Five questions to determine the next general election

by Jonathan Todd

It is not a sprint to the next general election. Nor a marathon. It is more like 800 metres.

You cannot win it in the opening straight, but you can lose it. Every step counts. And – as Covid-19 has painfully illustrated – new obstacles can appear from nowhere.

Here are five questions to help comprehend this 800-metre random assault course:

1) What will the UK economy be like in 2023/2024?

Sir Charles Bean, a member of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), has referred to it being “not implausible” that for as long as the lockdown is in force, economic activity will be reduced “by somewhere between a quarter and a third”, and that a three-month lockdown “would knock something like 6-8 percentage points off annual GDP”.

Two months into the lockdown, however, it does not seem likely that all economic activity will return to pre-lockdown levels a month from now. Therefore, the annual contraction in GDP seems likely to exceed 8%.

Perhaps significantly so if a second wave necessitates a return to lockdown and/or the government fail to deliver a track, trace, and isolate system effective enough to enable more economic activity alongside suppression of a second wave.

Even after two months of lockdown, there are still thought to be around 3500 new cases each day. But where are these? Who have they interacted with? Are the sufferers and all of those that they have interacted with in isolation?

It is a massive task to constantly stay on top of these questions. More so than challenges that the government have struggled to overcome, e.g. delivering adequate PPE and tests.

2020 brings depression-era economics, an ongoing and uncontrolled public health crisis, and the rupturing of around 40 trade agreements with over 70 countries. All of which will create a big hole in public finances.

If the Tories respond to this with the “medicine” of the past decade (austerity), our economic and social problems will deepen. There have been worrying signs that this may be where we are headed.

A dozen years after the global financial crisis, we still live in a world of very low interest rates. Instead of austerity, government must listen to this market signal and seize this opportunity.

2) How will the government be perceived to have performed on the economy?

While the economy recovered after our exit from the ERM, the then Tory government’s reputation for economic competence did not.

Even if today’s government were to leverage very low interest rates to drive an investment boom, their standing on economic competence may be poor if they are blamed – as was the case with the ERM – for having caused the calamity from which we are recovering.

While it is easier to attribute an exchange rate mechanism than a global pandemic to the incumbent government, as New Zealand businesses reopen and no new cases are reported there in three days, the connection between robust public health and economic vitality becomes more obvious. With the UK’s public health response – which, in contrast to a global pandemic, the government is responsible for – comparatively inadequate.

3) How will the prime minister’s performance be assessed?

With Keir Starmer now enjoying superior approval ratings to Boris Johnson, it suddenly seems realistic that Labour could go into the next election winning on, ‘who would be the best PM?’

Another key polling question is, ‘which party can best run the economy?’ If the Tories cannot deliver a strengthened economy through an improved public health response in the near-term and a sustained economic recovery through smart utilisation of very low interest rates in the longer-term, they may not win on this metric either.

4) What will become of our culture wars?

If a party is winning on best PM and economic management, polling history suggests they win the election. Equally, with fewer MPs than at any time since 1935, Labour enters the next election from a position of historic weakness.

The Tories will try to mobilise our culture wars to compound this. Characterisation of Labour as un-patriotic and out of touch contributed towards the “red wall” turning blue. The Tories will keep seeking ways to convince the places that they have gained that Labour is not for people like them.

5) What can Labour do to influence answers to these questions?

Under a more prime ministerial leader than the Tories can offer (whether it is Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak or whomever), Labour should sue for peace in the culture wars and seek to win a politics in which economics returns to centrality.

In this politics, the Tories are blamed for our economic woes and Labour convince that we offer a credible and hopeful alternative.

There are balances to strike: attaching blame to the Tories, while not appearing overly partisan during a national crisis; remaining credible, while offering solutions big enough to meet the scale of problems that we face – which are likely to be much bigger, especially in terms of an expanded role for the state, than would recently have seemed politically sellable; and offering solutions to the economic problems that Brexit will create, while not reopening associated cultural wounds.

Starmer is talking the talk at PMQs but walking the wall will be to navigate these fine lines.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut   

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7 Responses to “Five questions to determine the next general election”

  1. Anne says:

    At the moment the polls do say that the Tories are leading but there are very big cracks appearing – apparently trade talks with the EU are not going well, and there are many Tories who were not totally comfortable with Johnson’s approach – Michael Hestletine has a following. Also the idea of big state intervention does not sit well traditionally with them, and because of Covoid state intervention is going to be required for some time. The Tory Party is also very weak on talent within its ranks – perhaps the only one from the top team with any ability is Sunak – this is becoming more and more pronounced as the Covoid pandemic persists. It is going to be a very difficult time for our country in the next few years. Both Trump and Johnson did well when it came to leading for an election but when the cards and down and real leadership is required both are very lacking in terms of ability.

  2. Timmy says:

    May I offer a 6th question?

    What will be left of the Labour Party, it’s culture and finances after the EHRC, the Information Commissioner and all the various people suing it have done their work?

    The party could have to spend a lot of time and energy on issues it is legally bound to remedy. A lot of income and perhaps capital assets will have to go towards paying fines rather than campaigning. Dealing promptly and effectively with anti-semitism, will lead to lots of activists (who do not recognise that they are being anti-semitic) being disciplined and becoming disillusioned with the party and leaving.

    These are not fine lines to navigate. To choose a lawyer as leader at this time may seem wise in retrospect

  3. anosrep says:

    “Labour should sue for peace in the culture wars and seek to win a politics in which economics returns to centrality.”

    In other words throw BAME, disabled and LGBTQ people under a bus.

  4. Alf says:

    If the party goes back to just being Tory-lite, the next election is lost already. The early signs aren’t good.

  5. John P reid says:

    The Owen Jones of the world keep saying the working CLASS didn’t realise AT THE TIME they were wrong for not voting labour and still don’t Yet the Guardian middle class, feel it doesn’t matter if the Syrian refugees , didn’t respect schoolgirls they touched on council estates And it’s intimidating people to scream bigot or class traitor at them ,a Similar thing happened calling those who voted not to strike, Scabs in the 1984 minor strike didn’t want union bosses to not be able to run the country economy didn’t want globalisation, and feel positive discrimination which gave out money from the GLC and unions meant the white working-class didn’t get their fair share and the girls on the traditional working class estates didn’t get help as those who moved into those council estate didn’t understand as migrants they should have bene told, what they couldn’t do and it was no good saying later that they hadn’t been told about British values as no one understood they hadn’t had those values written down to them, because they were Muslims
    this Identity middle-class Politics say that mental health someone wants to mutilate gender feeling that different victim of someone you can’t be open about their life because If someone is gay ,said we thought for gay rights they didn’t ask us about adding the letter T to LGB
    to go right they did it on their own back and criticise women intimidation same as the women across the nurses line picket line intimidated globalisation Muslims anti white racism hope the working class in contempt all I can say is the public were wrong not to vote for a Miliband the public or wrong not to vote for Corbin add me to then say Andy Burnham was wrong to criticise bad so they voted for Corbyn they would vote for him again and the working class are racist

  6. John P Reid says:

    Anosrep you assume that LGabTQ+ (whatever that is) I’m aware of LGB which was set up to lower the age of being gay or then stop section 28 in the 70’s & 80’s

    but That LGB plus what ever faction latched in all want to be part of the culture war and feel associated with this positive discrimation victim, we must defend and people can’t answer back as they’re bigoted any mr tsk health additional letter that latches on

    Labour threw Disabled People Under the bus ages ago
    Eveyone from Jenna Davis who
    Stood for labours BAME rep to,Ava Vidal to Renie Anjeh to Anna Argos who was involved in the labour women’s declaration

    Have all said there’s no such thing as BAME, there’s black including mixed rave snd theres asian snd black peoole aren’t collectively held by a political view not just (working class or remainers who are economically liberal, socially conservative) as there were many Black Brexiters

  7. John P Reid says:

    Just had a look at the vote swing in the Red wall

    I Accept that working class ex Liberal Democrats who came to Labour in 2015 (following the coalition) in Liverpool Scotland Cornwall inner London ,but it was Lib Dems who stopped voting for them after 2010 in the red wall weren’t going to vote Labour as they still remember intimidation by trade unions and the economy in the 70s

    There was at 38% increase in Tory vote from ex- Labour between 2010 and 2019 (19% swing) some of this may have gone via UKIP in 2010 and 2015 but to have the vote to have seen the Tories on 11% in 2010 to 49% by 2019 in the Red wall

    Showed a 19% swing

    Labour got 16% swings in seats it never dreamt it would win in 97
    When the rest of the country had a 9.5% swing towards labour at that time

    There are exception in the country

    (Scotland for instance when labour had a 2.2% swing in 1992, had a 1% swing to the Tories)
    In 2017 labour had a 2% swing (even though labours vote went up 9.6% the Tory vote went up 5.6% too)

    Some times labour can buck the trend in Certain areas ( in Essex in 2017 labours vote went up by 5000 in some seats but the Tory vote went up 7,000 votes
    So the Tories has a swing towards them in that area

    In 1992 as labour got back many Ex SDP votes (they were targeting white collar public sector pension unionised skilled commuter workers -teachers, doctors, police officers) had a 3.1% swing bucking the average

    In 1987 Berni grant, first stood for Parliament had a 10% swing against in 1992 when People realised he wasn’t so bad he had A 9% swing towards him
    (In 1987 Paul Boateng , also first Parliament in Brent down the road and he didn’t have a swing against him , so the reason that Grant did bad, couldn’t have been down to the fact that local people weren’t going to vote for him because they were racist)

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