to the right in relation to economic policy, and his party seemed willing to go along with him until the next election. The Lib Dems’ party conference in September was the sequel to Eastleigh. Clegg was in complete command of the troops. Indeed, the mood at the annual gathering was celebratory, as if they were ahead in the polls. In reality their national poll ratings remained dire; but Eastleigh showed that in certain constituencies they have the resources and energy to keep some support.

In the build-up to the conference season, it was Miliband who was under pressure. The dead month of August was filled with stories and columns about Labour being in crisis. The frenzy fed on itself. Miliband secured his position and re-framed the debate on the economy in a single speech at the conference. This was the second big event of the year. Miliband proposed a populist, accessible policy to make a wider argument, similar to Margaret Thatcher’s sale of council house sales in 1979. His price freeze on energy bills was accompanied by an argument about the need to intervene in failing markets. Miliband thus moved the debate a few millimetres to the left, and his ideas dominated the agenda for the rest of the year. As the economy started to grow, the focus shifted to living standards and markets that failed to deliver for consumers. It is highly unusual for an opposition leader to shape policy debates in this way. Neither Tony Blair nor Margaret Thatcher managed to do so.

The response of Cameron and George Osborne was muddled. They dismissed Miliband as a Marxist while running around in a panic to find ways of intervening in failing markets themselves. Yet they themselves more clearly defined in 2013. Osborne’s autumn statement was the third most significant event of the year. His plans for cuts in public spending, until at least 2019, marked him out as a Thatcherite of conviction. He set traps for Labour, but there was belief behind the game playing. Cameron outlined the nature of the belief in his speech at the annual Lord Mayor’s banquet shortly before the Autumn Statement. The address was his clearest yet in favour of a much smaller state, not just as a response to the economic crisis but as an ideological objective.

The duo made their assertions about cuts and the state as a matter of conviction, but of course every word was partly tactical, because 2013 was also the year in which the Tory electoral mountain got even higher. UKIP performed stunningly well in May’s local elections so Cameron faced a party to his right and, after Eastleigh, perhaps a Lib Dem consolidation in the south of England. On the whole Cameron responded to the challenge by being more openly right wing. But he also clung to the historic legislation in favour of gay marriage like a protective shield: one policy that had echoes with his early pitch as a Tory moderniser.

By the end of the year all three party leaders were secure: each will fight the next election. The polls remained largely unchanged, and the coalition was as solid at the end of the year as it was at the beginning. Economic growth helped to bind it, even if it did not boost its position in the opinion polls. The two leaderships regarded economic growth as vindication of the coalition, a unity between competing parties that had saved the economy. Polls suggested that most voters did not feel saved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence