Leadership, the economy, immigration and welfare cloud Labour’s prospects in the next British election
by Eric Shaw
With an unpopular Tory government in the last year of its mandate, the opposition Labour Party should be riding high. However, there is no mood of eager expectation in Labour ranks as the May 8, 2015, election date draws closer: indeed there is some apprehension. The reasons for this subdued atmosphere explain a lot about the state of British politics today. For most of 2014, Labour has headed the polls by three to four percentage points, but this may be too little for victory.
Neither the Scottish elections in 2013, nor the European elections in the spring of 2014, nor the Scottish independence referendum in September brought Labour much comfort. In 2013 the Scottish National Party, which like the Parti Québécois projects itself as a broadly left-of-centre party, won an absolute majority in the Holyrood parliament, quite an accomplishment under a proportional electoral system. Labour, Scotland’s traditional premier party, lagged well behind. In the elections to the Strasbourg parliament , the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) triumphed, with Labour a disappointing second (the Tories came third). The upsurge in the UKIP vote to 27.5 per cent sent shock waves through the political system. Since, UKIP has managed since to hold fast at around 15 per cent in the polls – way ahead of the Tories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
The European elections were soon overshadowed by the battle over the Scottish independence referendum. Over the summer the margin of a No victory narrowed sharply. In the event, No won quite comfortably (55 to 45 per cent) on an extremely high turnover of 85 per cent – the highest ever recorded in U.K. electoral history. If the vote had gone otherwise, the implications for Labour would have been dire. Of the 58 Scottish seats, Labour holds 40, the Lib Dems 11, the SNP six and the Tories one. Deprived of its Scottish seats, Labour would have struggled mightily to win a majority in 2015. This cloud has now been lifted.