The 2015 general election is probably the tightest race since the Second World War. The polls have refused to move in the Conservatives’ favour, despite a slew of positive economic data coupled with relentless efforts to tempt voters with tax cuts. A Labour victory – either an outright majority or the largest party in a “centre-left” coalition – remains a plausible outcome.
Unsurprisingly, attention has shifted to how a Miliband-led administration would govern: over the last seven days, the party’s plans for reforming markets and the economy have come under intense scrutiny. The Labour leadership insist picking a fight with big business is to the party’s strategic advantage; since the 2008 crash, trust in banks and major corporations has plummeted. Ordinary workers rail against the runaway rewards still enjoyed by the wealthy, many of whom are allegedly cushioned by tax avoidance schemes, as the “squeezed middle” continue to struggle in the era of austerity.
Much of what Labour is actually proposing for a restructure of British capitalism – higher infrastructure spending, investments in skills, innovation and science, modest rises in the minimum wage, a major expansion of apprenticeships – are eminently sensible, centrist measures. Whether stridently confronting the serried ranks of Britain’s “wealth creators” is wise electoral politics remains to be seen. What matters are less personal attacks by individual business figures, and more the perception that Labour is a party that knows how to spend money, rather than how to generate growth in a dynamic market economy.
Labour goes into the election campaign with a fiscal plan more credible than the Tories'. Because they allegedly made “tough” public sector cuts early in the Parliament, Conservative ministers have got way with commitments on tax without proper explanation of how they will be funded. The only means by which the Conservatives can reduce taxes further is, indeed, to shrink the state to 1930s levels. Labour have an opportunity to emphasise its economic competence given the avowed intention to balance current spending.
Those who urge greater radicalism point out there is little point in winning office just to be “responsible”; credibility should never become a straitjacket. Labour’s aim is to drag the centre of gravity in British politics leftwards. This is particularly important if the party is governing with a small majority or even as a minority administration. It will need to project not only technocratic skills, but the ability to generate renewed political momentum, tackling the big challenges shaping Britain’s future.
Experts' predictions for the general election
Experts' predictions for the general election
1/10 Andrew Hawkins (ComRes)
Just as the polls in 2010 pointed to no overall majority for any party, the overwhelming evidence points to Labour either being the largest party or getting a small majority, probably below 20. The Lib Dems and SNP should each win between 25 and 35 seats, with single-figure wins for both Ukip and the Greens.
2/10 Joe Twyman (YouGov)
I predict it will be close. I predict a few tremors, though earthquakes are unlikely. I predict the eventual winner may not be the direct result of public opinion, but instead the outcome of political negotiations. It’s too early to predict numbers given all the uncertainties surrounding (among other things) Ukip, the SNP and the Lib Dems. It is possible that it will be close between Conservative and Labour in terms of both votes and seats. The Lib Dems might retain 20-30 seats and the balance of power, despite small gains for the SNP, and at most half a dozen Ukip seats. Gun to my head? Labour minority government.
3/10 Ben Page (Ipsos MORI)
A mug’s game for this election months away, but my predictions in order of likelihood: most likely a hung parliament or coalition of some kind, closely followed by either a small Labour majority or an equally small Conservative majority. Given how close the parties are, the unknown performance of Ukip in key marginals, the effect of incumbency on Lib Dem losses, the final size of SNP surge and so on, to be more precise is simply foolish! Professor Tetlock, who found that forecasts by experts were only slightly better than throwing dice, weighs heavily upon me!
4/10 Rick Nye (Populus)
I can see a hung parliament, where Labour is the largest party in terms of seats – though not necessarily in terms of votes, with the Lib Dems having 30 seats or fewer, the SNP having up to 20 seats and Ukip having no more than five seats. In short, it’s going to get messy and stay messy for some time to come.
5/10 Nick Moon (GfK)
I can’t recall there ever being an election more difficult to predict than this one. I’m confident no party will have an overall majority, with the Tories probably the largest party but no single partner for a viable coalition, with the Lib Dems on 25 seats, the SNP 20, Ukip three, and the Greens one.
6/10 Damian Lyons Lowe (Survation)
We might have expected a workable Labour majority, were it not for the wild-card rise of the SNP in Scotland. Survation’s December Scottish polls suggest an almost complete wipeout by the SNP in Scotland and result in 40+ seat gains – mostly at Labour’s expense. My current predictions are: Labour the largest party by 40-50 seats over the Tories, no overall majority; Tories 235-255 seats; Lib Dems 20-30 seats; SNP 30-40 seats – maybe held back from potential support level by opposition incumbency and tactical voting by pro-unionist voters. Finally, Ukip, 5-10 wins from Conservatives, including Rochester and Clacton, and potentially a single Labour-seat surprise.
7/10 Michelle Harrison (TNS)
The battleground over the next three months is at the kitchen table – the difference between what the statistics tell us about the economy, the experience that Britons are having of managing their household budgets, and where – and if – they believe politics can make a difference. In this regard, the disconnect with the major political parties is more interesting than the horse race.
8/10 James Endersby (Opinium Research)
Our first poll for 2015 shows Labour one point ahead [see above], but polls four months out from an election are snapshots, not predictions. It would be extremely unwise for a pollster to make a firm prediction now. At the moment, Opinium’s estimate on polling day would be the Tories slightly ahead on vote share, but Labour slightly ahead on seats. These numbers are based on a uniform swing, with tweaks to Green and Ukip numbers based on local information: Labour 320 seats, Conservatives 271, Lib Dems 20, SNP 16, Plaid Cymru three, Greens two, Ukip four. A hung parliament with Labour potentially closer to a majority coalition than the Conservatives.
9/10 Martin Boon (ICM)
I’ve not recovered from the Scottish referendum campaign yet, and here we go with another wildcard strewn nail-biter. For me, Labour on 30 per cent will only fractionally nudge past their woeful 2010 showing – behind the Tories on 33 per cent – but enough to secure more seats (290 for Labour, 280 for the Tories) on boundary wackiness. The Lib Dems will secure 14 per cent of the vote and 35 seats; Ukip will also get 14 per cent, but that only gets them a couple of seats. As for Scotland, I’m bewildered, but as you asked I’ll say 30 seats for the SNP, which wipes out a breathing-space victory in seats for Labour.
10/10 Lord Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft Polls)
Declined to take part. His spokeswoman said: “As he has said many times, his polls are snapshots not predictions.” Health warning: when The Independent on Sunday carried out a similar exercise in April 2010, at the start of that year’s election campaign, eight out of eight pollsters predicted a Conservative overall majority.
One clear priority is economic growth. To improve the UK’s long-term growth performance rebalancing the economy while avoiding the threat of perpetual stagnation, Britain needs a comprehensive industrial strategy rather than incremental Whitehall tinkering. Global trends such as the reversal in “off-shoring” jobs abroad give Britain renewed opportunities to make things again, providing more decent, well-paid jobs. That requires an effective structure of regional banking, large-scale public infrastructure programmes focused on house-building, a massive expansion in the availability and quality of apprenticeships, alongside funding of public assets benefiting all regions, not only London and the South-east.
Second challenge: funding public services. Labour goes into the election with a substantial lead on health. The party’s programme ought to ease the immediate pressures on the NHS, increasing the numbers of nurses and doctors, improving GP access, and ending top-down reorganisation. Yet no one should fool themselves the NHS will be transformed overnight. The structural pressures are enormous. Labour have to forge a new public consensus on “tax and spend” to plug the funding gap. This ought to involve a hypothecated NHS tax or levy, combined with the progressive reform of national insurance. It isn't just about more money either: reforming England’s healthcare model emphasising community-based provision necessitates taking on vested interests without falling into the trap of “public sector good, private sector bad”. This is what Nye Bevan assiduously avoided when the NHS was founded in 1948.
Third, Labour’s historic goal of social equality. The financial crisis and Coalition cuts have significantly disadvantaged low income households. Child poverty is rising ominously, but tragically mobility is falling. The legacy of the post-1997 government was major progress in poverty alleviation. But there were evidently limits to “redistribution by stealth”. In today’s constrained environment, Labour will need to tackle economic and inter-generational inequality by imposing progressive levies on unearned capital, wealth, property, land and asset-holding, funding ambitious programmes that boost life opportunities. Spending priorities should include early years’ education alongside increasing the incomes of the poorest families. An expanded version of Labour's “baby bond” - a capital endowment for every young person at 18 - will directly tackle asset-based inequalities that severely constrain life-chances. The aim must be to unleash a new wave of social aspiration across Britain.
Whatever the precise outcome in May’s election, Labour’s first 100 days in office should lay the foundations of radical social democracy in Britain. Domestic priorities are well and good, but achieving the party’s mission requires a UK firmly at the heart of Europe. Labour has an unprecedented opportunity to end years of vacillation and drift in European policy. If it has the confidence to act boldly, Labour can govern successfully – even with the most slender of parliamentary majorities.
Patrick Diamond is a former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and University Lecturer in Public Policy at Queen Mary, University of London.Reuse content