by Atul Hatwal
Labour desperately needed George Osborne to produce another omnishambles budget. Something to reverse the ebbing tide of Labour’s poll lead.
It didn’t happen.
Osborne may have concocted an utterly ludicrous public spending profile for the next parliament – savage, penal cuts immediately followed by lavish expenditure, which led even the Office for Budget Responsibility to describe it as a “rollercoaster” – but he managed to kill Labour’s most potent attack line: that spending would be taken back to levels last seen in the 1930s.
Now, with under two months until the general election, history is very clear about what happens next.
Labour’s poll rating will almost certainly slide. Over the past fifty years of elections, Labour has lost an average of 4% in the last two months before an election.
Given an average poll rating in March (so far) of 33%, this would take Labour back to square one on May 7th with 29% of the vote, the same as 2010.
Only on 3 occasions has Labour’s vote not fallen in the run-in to the election – 1970, the second 1974 election and 1987. But even then, there was no net gain – in those years Labour only sustained its position.
The largest falls in support were under Tony Blair for his two biggest victories in 1997 and 2001. On both occasions, two months from the election, Labour was giddily polling above 50%.
Discounting these two elections as anomalous, the average drop in Labour’s lead becomes smaller, but is still significant, 3%, which would equate to a derisory Labour result of 30% for 2015.
This is why yesterday’s budget was so important for Labour. Without a game-changing event that fundamentally altered the dynamic of the race, that gave Labour a sufficient poll boost to survive the seepage in support over the coming weeks, the party will not even make it to being the largest party in a hung parliament.
Fifty years is an eternity in politics. For Labour to have never improved its rating in the final furlong of the election race, and to almost always fall away, is hard to discount or ignore.
Some will argue that the ground campaign will make the difference in 2015. Certainly, Labour activists will knock doors, candidates will campaign, press releases will be issued and every party sinew will be strained to secure victory.
But t’was ever thus. Was there ever an election year where Labour just didn’t bother?
Pollsters might have made adjustments for shy Tories after 1992 but the evidence would suggest that for anyone interested in forecasting the election result, there also needs to be a parallel adjustment for disingenuous Labour supporters.
The grim reality is that unless there is a random unforeseen event which upends the race, Labour’s poll rating history will repeat itself with the party headed for one of its worst ever election results.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut