Guest post: My four general election predictions – Ben Cobley (A Free Left Blog)

Today on the blog I am privileged to have some guest predictions from Ben Cobley, the man behind A Free Left Blog. Ben blogs from London and can be found on Twitter at @bencobley. Here are his four predictions for the coming general election:

‘Soothsaying is not really my thing normally – which is why it’s rather nice to have a go at it. But, as for who is going to win the election and by how much, I can only repeat a version of the general consensus from the geeks who study the daily polls. They say we will either have a Labour minority government or a Conservative minority government, or another coalition – Labour-Lib Dems, Conservative-Lib Dems or Conservative-DUP. I see no reason to doubt this.

Nevertheless, there are a few things that are perhaps worth saying which have not been covered extensively already.

  1. The next Parliament will be one of rancour and increasing anti-politics mood.

Narrow majorities, coalitions and minority governments generally make for feverish politics. That the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition has endured and remained stable over the past five years is remarkable, but I can’t see that happening again this time, whoever forms the government and under what arrangement. That is, unless the mathematics delivers more or less the same result, but this is unlikely since both the Tories and Lib Dems look set to lose seats.

The mathematics will make each Parliamentary vote a potential battle for whichever government we end up with. For Labour I think this would be particularly problematic, especially if it is relying on Scottish Nationalist support. The media noise will be intense, with any weaknesses and/or controversial proposals feasted upon. It won’t be pretty, and the sense that our politics isn’t working will become even greater than it is now. Many people, especially on the left, will see this as a problem with our democracy but it will be better seen as a problem with the main parties themselves, neither of which makes sense as an entity like they used to.

  1. But nothing major will happen in party political terms.

I’ve been pondering over the possibility that our politics may go back to the 18th Century sort of system in which floating groups of factions make fleeting alliances to form governments. This would be logical if only if it wasn’t for our political system and the age of mass democracy in which you need access to a lot of voters to get anywhere. Factions within parties rely on their party machines for organisation and funding; breaking away is a big risk which not many will take. It is only realistic when there is somewhere else to go, as with Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless jumping over to UKIP. I can’t see any Labour MPs jumping off anywhere, whether to the Greens or to UKIP or a socialist party (unless the exceptional circumstances detailed below transpire). I also can’t see any more Tories moving to UKIP because…

  1. UKIP will fail to make much headway, but could a split follow?

The UKIP brand has become toxic due to constant media attention on the nutcases and racists that the party has been attracting. I actually have a little sympathy for them, since it is inevitable that any party standing against continuing mass immigration (which is perfectly reasonable in itself) will attract racists and idiots, especially from a right wing base. Kippers are not all loonies, but enough are, and the media has seized on that.

So in places without strong local organisation to counter the bad publicity and reassure the decent majority of voters, UKIP will fall down and fail to make much headway. The party’s supporters make a lot of their expectations of becoming the opposition to Labour in Labour’s northern heartlands. However, to follow this through in the next few years, they would have to become another party, a lot less Shire Tory – or else arrange an amicable split between left-leaning north and right-leaning south. Things could start to get interesting if this happens, but will they be brave enough to go ahead? If they don’t do something their party will surely ebb away.

  1. The ‘Green surge’ will die a death – and they will blame the media

A YouGov poll for The Sun now has the Green Party down on 4%, having previously gone up as far as double figures. This was inevitable as the party and its hapless leader Natalie Bennett finally started to get a bit of exposure in the media. At first this benefitted them as an unknown force claiming to offer a clear alternative. But scrutiny and exposure are bad for the Greens. Bennett is so bad she makes you feel sorry for her, but the party’s policy positions are perhaps even worse. They seem almost set out to deter everyday voters: from abolishing the armed forces to loads more immigration and loads more public spending. They seem most interested in pleasing their core vote – a quite particular band of people – rather than reaching out to a broader base of support, and they will suffer for it.

At 4% the Greens can’t go much lower, but I certainly don’t see them rising back very far. One question is if they are doing any better in their target seats, and though admittedly I am no expert about these I just can’t see it happening for them. To break through in a first-past-the-post system you need to be clever, well-organised and project a good image: none of which applies. Caroline Lucas will probably retain her seat in Brighton because incumbency matters, she is likeable and intelligent, and folk there will likely gather around her as one of their MPs. But that will likely be it.

So the #GreenSurge boasts of Green supporters will be dashed in the election. Having fought a comfort zone campaign, they will then retreat even further into those comfort zones afterwards, blaming the media when they should be looking at themselves.

You may ask why I am so bothered about the Greens. I am a Labour member, but a decent, coherent, centre-left pro-environment and pro-nature party would actually be my most natural home in politics. The Greens need a complete change in direction to become anything like that, and given that they’ve attracted in all sorts of far left types in recent times, there is little hope of this change happening. I find this very disappointing.’

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The Condition of the Left in England

'A grotesque mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism.' Skeptic and linguaphile.

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