1) The poll trend is dead against them. As we’ve said time and time again, snapshot polls are relatively uninformative – the trend of all polls over time is the really telling thing. It’s no use saying “polls go up and down” when in reality Labour’s lead is only doing the latter. This week has seen the first Conservative leads in two years, and there’s good reason to expect more.
2) The changes in the polls are all about Labour’s decline. Scrabbling for some hope in the polling, Labour loyalists point out that while their lead is falling, it isn’t because the Conservative vote has grown. That’s true, but they should fear the corollary – Labour’s poll lead is falling entirely because their own vote share is dropping away. A 35 per cent strategy is unambitious and inherently negative – they gambled the house on simply holding that proportion of votes, and the gamble is backfiring as they struggle to hang onto even that low percentage.
3) Miliband’s unpopularity is helping to drive that trend. Miliband’s personal ratings were never great to start off with, but they’re getting worse. ICM now finds his personal approval rating to be worse than Nick Clegg’s – a genuinely impressive feat. Personal ratings don’t count for everything (Political Betting points out that Thatcher lagged in 1979, though as LeftFootForward counters, that was an unusual election) but they do matter – if your party is tanking in the polls, being the most unpopular leader isn’t going to help you turn it around.
4) So are Labour’s poor economic ratings. With the economy still at the hear of the political debate, and with the Conservative campaign for 2015 set to place “don’t risk the recovery” at its front and centre, Labour desperately need to recover the electorate’s confidence. But they haven’t – years of refusing to accept that they got it wrong in government, combined with Ed Balls’ repeatedly wrong predictions of doom have reinforced popular doubts about their competence. It’s possible to dismiss one polling measure or another on its own – it’s harder to dismiss failure on voting intention, personal approval ratings and trust on the economy, all at the same time.
5) The economy itself is proving Labour wrong. With growth rising, unemployment falling, employment at record levels and economic confidence booming, each day that goes by reinforces the Government’s message and weakens Labour’s. Attack after attack has been blunted by eventual collision with reality – it would be fitting if, after doing their best to devastate the economy, it hits back by destroying the Labour Party.
6) Miliband’s policy agenda is foundering. Labour’s brightest moments in this parliament were the brief bounces received in return for eye-catching policy announcements, most notably the energy freeze. The lesson the drew was a short-term one – be drastic, and you’ll win tomorrow’s headlines – so they’ve tried to repeat it. Unfortunately for Miliband, the tactical successes haven’t turned into strategic victories. His radical ideas have been picked to pieces, and even those the public like they don’t believe he can deliver. As our Pinning Down Miliband series has shown, the Labour policy platform is a mouldering Swiss cheese of bad ideas shot through with points on which they have nothing to say. It’s a stark contrast with Tony Blair, for example, who drove the Conservatives back on every front, occupying the high ground on almost all key issues.
7) They are running out of money. Fittingly for a party that bankrupted the nation, Labour’s own finances are in a truly awful mess. Piled with debt, and with some huge union donations slipping away after Falkirk, their biggest corporate backer – the Co-Op – is in crisis. Even if someone was considering bunging them a few million, how happy would they be to know that the bulk of it would go towards paying off debts?
8) There’s still the possibility of a UKIP threat to Labour emerging. So far, the largest single group of UKIP’s voters are former Tory supporters – meaning their rise disproportionately harms Conservative election performance. I’d argue that other UKIP voters who have never previously voted Conservative are still a loss to us in a different way, in that they are people our party ought to be winning over but has not. Thus far, Farage’s success has been a great help to Miliband. While UKIP threats to target disillusioned Labour voters have yet to bear any real fruit, there’s still the possibility that they could do it. Red UKIP is in its infancy, and has so far been remarkably clumsy (the “Protect your benefits” message and so on), but there’s always the possibility that it could get its act together. If it does, then Miliband might see some of the gains won by persuading former Lib Dems to go red cancelled out – and in his current position he needs every vote he can get.