Jon Craig: All the signs point to years of tears for Labour

Written by Jon Craig on 4 April 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

Some polls should be believed. Just not the ones Ed Miliband was relying on in 2015

Ed Miliband claimed this week he doesn't recall whether he cried after he lost the 2015 general election. But he did admit it was "a terrible shock".

"I believed the polls," he told stand-in presenter Eddie Mair on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. "I won't believe them again."

Ed should have heeded the warnings of Robert, now Lord, Hayward, the former Tory MP turned political number-cruncher. Two years ago, at a briefing for political journalists, Hayward said the opinion polls had Labour's support too high and the Tories' too low and he predicted victory for David Cameron. Last year he forecast a victory for Leave in the EU referendum, when most pollsters and pundits were predicting a win for Remain. Which is why his prediction this week, that Labour will lost 125 council seats, the Tories and the LibDems will each gain 100 and UKIP will lose 80-90 in the local elections on May 4 looks credible.

Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, another reliable elections guru, reckons Labour is heading for its worst local election results since 1985 or, worse, 1982.

We should probably discount 1982, however, because that was the year of the Falklands War, when Margaret Thatcher got a huge poll bounce which a year later helped her win a 144-seat landslide in the 1983 general election.

Ah, the Falklands! Perhaps Theresa May should declare war on Spain over Gibraltar, as Michael Howard suggested at the weekend, if she wants a 1982-style poll boost!

Well, actually, opinion polls suggest she doesn't need to. Lord Hayward also predicts the PM would win a 100-seat majority if she called a snap general election this year. "My expectation is if there was an election this year - and I don't expect there will be one - the Tory majority would be towards 100," he says.

I've never thought there would be a general election his year either, for many reasons. One of them is that a thumping defeat would probably rid the Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, so Theresa May would be doing Labour a favour. Far better for the Tories to prolong Labour's misery. As Tony Blair says in Progress magazine this week: "Ask yourself one simple question. In the Prime Minister's office, in Tory high command, how much of their time do they spend worrying about the prospect of a Labour victory at the present time? I would guess zero."

Explaining his local elections prediction, Hayward says: "It will be a reflection of where the Labour Party actually is. It's not appealing to its old core of working class voters in the midlands, the North and Scotland."

As a result, Labour is set to lose control of key county councils like Lancashire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire in England and faces "cataclysmic" losses in Scotland, including losing control of Glasgow, according to Hayward.

The Tories will be boosted by "the Ruth Davidson effect" in Scotland, he predicts.

Overall, says Tony Travers, May 4 will see the first major gains in local elections by a party in power at Westminster since 1985. Normally, governments lose council seats mid-term. We shouldn't be surprised if the Conservatives do make big gains, though. Their victory in the Copeland by-election on February 23 was the first by-election gain by a governing party since Mitcham and Morden in 1982. So there's a trend emerging.

Nor should we be surprised by a LibDem revival on May 4. I've predicted this for some months. Ironically, Brexit has given the most pro-European of all the parties an issue to campaign on and a boost at the polls. The first evidence of Tim Farron's party's revival was slashing the Tory majority in David Cameron's former seat of Witney from 25,000 to just 5,700. Then came the triumph over Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park. So look out for the LibDems bouncing back in their former heartlands of Cornwall and Somerset and possibly Gloucestershire too.

But it's not just the pundits, professors and psephologists predicting gloom for Labour. As Parliament broke up for Easter, I asked a Labour MP from the party's northern heartlands if if was planning to take any time off "Can't," he replied. "Local elections. It's going to be very tough. It's Corbyn. He's toxic on the doorstep."

Not that the loss of 125 council seats on May 4 is likely to hasten the Labour leader's departure. They're stuck with him, it seems.

He will no doubt point to the triumphs of Andy Burnham and others in the mayoral elections also taking place and - barring a shock defeat by The LibDems or George Galloway - the Manchester Gorton by-election as evidence of progress under his leadership.

But if Jeremy Corbyn does lead Labour into the 2020 general election and loses, I'm pretty certain that unlike Ed Miliband in 2015 it won't come as a terrible shock to him.

And - with opinion polls currently showing Labour's support at around 25% and about 15 points behind the Conservatives - I doubt whether he will even contemplate crying.

 

About the author: Jon Craig is chief political correspondent for Sky News

 

Picture credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

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