by Rob Marchant
Having had a couple of months which have not, frankly, been pretty for Labour, this is the question its leaders must surely be asking themselves in the wake of the local elections.
The question is, will they ask it of robust friends who might level with them? Or others who might well-meaningly equivocate, in the name of keeping them motivated?
First, it is easy to base our hopes of success on this or that transitory effect, but that seems rather like building one’s house on sand. There may be a UKIP effect come the election, but history has shown that such things are not usually that big. Yes, there may just have been a fundamental realignment, but things may just as easily go against Labour (Tory voters returning and narrowing the gap) as for Labour (remaining UKIP voters splitting the right-wing vote and letting Labour in). And, in any event, it is a fool who bases his strategy on the failure of others. Stop it. If there is a boost from UKIP, that’s a bonus.
Second, Labour’s poll lead is anyway soft and has been for some time, as Atul Hatwal has shown here at Uncut. Most exasperatingly, many seem to be still extrapolating that poll lead out to 2015 at the same level, when history has shown, time and again, that polls will narrow, as I wrote here, based on the fine time-series research of Leo Barasi. You cannot, and should not, judge polling on week-to-week changes, which are meaningless, but over long periods you can see trends and these are worth looking at.
Although many have compared its current situation with 1992 – when, of course, Labour lost – even that seems rather an optimistic reading; its current polling gap is also comparable with that of Labour’s in 1981, which is not exactly encouraging news, when you think how Labour was destroyed in 1983. By the way, Tory hegemony was by no means consolidated in 1981, many viewed Thatcher’s leadership as shaky and Labour maintained a respectable poll lead all through that year.
Third, the softness of the party’s positive polling in historical context becomes more deeply worrying when we look at our leadership polling in historical context. And no, before you start, this is not an agitation for a challenge to Miliband, which would be of no help whatsoever to Labour. But the worryingly low polling he is experiencing is not a help either and we should not pretend otherwise.