Labour: on the verge of a historic victory, or partying like it’s 1992?

by Rob Marchant

The short campaign has finally kicked off. Not that that usually makes much difference, and particularly not when we have all known the date of the election for the last four years. Perhaps fittingly, no party’s campaign has so far exactly knocked Britain off its feet.

In polling, Tories and Labour have been showing as neck and neck for some time, with each main party in turn delighted when a poll says it is a couple of points ahead. But within any measure of what statisticians call “standard error”, these polls tell us little.

In other words, any difference of this size – a few per cent – could just as easily be explained by the inaccuracy of polling as a predictor per se, as by a meaningful trend. In this strange, Alice-in-Wonderland world where the tossed coin seems to land on its side, we have to make our judgements using less obvious, but no less compelling, means.

Turn, for example, to that more traditional signal of electoral success, the bookies, and the story is a little different. It’s true that they are – by a rather small margin – predicting a Labour minority government as the most likely outcome from a number of difficult-to-predict outcomes, but now look at the party with most seats. It’s the Tories, odds on, by a mile. The next PM? Cameron, odds on, by a mile.

Now, on the back of the TV debates, Labour has had a welcome uptick in Miliband’s personal approval rating, it’s true. But this really needs to be seen in context: it is rather the difference between the cataclysmic (-46% a month ago) and the merely bad (-29%, against Cameron’s -2%).

And there has also been a positive story for Labour in the English marginals, according to Lord Ashcroft’s polling. But the story in Scotland is the opposite: even if it might not end up quite as badly as the Daily Mail might gleefully be predicting, it will certainly be bad.

Furthermore, there is a certain caution over polling which is hammered into us Labourites of a certain generation, the over-40s. Those of us who remember the start of an election campaign which had polls showing a single-digit lead for Labour up until the last minute; two exit polls, usually the most accurate of polls, wrongly predicting a hung parliament (watch it here); and finally the creeping chill of realising during the course of the night that it was all a cruel joke; that the country’s voters really, definitively, did not see Neil Kinnock as their prime minister and never would.

1992 was the year which confounded expectations for Labour. We are now roughly in the same polling position, perhaps very slightly worse.

Now, things are genuinely still too close to call. A one-term opposition is very much against the odds but, by the same token, so is an incumbent increasing or even holding its vote. So a Miliband victory would be historic; as would one for Cameron.

Both are fallacious as arguments for winning or losing, since whatever happens will probably be an unusual scenario. Just like there was never a black president until Obama. So what? In other words, the probability is, paradoxically, that something relatively improbable will happen (ask a mathematician how that is possible). No help there, then.

We have not as yet, thank heavens, had the 2015 equivalent of 1992’s Sheffield rally, now painfully remembered as much as the defeat itself for its rashly hubristic tone (though one wonders about the hostage to fortune that Miliband’s “hell, yes” might have left behind). And it is certainly important for activists to believe that they can win; a bit of positive spin is only right. That extra push from the work of motivated members in the last few days could be what gets us over the edge.

All that said, there is a colder reality here as well: neither does Labour seem to be making the strides necessary to overturn both incumbency and Tory leads on both leadership and the economy, the two areas Uncut – among others – has consistently pointed out as the party’s biggest weaknesses.

Conclusion: on balance, we probably need either a political game-changer ourselves, or a great stroke of luck, such as a serious Tory miscalculation, to alter the current trajectory.

Otherwise, as we enter the home strait, we are riding perilously close to a re-run of that narrow loss to the Tories, almost a quarter-century on.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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11 Responses to “Labour: on the verge of a historic victory, or partying like it’s 1992?”

  1. fred says:

    But whatever happened to the editor of Labour Uncut’s prediction (in early January) of a four point majority-winning lead for the Tories? This was based on an analysis of Labour paraded endlessly on Labour Uncut as being “useless” and bound to lose. Every new article now seems to be talking Labour up or saying that Labour is in with a fair chance of forming the next government. When is the editor of Labour Uncut going to admit that he’s been wrong for the last four years?

  2. Tafia says:

    Actually Fred, the entire Labour Party has been wrong for the last 4 years. They were convinced they would get a majority against a deeply unpopular government that would only be offering more cuts and more austerity which the public would reject. The reality is that hasn’t happened because Labour’s leadership is low-grade poor quality and in the case of Balls and Burnham largely discredited by being part of Brown’s fiasco.

    The tories will probably be the single biggest party (fancy being unable to convince the electorate that Cameron and Osborne are clueless and \Miliband and Balls a superior product) What makes it even more of a disaster is Labour had more money in it’s campaign chest – so even with more resource, better funding and it still isn’t going to achieve a majority.

    Anyone watch the Scottish debate last night? That tory woman pissed all over Jim Murphy.

    Incidentally, three years ago I put a tenner on the tories to win with a small majority – not because I’m not, but because of the shockingly poor quality of Labour’s front bench. Cracking odds and I remain quietly confident.

  3. John Reid says:

    Thi is nothing like 1992′ the Tory press, in 1987 had in London destroyed labour by stories of the loony left,1987 and 1992 were 77% turnouts, 1983 was a 72% turnout, the average Tory voter in 83 knew they were going to win, do some stayed at home,
    The public accepted in 1992 that the Toeies created that recession, yet couldn’t trust labour on the economy, even if the public don’t blame labour for the recession,they don’t think had we win 5 years ago,we’d have dealt with it as well as the Tories,
    1992 Neil Kinnock had actively backed the 1983 mqnifesto, the public thought how could he stand on the 1992 manifesto,which apart from the 50p rate, wasnt any different to the 1997 one,
    And the Tory press, had more power in 1992′ they had ammunition,of certain people in power of parts of the party,they were still saying things about the winter of discontent,

    If anything, this election reminds me more of 1979′ with activists, tweeting it like it was 1987

  4. John Reid says:

    One thing 1992 could have in common, I’d that there were people more aligned with the conservatives, who were thinking of voting Libdem,too punish them over the recession, but due to a fear of a labour Gov’t stuck with the Toeies, replace Ukip,with Libdem now,and it could be the same

  5. Robert says:

    Rob might be right but my worry is that he is actually hoping that he is right!

  6. Stephen Hildon says:

    “A one-term opposition is very much against the odds but, by the same token, so is an incumbent increasing or even holding its vote.”

    The incumbent government increased its number of seats in 1955, 1959, 1966, October 1974 and 1983. And held its share in 1951, 1987 and 1992.

    It is not exactly going to be “historic” if it happens this year.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Holding it’s vote Stephen ,is different to holding its majority,
    The reason the tories amount of seats went up in 1955, 1959′ 1983 , was because the Labour vote fell more than the Tory vote fell, as the turnouts in 1955, 1959 and 1983 were lower than the proceeding ones, respectively.

    Same as in October 1974,

    Actually the point is the government got 59% of the vote and has a majority of 80 we have two parties in power, technically the tories could get 2% more than they did in 2010 the Libdems percentage could fall by 15% so the next government if Tory could be down from the 59% they got in 2010 to 38%’ or if we have another tory Libdem coalrion, their percentage of vote could fall to about 47% between them,

  8. John P Reid says:

    Robert, why would Rob hope that the Tories win, if we loose, if Ed goes , we’ll have a civil war in the party, recall Kinnock in 1983′ Tony Bens we lost as it wasn’t left win enough, militant, unions refusing to back Kinnock reforms on OMOV, or blocking his attempted to change clause 4 or multilateralism

    In 1987 the public rightly felt due to the loony left, labour was more extremist in that élection than 1983′ , I dread to think, unless we have someone who can take in Mklusky after the election what we”ll be like in 2020, probably have, New Sheffield city leaders or Ken livingstones, saying things like the Brighton bombing was a justified act of self defence, and calling for the army to be scrapped

  9. John Reid says:

    The 1992 election was won, the second the Tories ousted Thatcher,litho ugh, had Labour also ousted Niel Kinnock, got in either Bryan Gould or john Smith, slightly changed our tax policy we may have won in 1992′ one thing that struck me was Labour win the campaign ,lost the election, presenting better arguments about unemployment, the NHS and. Time, but it was the economy, I wonder if labour now appears, better on crime and the NHS with Burnham,and Dromey presenting facts, it could be similar to 1992′
    Saying that Blair knew labour would lose in 1992′ most didn’t,as such he obviously didn’t agree with the commitment t to put up the higher rate of tax to 50p, I wonder if any front benchers, secretly know we’re gonna lose, and don’t really agree with the current manifesto, but are presenting a United front,so they can position themselves, for leader after the election

  10. John.P Reid says:

    Harriet Harman doesn’t respect the law, her denying of her PIE supporting past,and her call for years of our liberty to be changed regarding rape defendants to be considered guilty till proven innocent, are disgraceful, her view that discrimination is equality,her words, for positive discrimination for women, wreaks of nineteen eighty fours,quote , freedom is slavery

  11. John P Reid says:

    John Major, John Smith, Denis healey, Tony Blair, all knew we’d lose in 1992′ Kinnodk did a week before hand,it wasn’t just the polls were inns urge, it was the turnout, even with a slight retry. To the governing party, and slight polls being biased towards labour, unless the Toeies get their core vote too actually turn out, they’re panicking about a overall majority, I’m surprised they gave t dug up loony left stories Len Mklusky and Tom Watson trying to buy safe seats, Karen buck, the Toeirs don’t want the poor to breed, Andy Newman, Stalin and Chairman Mao, did a great job, there’s hundreds of comments out there if the Toeies got desperate,

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