2014 has been a rocky year for the Tories. The one piece of good news throughout the year comes from the narrowing of the gap between themselves and Labour. In spite of this, the shrinking of the Labour poll lead has not come as a result of a resurgence of Tory support, but instead from a drop in the number of people saying they will vote Labour. Rather than winning over legions of new voters, the Tories are simply losing support at a slower rate than Labour. Add to this third place in the European elections, the assent of UKIP and the defection of two MPs, followed by losing the by-elections in both of their seats, the past year has been difficult. There’s little indication that 2015 will be any easier.
by Chris Jarvis
1. The Tories will scrape past 30% of the vote in May
Five political parties vying for votes in England means that the traditional splitting of large chunks of the electorate between the Tories and Labour is largely over. Combining this with the existence of a surging SNP in Scotland, a steadily rising Plaid in Wales, and what looks to be the closest battle between the two largest parties since the 1970s, the likelihood of any party emerging with between 35-40% of the vote is astronomically low.
2. The Tory seat share will be just below that of Labour
In ordinary circumstances a populist, insurgent right wing party’s existence would be of huge electoral benefit to Labour, and could see them soaring towards a majority. Circumstances being extraordinary, however, the odds are equally stacked against Labour as they are the Tories. UKIP’s strength comes from its ability to attract votes from both of the largest parties, and the additional hollowing of Labour’s Scottish base by the SNP and the rise in support for the Greens means that the Tories will emerge only a handful of seats behind Labour. Neither party will win a majority, but both will finish up with around 260-280 seats each.
3. If the Tories lose, Michael Gove, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and George Osborne will fight a post-Cameron leadership election which Gove is most likely to win.
Four natural leadership contestants have become apparent over the last parliament, Gove, May, Johnson, and Osborne. Each of them has reason to be fairly confident in their record and how it would be perceived within the party. Michael Gove’s aggressive and crusading education reforms have been hugely popular on Tory benches. Theresa May has had a remarkably scandal free time as Home Secretary. Boris Johnson has won an election in a Labour city – twice. And George Osborne has successfully followed through on the Thatcher project of the 1980s; the shrinking of the state, privatisation, and the dismantling of the welfare state, all under the guise of economic prudence.
In this scenario, Osborne, will be viewed as closest to Cameron, the man who will have led the Tories into two elections they failed to win outright, and as such will struggle to attract sufficient support. Boris, while the perfect Conservative candidate in a mayoral election will be judged to be a tad too Boris to lead the party. That therefore leaves Theresa May and Michael Gove. In this event, Gove’s rampant moralism will better appeal to the Tory grassroots and backbenches than Theresa May can and he is thus more likely to emerge as Cameron’s successor.
4. The Conservatives will suffer further defections to UKIP unless a more radical stance is taken on Europe and immigration
Since the 1990s, Europe has proved an impossible issue for the Tories to effectively tackle internally. This will continue next year and in the wake of the election, when much soul searching will ensue, the party will again wrangle its way around the European issue and immigration policy which seems inextricably and inexplicably linked to the question of the EU. In the event that Conservative policy does not move rightwards and become more hard line, a trickle of MPs could begin to disappear off to a buoyant UKIP shortly after it achieves an unprecedented General Election result.
5. Either the Tories will drift rightwards and slide down the polls or fall apart and slide down the polls
This is reliant on the assumption that the Tories will lose the election. Should the Tories lose, whoever succeeds Cameron will be under significant pressure from the parliamentary party to shift to the right. The concurrence of an attempt to eclipse UKIP as well as the ideological drive of many Tory backbenchers will push a post-Cameron leader to take a more aggressive position on welfare, on migration, and on the economy. Should the Tories heed this, they will begin to see their poll rating fall, as the extremity of these stances will not chime with the electorate. In the inverse, Conservative MPs will turn on each other. In times gone by, this would just be a bout of infighting that would lead to one tribe emerging triumphant. In the world of UKIP, things are more complicated, and it could easily lead to as suggested above a number of Tory MPs sliding away to UKIP.
6. The coalition could continue beyond 2015
A Tory majority is almost entirely out of the realms of possibility. What is possible, however, is a continuation of the existing political setup. Should the Tories fall only a few seats behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats hold enough seats, we could easily see another 5 years of a Tory-LibDem coalition with Cameron and Clegg at the helm. This will largely depend on three factors. Firstly, whether or not the notoriously difficult to unseat Liberal Democrats cling on to 30 or so seats. Secondly, whether the UKIP vote fails to gain traction in a number of key marginals and therefore does not allow Labour to sneak home. And finally, on how many seats Labour lose to the SNP – if the SNP deliver a Scottish landslide, they could ensure that Labour are unable to govern, even with the aid of the Liberal Democrats.
What Does This Mean?
Whatever happens in May, as Labour will struggle to define itself in a multipolar political landscape, so too will the Tories. The difference in the Conservative camp is that the right of the party is much larger and much less wedded to its history as Labour’s left. This makes defections much more likely, and therefore acts as a far greater pull on the leadership to tack rightwards. Rather than putting the brakes on a surging UKIP, it will only serve to strengthen their growth, further increasing the abundance of right wing, divisive rhetoric that is already flooding the political debate.
Another difference in the lot of the Tories and Labour is that Labour has multiple forces pulling them in different directions. Whereas Labour could chose to move leftwards to fend off the Greens, or else turn towards the values of UKIP, the Tories, realistically, are only destined in one direction – further and further to the right. For many within the party, this would not be a survival mechanism, but instead a desirable course of action.