Cleggageddon?

Backbencher March 21, 2014 0
Cleggageddon?

The LibDems’ current electoral strategy is increasing the Tories’ chance of an overall majority in 2015, argues Jack Wharton

Political pundits and the media alike, never letting facts get in the way of a good story, continue to pretend the General Election of 2015 is an open and unpredictable race. The truth is far duller. David Cameron will still be Prime Minister on the morning of the 8th of May 2015.

But far from sweeping to victory in the form of Thatcher or Blair, Cameron will once more skulk into Downing Street with the aid of the Liberal Democrats.

The uphill struggle faced by the Tories isn’t unique, but historical. Not since the General Election of 1974 has a sitting Prime Minister increased his party’s share of the vote.

But even that was a special case. Harold Wilson, the Prime Minister in a hung parliament, quickly went back to the country in order to secure a true mandate. Only a few months, opposed to a full election cycle, had passed.

By the time of the coming election, one will have to travel back exactly 60 years to Anthony Eden’s Tories in May 1955 to find a party that increased its share of the vote after a substantial period of time in office.

So is the election the Labour Party’s to lose? If the Tory’s task is so considerable, surely Ed Miliband could simply waltz into Number 10? Well, not quite. History is equally stacked against the Labour leader. No opposition, in the last 80 years, has returned to power at the first attempt with an overall majority.

Furthermore, in that same 80-year period, no opposition has won power without at some point achieving an opinion poll lead of at least 20%. Even at the height of public discontent with the current government  – during the Omnishambles Budget of 2012 – Labour’s lead peaked at a far from lofty 16%. It now rarely reaches an anaemic 5% average.

With those kind of precedents, what hope is there for the hapless gaggle of airheads Miliband Junior claims to lead? As a result of the force of history, it’s a safe prediction that a Coalition government – of one sort or another – will be with us for some time longer. Hurrah I hear you cry.

But putting aside my eternal scepticism about Cameron’s ability to achieve an overall majority, after the Liberal Democrat spring conference a couple of weekends ago, the trophy may just be one step closer.  Nick Clegg spent his spring conference trying to bend more ways than a contortionist.

In his attempts not to finish fifth behind the Green party at the upcoming 2014 European elections, Nick Clegg has destroyed his party’s 2015 General Election prospects. The decision to portray the Lib Dems as the ‘party of in’, the one and only true Europhile party, could hand David Cameron that elusive Tory majority.

For the Westminster Parliament, there are nearly 20 Lib Dem constituencies in which Labour cannot win. These seats are pure and simple Lib Dem/Tory marginals. Focussed mainly in the South West of England, these seats require an average swing of just 3% to turn them from yellow to blue.

In these seats, if the Tory vote remains static – which would be expected for an incumbent government – the Lib Dems would be wiped out if a mere 6% of those people who voted for them in 2010 decided to stay at home.

If that situation were not precarious enough, most of theses marginal seats are in an area where over 50% of the electorate consistently votes for the Conservatives or for UKIP at the European elections. In 2009, those parties’ share of the vote was 30% and 22%, respectively.

In that year, in the South West of England, only 24% of people voted for explicitly pro-European parties. So being explicitly pro-European in seats where your main Westminster opposition is historically Eurosceptic seems like sheer lunacy. Based on this strategy, the only thing Nick Clegg can hope to achieve is a one-year delay to electoral oblivion.

In fact, if the Lib Dems bothered to do their research, they would notice that public opinion in their marginal seats is moving against them. The number of Liberal Democrat MEPs in that region has halved over the past ten years; with the Lib Dem vote share in European elections also shrinking, running counter to their national performance.

If Nick Clegg’s ‘Europe first’ strategy comes to fruition, then these seats are easily winnable, even for an incumbent government, on a slightly smaller share of the vote. Disaffected Lib Dems turning to Labour in these seats will simply improve Tory chances. Being a pro-European party in the European elections is all well and good. But, in Britain’s home grown electoral system, the macro is irrelevant; it is all about the political micro-climate in any given region.

I find it hard to believe that Lib Dem HQ could be ignorant of this fact. Rather this strategy is a symptom of the dire electoral prospects their party faces.

In the contemporary political environment, the Lib Dems have decided to pick their electoral battles, seemingly ready to sacrifice large swathes of their Westminster seats in order to defend their ideological heart; the European Union.

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