Editor's Letter: We’ve reached the witching hour in British politics

Noone's got a clue what will happen on Wednesday




Morning all. On Wednesday, we’ll be a year away from the most exciting election in modern British history. No matter how emphatic the predictions made by pundits in Westminster, the truth is they haven’t got a bloody clue.

For David Cameron, the next few years offer an assault course with four huge tests. First up are this month’s European and council elections, in which a Ukip surge is likely to dominate the headlines. Then there is the small matter of the Scottish referendum on 18 September. The Unionists strike me as hopelessly lethargic, at a time when the polls have narrowed, and those campaigning for independence are better organised and more motivated. Plenty of Tories are adamant that Cameron will have to resign if the Union breaks up under his watch.

Get through all of that, and he faces a brutal general election in which, to secure a majority, he needs a million more votes than he received in 2010 – while struggling in marginals and dealing with Ukip. If he somehow manages to pull off a majority, he faces a European referendum which is lose-lose. Either Britain leaves the EU, which is against his wishes and looks like a historic failure of leadership. Or Britain stays in the EU, and his recalcitrant party goes to war over Europe (again).

Given that he’s overseeing austerity and is, in effect, part of three coalitions – with Labour-voting Scotland, the Liberal Democrats, and the Ukip tendency in his own ranks – it’s enough to make you wince. Nobody said being PM is easy. But Cameron’s got a particularly bad hand to play.

For Labour, the big problem is economic credibility. Ed Miliband is a smart social democrat who wants to move British politics to the left. Are we, as a nation, up for that? The evidence is limited. And despite what it says in public, Labour knows that it would be easier to win if the economy was stalling. Its argument, that the recovery is skewed and we still have a cost-of-living crisis, resonates with some voters, but perhaps not enough.

For Liberal Democrats, the next year is scary. A very senior party member told me this week that he doesn’t think the foot soldiers would go for another coalition with the Tories. This surprised me. It implies we could be heading for either a Tory minority government, or a Lib-Lab coalition. Britain does not love coalitions, as Disraeli said; but on the evidence of the past few years it doesn’t seem to hate them either, which is just as well.

But who knows? We’ve reached the witching hour in the electoral cycle, and this paper’s unique approach to politics – passionate without being partisan, fiercely sceptical, and optimistic for Britain – has never been more timely. Have a great weekend.

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