A rather uneventful year for the Labour Party – a stagnant poll rating (it has fallen around 3 or 4% since this time last year), underwhelming European election results and few major changes in personnel or policy (Emily Thornberry’s resignation being the notable exception). What this has masked, however, is a Labour Party in flux.
2015 will be a crucial year for Labour as it, for the first time after the Blair/Brown years, comes to terms with its own identity. Accordingly, the fortunes of Labour are particularly difficult to predict, aside from that we may see significant soul searching and muted internal conflict.
by Chris Jarvis.
1. Labour will emerge as the single largest party in 2015
A peculiar prediction to begin with, given what has been said previously about the difficulties of predicting Labour’s fate. However, electoral arithmetic would suggest that Labour will probably emerge as the largest party in May next, year, albeit without a majority. As has been frequently noted, Labour need a smaller proportion of the vote to gain a majority – and so a squeeze on their polling over the next five months should still allow them to hold on to being the largest party. Significant gains from the Liberal Democrats, as well as similar wins from the Tories should inch them 60 or 70 seats up on their 2010 result. In and of itself this would put them just shy of a majority in the House of Commons, but combined with losses to the SNP in Scotland means that Labour will hold only a handful more seats than the Conservative Party.
2. Labour are more likely to enter government with Cleggless Liberal Democrats than they are with the SNP
As the main backers of the No campaign in the Scottish Independence referendum, going into government with the SNP would almost be as if Labour were subsequently admitting defeat. Additionally, the claims of former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, that UK Labour treats Scotland as branch office of London will appear more than accurate. The idea of Alex Salmond entering parliament and within days becoming Deputy Prime Minister would cause civil war amongst Scottish Labour activists, where now it is the SNP who are seen as the primary enemy. While the Liberal Democrats may be a toxic brand to the majority of the British public, the bulk of Scottish Labour despise the SNP and a coalition agreement between the two parties would require far too many concessions to keep the party together north of the border. If the maths work in their favour, the Liberal Democrats could be propping up a Labour government, not the SNP.
3. Labour will barely pass 30% of the vote
Suggestions that Ed Miliband is currently campaigning for 35% of the vote in 2015 seems more and more optimistic as each week rolls by. 2014 saw a shrinking of the Labour lead over the Tories, which is likely to flat line between now and May, but their share of the vote is likely to fall to around 30% on polling day, as the combined surges in Green, UKIP and SNP support cut into Labour’s support, in different areas across the country. This, combined with a small upswing for the Liberal Democrats will see Labour viewing 30% as a good result.
4. The left of the Labour Party could hold the balance of power
In the unlikely event that Labour win a majority, it will be tiny. In this case, the handful of remaining left-wing parliamentarians such as John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn will, with the help of the likes of Dianne Abbott, and likely newcomers to parliament like Norwich’s Clive Lewis, will hold the balance of power. Likewise, any coalition with the Liberal Democrats would only just pass the required 326 MPs to form a majority. Labour will require the support of its left wing in order to pass legislation and govern. This could mean that a very different Labour government would emerge than perhaps Ed Miliband would like to administer. McDonnell & co. won’t be in ministerial cars, but they will need to be kept on board in order for Labour to govern effectively.
5. If Labour lose, they will elect an uninspiring leader to replace Ed Miliband
At present, a potential leadership contest in 2015 would see a battle between characters completely uninspiring to the general public. While an Yvette Cooper leadership might look very different to a Chuka Umunna leadership to those within the Labour rank and file, neither would appear to offer any radical departure from Ed’s days (nor would an Andy Burnham leadership, for that matter), and this will serve only to further entrench disillusionment with Labour. With no credible candidate emerging from either the left or the right, a new Labour leader in 2015 could see very little in the way of change for the party.
6. 2015 will see Labour fighting for its very existence.
The SNP in Scotland, UKIP along the East Coast and in the North, the Greens in the metropolitan areas and the University seats: in each of these instances, Labour is seeing its core vote being eaten away by insurgent parties that are breaking the mould of politics. Labour must tread very carefully to avoid being left behind in 2015 and outflanked on both the left and right. If the SNP breakthrough in Scotland is as vast as is currently being predicted by some, the Scottish core of Labour support will be gone for a generation. Similarly, if UKIP continue to tear into the Northern working class vote and the Greens steam ahead wooing middle class liberals, the diminishing of Labour’s natural voter base will have truly begun. Labour won’t disappear in 2015, but we will see the reigniting of the battle for its heart and the first major battle in an existential war whose outcome it is impossible to foresee.
What does this all mean?
2015 will be a particularly difficult year for Labour. They are stuck at the centre of an internal conflict that Britain is currently undergoing – a conflict which is in many ways along traditional left/right lines, but also reflects wider cultural issues. The party is being pulled from multiple directions, and in 2015, needs to take a decision as to which road it is going to take. Where Labour chooses to place itself along those lines; whether it takes a hard line, right wing stance on immigration and welfare, backs business over workers or whether it rejects these and opts for a politics of unity rather than division will sow the seeds of the next major era of Labour Party history.
Unsurprisingly, it is to the left that this author hopes that the Labour Party will turn, but hope and expectation are two very different things.