Yesterday’s post about the European election results drew on some of my comments at MetaFilter, where another commenter responded that “inferring anything about the UK voting pattern in next year’s general election from the EU results is particularly unwise this year in view of the referendum on Scottish independence”. Clearly, if the next general election is for a new United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland then all current bets are off. The fact that I’m contemplating a 2015 general election for the UK as it now exists reflects my own sense of how the Scottish referendum will go, but that’s another story.

If Scotland votes for the status quo, though, I wouldn’t expect any electoral bounce for Cameron. Few on this side of the border would see him as some sort of hero saving the union; it’s Salmond’s battle, and really a much older and bigger battle than even him. As for south of the border, polls seem to show greater English support for Scottish independence than Scottish support, with no sense that a break would affect their daily lives much, so I would expect a No vote to be greeted by England with a combination of bemusement (“I thought you wanted independence!?”) and indifference. Staunch Tories might give Cameron some credit, but they would have been voting Tory anyway.

When predicting how the next general election will go compared to the last one, what matters is which of the two main parties has consolidated support from their side of the left-right spectrum to give them the largest single vote in the majority of individual electorates. The European and council results indicate two revealing things: the only consolidation of voters to the right of the Tories is happening in UKIP’s favour, not the Tories’, and the consolidation to the left of the Tories is happening in Labour’s favour.

Even if they pick up one or two seats next year, UKIP are a sideshow. Since 2010, the key question has been where the Lib Dem vote would go. We only have to remind ourselves why the Lib Dems got so many votes in 2010 in the first place: former Labour voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a tired Labour government who had gone into Iraq and helped cause the credit crunch, but weren’t ever going to vote for the Tories. As soon as the Lib Dems formed a coalition with the Tories, they alienated most of those voters. In the four years since, they’ve lost any who might have given them the benefit of the doubt as an ameliorating force in coalition, by agreeing to (or being unable to prevent) austerity, the bedroom tax, university fee hikes, and the privatisation by stealth of the NHS, to name a few of the Coalition’s greatest hits. The Coalition agenda has been dominated by the Tories, and any voters who actually wanted all that stuff will have voted Tory last time anyway; nobody in 2010 supposed that it was part of the Lib Dems’ agenda. So it should really be no surprise that most Lib Dem votes are now going to Labour.

Cameron is in deep trouble, and if he has any sense he knows it. His only hope now is to absorb UKIP’s vote and hope that it makes the Conservatives the largest single party in the majority of individual electoral battles; but he’s run out of time and room to manoeuvre. Staunch UKIP supporters will now be feeling that the political momentum is on their side, which will make them more rather than less likely to vote UKIP next year. Any bone that Cameron throws them will be insufficient: what former-BNP-but-now-UKIP voter would be satisfied with a Tory promise to limit immigration to 100,000 a year? Why vote for the promise of a referendum on the EU when you can vote for a party that promises to take Britain out regardless? But Cameron can’t go that far without alienating pro-EU Tory voters and losing them to Labour or (if they can’t bring themselves to vote Labour) to the Lib Dems. Either way, the vote on the right has been split.

There won’t be any pact between the Tories and UKIP. Which seats would the Tories concede to UKIP beforehand? A handful at most. Does anyone think that would satisfy UKIP—that they would stand down from contesting hundreds of seats for the guarantee of a few? Not likely.

One might call this wishful thinking, but I think it indicates how important it is for Labour not to panic at this stage. There is nothing for Labour to gain by trying to win over UKIP voters. All it would do is drive some of its own supporters to any remaining pro-EU/pro-immigration parties, splitting the vote on the left and increasing the Tories’ chances of victory. Ed Miliband may have problems with how he presents himself to voters, but I don’t think he’s a fool.

The wise course for the left is to recognise UKIP as a threat to parties on the right, not the left, and to stay on message. Anything else is media hype for the sake of current affairs ratings.

I distilled the above into an 85-word letter to Labour to try my hand at Twitpic-based persuasion, just for the hell of it.

27 May 2014 · Politics