It's a bit of a mug's game trying to predict the future. A week is a long time in politics. 120 weeks is a very, very, very long time in politics.
But nevertheless I just cannot see Labour winning an overall majority at the next election. I think they have trapped themselves by opposing everything that the government has done regarding the cuts. They have admitted that they would have had to cut themselves but have been almost silent on what those cuts would have been whilst shouting loudly about every single decision the coalition has made. This will put them in an increasingly untenable position as we approach 2015.
It is not just that they are on record having opposed so many of the cuts. It's that the political mood music they have fostered has been of how the current government is cutting for ideological reasons. Despite the occasional muttering from Labour about how “some” cuts would have been, and will be necessary under a government run by them the overwhelming message they have put out there has been that they would not be like this “evil” government who are cutting unnecessarily.
It's very hard for a political message to get through to the public but that one has. The government are slashing the public sector for dogmatic reasons and Labour will not be like that. That's the message.
It's also utterly unrealistic.
We all know that Labour would have had to take many of the same decisions the coalition have done. They may have done it a bit more slowly but we are talking about very small differences. In fact I am certain many of the exact cuts that have been announced and/or implemented that they have so vociferously opposed would have been virtually identical had they scraped in last time.
So as 2015 hoves into view, how are Labour going to reconcile these facts? They are “the party against the cuts” but they are going to have to continue with austerity and make cuts themselves.
I can see two possible options. One is that they start being much more honest about what they will have to do if they get into office. They have made a few slight noises about this but their deafening fanfare has been the precise opposite. The big, big problem with this is that they will look like rank hypocrites. What about all the cries of “ideological cuts” and how this government is “evil”? The positions are irreconcilable and they will look ridiculous. Discredited parties do not win majorities.
The second option is that they go into the election promising to raise taxes substantially in order to stave off the cuts. But the big, big, big problem with this is that with the economy likely still fragile, large tax hikes while spending remains high could destroy what little growth we may have by then and send us into a spiral of severe decline. Oh and also, the public hate tax increases and don't vote in high numbers for parties that promise them. See 1992.
I can't really see a third option. It's either look like they have been naive fools or promise politically and economically impossible tax rises.
Labour are lucky that the Lib Dems are doing so badly in the polls but they will recover somewhat before the general election and incumbency factors make it likely that although they will lose seats they are not going to suffer a wipeout. The Tories are also not doing brilliantly but Labour's mistakes will make their prospects much better than current polls indicate. I call another hung parliament possibly with Labour as the largest party.
By choosing short term politically expedient opportunism they have queered their own pitch and I cannot see how from that position Labour can win the 2015 election.
Mark Thompson's Blog can be read here.
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