by Atul Hatwal
The Christmas break will have been a time for some self-congratulation in Labour leadership circles. A solid poll lead, a divided coalition and high hopes for the coming year.
Ed Miliband had a passage in his stump speech on the circuit of pre-Christmas Westminster receptions where he talked about the unprecedented position of strength Labour is in for a new opposition, with such a lead at this stage in the parliament. He is factually right, but then the competition for most effective new opposition is not terrific. In the past 33 years, there’s a choice of two: either William Hague’s Tories or Michael Foot’s Labour party.
And at this point in Mrs.Thatcher’s first term, two and a half years after the election, even Michael Foot managed an average lead over the Tories of 3% (averaging the four polls in November 1981 – h/t Mark Pack and his magnificent polling spreadsheet).
When considering unprecedented political phenomena, Ed Miliband, and indeed Ed Balls, might want think more carefully about where the party stands with voters on economic competence.
Decades of polling gives a very clear message: no opposition has won an election without a commanding lead on the economy.
In 1979, voters preferred Jim Callaghan to Margaret Thatcher as PM by 50% to 31%, but still elected the Tories who led on economic issues by an average margin of 10%. In 1997, Labour led by 10% on the economy at the election, while in 2010 the Tories led by 8%.
Currently. Labour is 11% behind on economic competence and no opposition has gone on to win the next election when trailing the government on the economy, after two and half years.
Typically, there just isn’t the time left in the parliament to overhaul the government lead and build a sufficient cushion prior to the inevitable narrowing of the polls as election day draws near. Based on the polling facts, a Labour victory in 2015, from this position, would truly be unprecedented.