The minor parties are in good health… As well as the SNP in Scotland, there are UKIP and the Greens in England. UKIP’s ratings were in the mid-teens even before Douglas Carswell’s defection. It has won two by-elections, and now has a local government base. The Greens are nibbling away at Labour. The protest politics of the rest of Europe are alive and well in Britain.
…And the major ones are sickly. As Lord Ashcroft’s polling confirms, the Liberal Democrats will be difficult to shift in many of the seats they hold. But they are likely to lose many in May. The proportion of Commons seats held by the two bigger parties may therefore rise. None the less, any such outcome will not disguise the longer-term fall in support for both.
The Conservatives: where is the poll recovery? A Tory poll lead by Christmas seemed as likely as not last summer. But as many surveys show Labour ahead as the Conservatives: the Party is bobbing around in the low to mid-30s. Yes, voters could flock to the Tories as a means of safeguarding the recovery before May. However, there is no sign of this happening yet.
Labour: where is the political leadership? The non-upturn in Conservative fortunes has been disguised by the downturn in Labour’s. The SNP is at its throat in Scotland and the Greens on its back in England. Ed Miliband’s ratings are dire, his authority shot. Labour is relying on the vote distribution, and the election being decided not by the economy but by values.
The coming election campaign: where is honest politics? The IFS estimates that more than half the spending scaleback is to come. None of the parties want a conversation with the voters about where the bulk of these savings will come from: the electoral consequences for them would be too risky. Never has the gap between campaign and reality loomed so large.
A hung Parliament is still likely. The triple whammy of former LibDem ones moving to Labour, former Tory ones moving to UKIP (which they are still doing in larger proportion than former Labour ones) and the vote distribution has always made a Conservative majority in May very unlikely. Any voter movement to the Tories looks to kill Labour’s chances of gaining one either.
Voters are looking inwards. The dumbed-down reshuffle, the Thornberry resignation, Mark Harper’s resignation and rehabilitation…events in the Village and sensation on Twitter leave most voters untouched. They are licking their wounds after a long stretch of economic hardship. There is no electoral appetite for confronting Putin or ISIS abroad.
A United Kingdom or EU exit? There may well not be an In/Out referendum in 2017. But what happens if there is, and it becomes apparent that Scotland is set to vote to stay in the EU. Unionist Eurosceptics would face an agonising choice. Vote Yes, and Britain stays In. Vote No, and the cause of Scottish independence is boosted.