The budget was Labour’s last chance. History is clear about what happens next

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.

Poll rating1

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

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12 Responses to “The budget was Labour’s last chance. History is clear about what happens next”

  1. paul barker says:

    You make the common mistake of confusing British vote shares with UK shares. All opinion polls use british shares only so that 29% you predict would be 1% down on 2010 & only 1% higher than 1983.
    Your general argument is right but judging from the comments on Labour List most Labour activists disagree.

  2. Dave Roberts. says:

    Sorry, I’m confused. Which entities are we talking about here? Let’s start with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland shall we? Can you talk us through it from there?

  3. John P Ried says:

    The 1970 and 1987 election, saw the Tories get addition votes from the liberals(or whatever they were called) in the run upto those elections,

    Both of those elections the turn outs were higher than the ones that proceeded them

    The Oct 74 election was a 72% turnout,the joint third lowest of the 20th century, with universal Sufferege ,the other 2 being 1983 and 1997

    The 1983 and 1997 elections were so obvious ,that many people who new th result before hand didn’t vote,

    Labour getting 39% of the vote on a 72% turnout in Oct 1974, with 11.4m votes was nothing compared with Labour getting 11.56m votes in 1992 on a77% tunout and losing ,same as 1979.

    The low turnout in 1983. And the turnout of 1987 being 5% higher, Saw in London labour actually get a couple of thousand more votes in 87′ but ,Labours percentage of votes in London went down, with the Tories dominating, it was only he higher turnout for the labour vote up north ,that saw Labours vote go up ,from 27.6% in 1983 to 30.1% in 1987.

    The days of 2 party politics, haven’t been around since the 50’s when Gaitskell got 43% of the vote and 12.5m votes and lost

  4. Bill Chapman says:

    I’m sorry, Atwal but you are sounding like a salesman of dodgy stocks and shares. u presume that an historic pattern is a guide to future performance. I am not convinced that you are right. There is time for Labour to leap into the lead. However, I don’t predict the future or assume that something is inevitable because it worked that way in the past.

  5. Chris Williams says:

    5 weeks ago my daughter gave birth to twins. Milliband is asking them to pay my debt. They do look up for it. Vote Labour.

  6. Chris Coulson says:

    “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.”

    I’ve got my fingers crossed!

  7. Robert says:

    Atul might be right or he might be wrong. We will know in May.

  8. Andrew says:

    I wonder who is praying harder for a Tory surge, you or Lynton Crosby.

  9. John P. reid says:

    Andrew, if we unfortunately lose the election, will it be those who aren’t litening to what’s going wrong, or a few people with experience of how to win an election, pointing out we’re not doing what we should be doing now, that are too blame

  10. Andrew says:

    @John Reid
    If? Of course you are going to lose. But not for the reasons Labour uncut advances. You are going to lose because you committed political suicide in Scotland.

  11. John P Reid says:

    But labour won the 97 and 2001 elections by winning England and had we lost 35 seats in those elections to the SNP we’d still have had a majority of 100, e en elections like 1974 where labour needed Scottish labour MPs, if you include Wales, Labour got more votes than the Tories outside of Scotland, if you read what labour uncut said ,labour would have a chance of a majority despite the SNP taking labour in Scotland

  12. Matt Moore says:

    Just thought it would be worth looking at how accurate this prediction turned out to be. Some of the other comments are looking a little foolish now.

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