We are approaching half time in this Parliamentary term.
Team Cameron are looking worried. Labour, having appointed a new young Leader, are 2 – 0 up at half time. Ed Miliband had a slow start, but has grown in confidence. David Cameron found hostile economic winds blowing in his face from the Euro crisis, and own goals by his key player, his Chancellor , have left his side up against it.
While 2015 is not in the bag for Labour, they are in a good position, with a 10 % lead solidifying in the polls. The Conservatives need about a 10% swing from Labour to have the chance of winning an outright majority. Given the sluggish economy, real cuts to people’s living standards and the inevitable tension between the Coalition partners as they begin to fight for a distinct pre-election identity, this looks an uphill task.
The first challenge is how to get the economy working again. Any fair-minded person must accept the global economy as a whole, especially the Euro-zone crisis, is an ill wind beyond the control of the UK Government. The Euro-zone crisis looks to be nowhere near a conclusion. The reality is that any Government in power now has a poor hand to play with. While Labour might claim they would not have made the same mistakes as this Government, we will never know. It is likely they would have had great difficulties too. While the global economy struggles, so will the UK economy.
Secondly, the Coalition always looked an unlikely partnership. In many areas of policy – Europe, education, health and taxation to name a few – the heart of the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats beat to a different rhythm. The Coalition Agreement was not a well thought out document. It was a quickly cobbled together set of policies to straddle the major differences between the parties. It has been clear that the poor implementation of the policies, the U-turns and the major revisions to key legislation are all symptomatic to the back-of-the-fag-packet agreement.
This has led to Liberal Democrat MPs voting through policies based on an ideology most of them have spent a lifetime in politics fighting. Conservative MPs also feel fatally compromised on totemic issue like Europe. Both Coalition parties have lost traditional support because of this. They will need to break free and set out their own stalls before the next General Election to try to get that support back. When this occurs the Coalition will become paralysed and totally dysfunctional. David Cameron’s MPs demonstrated over the reform of the House of Lords that they are willing to to break rank. Rebellion is running wild.
Given this then, what can Ed Miliband learn? How can he make Labour’s lead more than a protest vote that will drain away?
The key is the economy. Mistakes have been made by the Coalition, but saying in essence that we wouldn’t start from here is inadequate. Recent polling evidence from YouGov demonstrates that when asked, less that 20% of respondents think George Osborne is doing a good job, and over 50% think he is doing a bad job. Yet despite this, there is very little improvement in Labour’s economic credibility. The public basically don’t trust the Coalition or Labour to make it better.
Labour really needs a good idea of how it would make a difference and engage the public directly. Do they want to cut the deficit? If so, how quickly or slowly? Which taxes would they raise? Which areas of spending would they cut? If further investment in infrastructure was to occur, which projects would they be, how much would it cost and where would the money come from? Until these answers are forthcoming, then their economic competency ratings will not improve.
Another area is it’s response to the NHS reforms made by the Coalition and other policy areas. Rather than policies pulled out the hat eight weeks before the next election, it really needs well thought out policies prepared and a strategy to deliver them. These policies need to live, and updated as time elapses, so that whenever the election is called, they are ‘shovel ready’. The public need to really start to understand what a Labour Government in 2015 might do if the lead they enjoy is to really stick.
The next election could easily result in another Coalition. It was reported in June this year that Senior Liberal Democrats were meeting Senior Labour figures. Labour needs to ensure that it keeps it’s options open, despite an obvious severe and understandable dislike of the Coalition at present. The Liberal Democrats post 2015 will be different, and would be likely partners should Ed not secure a majority. Areas of common ground between Labour and the Liberals Democrats would considerable.
Ed can sit his team down at half time and be satisfied. However, the real work in providing an alternative Government in 2015 has barely begun.