The first, and perhaps most important, thing to say about the 2015 general election is that it is Labour’s to lose. The second thing to say is that Ed Miliband might be just the man to do it.
Nevertheless and despite Miliband’s awkwardness Tory optimists should ask themselves a very simple question: Which seats will we win in 2015 that we failed to win in 2010? Perhaps a handful will be taken from the Lib Dems and perhaps another handful can be snatched elsewhere but, overall, the battlefield picture is pretty damn bleak.
But perhaps Labour will help. Miliband’s problem is that his position is not secure to hunker down, do bugger all, and just wait for victory. He must move. Unfortunately, moving also exposes him and there is the chance that the public will not be impressed by his style or, for that matter, destination.
I fancy that Miliband’s supporters are repeating mistakes the Tories have made time and time again. Here, for instance, is the New Statesman’s George Eaton:
The party has certainly moved to the left under Miliband, but it is wrong to suggest that it is now further from the centre. As I’ve noted before, if the Labour leader is a “socialist”, so are most of the public. Around two-thirds of voters support a 50p tax rate, a mansion tax, stronger workers’ rights, a compulsory living wage and the renationalisation of the railways and the privatised utilities (actually putting them well to the left of Labour leader).
The insight that defines Miliband’s project is less that the centre has moved leftwards since the financial crisis, but that it was further to the left to begin with.
See! We were correct all the time! This is the sort of argument Trad Tories have been making for years and years and years. Since 1997, at least. Europe! Crime! Tax! Immigration! In all of these individual policy areas strong majorities favour – or seem to favour – a robust and robustly right-wing approach. Hurrah! We are right and the people love our arguments!
But they did not love you, did they? They might have agreed, in theory, with much of what you had to say but that imposed no requirement to vote for you did it?
Obviously you can’t just ignore public opinion completely but following it is no good either. Voters don’t keep a kind of policy score that says ‘Gosh I agree with seven Labour ideas, five Tory notions and 1 Lib Dem folly so I guess I’d better vote for Mr Miliband.’
Their reasons for supporting a given party are as varied as they are mysterious. Habit, often. Inclination, just as frequently. Which is why, I think, Peter Kellner is right to suggest that apparently popular policies can be poisonous if they inadvertently reinforce negative stereotypes.
After all, strengths are also weaknesses by another name. Intellectual confidence can be arrogance, a conviction politician can be a blinkered ideologue and so on.
So the thing is that it is a mistake to think that the people are with us, therefore they like us. They probably don’t, even if they might agree with you on a single, isolated, policy question. Alas, a general election is not won by the party that wins the most single issue battles; instead it is won by the party that inspires the most confidence (or, if you prefer, the least horror) and political confidence is a magical thing that, like its economic sister, depends on much fairy-dust and the occasional unicorn.
It’s the entire picture, silly, not the detail that counts. Which is another way of explaining past Tory failures and, perhaps, their best shot at earning a second term this time around.