As Labour’s poll ratings dive, finally, the scales begin to fall from the Milibelievers’ eyes

by Atul Hatwal

The biggest surprise is the surprise. Shock and consternation were in plentiful evidence across Labour’s twitter base yesterday at the news that the party was lagging the Tories in two polls.

But this was not some bolt from the blue.

Over the past months Labour’s lead has been slipping steadily. Yesterday was the first polling evidence of the logical denouement of a long established trend. Labour will almost certainly bob back into the lead in future polls, but with every passing month, the party’s electoral waterline will dip ever lower.

Some will point to the shambolic European election campaign as a cause of the drop in ratings. But, poor as the campaign has been, its impact has surely just been to accelerate the inevitable.

The problems underlying Labour’s predicament remain the same as they were this time last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

Labour has still not satisfactorily answered the two questions asked by the electorate at the 2010 election: Can we trust you with the economy? And is your leader a prime minister?

At the last election, in both cases, the answer was a narrow but clear no. According to ICM’s polling just before election day, David Cameron and George Osborne held a 1% lead on the economy over Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. And on preference for prime minister, YouGov registered a 6% lead for David Cameron over Gordon Brown.

The chart below shows Labour’s performance on these two indicators since the start of 2013.

David Cameron and George Osborne now lead Ed Miliband and Ed Balls by 18% on the economy while David Cameron bests Ed Miliband on preference for PM by 14%.

At no point in the past four years has Labour narrowed the gap on either the economy or leadership to the level it achieved on the eve of the election in May 2010. An election where Labour polled a miserable 29%.

Whatever voters might think of the current government’s competence, its disunity, its lack of empathy or feeling for the public’s lives, they still believe the current administration to be better than Labour on the two most important vote-determining issues.

This is the reason Labour’s poll numbers are falling and why they were always going to crash. No opposition has won while being behind on both leadership and the economy, and these latest figures suggest Ed Miliband’s Labour party is not about to set a new precedent.

Over the past weeks, Uncut has reported on the simmering discontent in the parliamentary party. There have been rumbles on the right, despair at Ed Miliband’s performance in the chamber and all out warfare within Labour’s campaign team.

So far, the divisions have remained largely below the surface, only sporadically bubbling into the national press. But these polls will raise the political temperature across the Labour movement and beyond.

Candidates in target seats and Labour MPs with small majorities will be looking at the polls in terms of their careers. Constituency berths which might have once felt secure will now seem increasingly parlous.

Unions and businesses that were considering donating to the party will see the polls and think twice about giving as much to a cause that seems to be slipping away.

And journalists will read the polls and write stories that start from the premise that Labour is in trouble.

This is all the inevitable consequence of Labour failing to address the twin reasons for its defeat in 2010. The consequence of the Milibelievers stubborn belief that the rules of politics were somehow being re-written, that demonstrating economic competence and leadership were no longer first order priorities for the opposition.

The last few years for Labour have been an exercise in Tinkerbell politics. Where if you really, really believe, then the wish becomes reality. Unfortunately the centre-ground has not magically shifted to the left, there is no pre-ordained progressive majority in Britain and unless an opposition tackles its negatives on the economy and leadership, it will ultimately be doomed.

Yesterday might have been a rude awakening for some Milibelievers, but for Labour’s realists, it was long expected and merely marked the next stage of what is going to be an increasingly difficult year for Labour.

Atul Hatwal is the editor of Uncut

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7 Responses to “As Labour’s poll ratings dive, finally, the scales begin to fall from the Milibelievers’ eyes”

  1. steve says:

    Why on earth should the electorate opt for a party that bequeathed us the financial crash and a disastrous war when the Parliamentary Labour Party is still packed full of the guilty ones?

    You’ll need to do more than change the window dressing if you want to convince the electorate you’ve moved on from the toxic New Labour legacy.

  2. aragon says:

    The problem is not the ‘left wing’ politics, but the extent that the Labour party is still seen as a right wing party. You can’t out Tory the Tories on Tory Economic policy, you can only offer an alternative.

    Something the Labour party has failed to do, just look at zero hours contracts, instead of standing up for workers, the Labour party goes ahead.

    And implicit in Atul’s argument is that a more right wing approach, an even more ‘conservative’ (small c) economic policy, would not produce ignominy.

    Leadership. More leadership would be more radical policies an clearer offer, much more distinctive from the Tories.

    Caroline Flints proposals in the Guardian, would guarantee defeat. Ed is not bold enough and not different enough.

    Does Atul have anything to offer but a pale pink-purple copy of the Tories.

    The argument should be between too competing visions, not me too, but nicer than them.

  3. Tafia says:

    Be fair steve, the crash was global and not Brown’s fault – it was the fault of poorly regulated capitalism. In fact, if the rules the tories wanted back then had been in place it would have been worse.

    Same as selling the gold when he was Chancellor – that had to be done to force the price down because several UK banks had bet futures to a total more than their entire book value that the price of gold would fall – and it suddenly started to rise.

  4. David says:

    Tafia, just to correct you the crash in the world’s 2nd largest financial hub was not down to Tories wanting rule changes. It was down to Labour to regulate the bankers which they significantly failed to do. The Afghan and Iraq wars, with the millions of dead bodies or lives totally snuffed out by displacement, disability and total misery with knock on effects for radicalising islam around the world, was not down to any other party in UK other than Labour lies. The deaths in the NHS Stafford, Wales was under Labour. Selling Gold at such a loss was Brown. Opening up the borders to millions more than the UK job market and infrastructure could sustain was Labour. Not enough houses for these extra millions was not down to the conservatives social housing policy since it was Labour that built the least amount of new homes for 2 generations. The UK education results in the world league have slipped from the top 10 to 30 something in the world. Could go on but need a coluple more A4 sheets, but think you get the drift.

  5. Quintorum says:

    Yes Tafia, the Financial crisis was Global, but other nations weathered the storm because they were prepared for the worst wheras Gordon Brown had “Ended Boom and Bust” and so didn’t fix the roof while the sun was shining. Under the Major government spending plans, which Labour followed for most of their first term in office, the government went in to Surplus, had that continued until 2008 there would have been ZERO net national debt and likely a large warchest with which to fight a finanacial (or other) crisis. Instead, when the bust came, as everyone knew it one day must, we already had a national debt level of nearly 40% of GDP AND a structural deficit AND lashings of off the books debt via a mountian of overpriced PFI’s, and as such the only tool available to fight the financial crisis was borrowing. Adjusted for todays value the last government created a structural deficit of almost £200 billion per year, more than the NHS, Defence and education budgets combined.

    People will not forget these figures for a generation because it is going to take a generation to to get the national debt down to a level at which we’re paying less in interest than we spend on national defence, and it scares the hell out of people and as long as Ed Balls is getting up in front of TV cameras and denying any wrongdoing then the Labour party is going to keep losing votes on economic grounds.

  6. steve says:

    Tafia: “Be fair steve, the crash was global and not Brown’s fault”

    You may like to consider this:

  7. uglyfatbloke says:

    The crash was n’t Brown’s fault but he does have a level of responsibility – likewise Darling who ignored repeated warnings. Both of them (and Blair) also have some responsibility for short-sighted management and consequent vulnerability.
    Whether it is actually fair to include Ed Balls in that equation is neither here nor there. he is perceived as having been part of the team so as long as he is in the shadow cabinet it will be impossible to persuade the electorate that the economy would be in safe hands.

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