My column for ConHome: Five predictions for 2014

by Stephen Tall on January 1, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here yesterday. It attracted the attention of the Guido Fawkes website for my guesstimate that the Lib Dems could well lose 75% of our current number of MEPs. Not a cheery thought to start 2014 with, I admit – but a hard look at the figures shows it’s not unrealistic (and may even be optimistic…). My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

‘Tis the season for end-of-year predictions for the 12 months to come. Here are five of mine…

1.       The four current main party leaders – Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage – will still lead their parties in a year’s time. They’ll all face threats. Cameron will when Ukip beats the Conservatives in May’s Euro elections; Clegg will when the Lib Dems likely suffer another disappointing set of results in both the locals and the Euros; Miliband will if Labour gets beaten in the Euros and he is forced into an embarrassing compromise with the union paymasters at the special conference he called in the wake of the Falkirk / Unite row; and Farage will as his party and his leadership comes under closer public scrutiny (as already shown by this week’s ‘reverse ferret’ over admitting only Christian but not Muslim refugees from Syria).

2.       The economic recovery will pick up pace and start to be noticed by voters. Growth is forecast to be 2% and unemployment to keep falling – that will start feeding into a more general feel-good factor. However, as real wages won’t begin to rise for another year, you can expect to hear more, much more, from Labour about the ‘cost of living crisis’. Conservatives will hail George Osborne as an economic saviour (as Geoffrey Howe was a generation before) while ignoring how he diluted Plan A when it was failing and how he has post-dated much of the public spending cuts to after the 2015 election. Whatever the facts of the matter, the politics of it is straightforward: a fragile economic recovery suits the Conservatives, who will have only to point at Eds Miliband and Balls and ask “Do you really want to hand the economy back to Labour?” The Lib Dems meanwhile will, I suspect, receive increasing traction for our ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’ pitch to the electorate, acting as a buffer between the worst excesses of either Labour or Conservative single-party rule.

3.       Scotland will vote no in the September referendum on independence. Not a single opinion poll has yet shown a majority backing Alex Salmond’s call for the country to go its own way. At the equivalent stage, the Alternative Vote was well ahead of First-Past-The-Post – yet the status quo ultimately trounced electoral reformers. I expect the margin of victory to preserve the Union to be at least as convincing. Personally I’m ambivalent about Scottish independence: I don’t support it – I favour the federalism of local rule over outright separatism – but I don’t think it would be the doomsday for Scotland or the UK that some foresee.

4.       Labour will still lead the Conservatives in the polls in a year’s time, but it will be closer than the 5% the current average of polls shows – mostly as a result of Labour declining than the Tories’ attracting more support. The polling in 2014 is likely to be quite erratic, as Ukip’s expected strong showing in the Euros will spike their vote, hitting the Tories worst but also Labour. I don’t expect to see much, if any, uplift in the Lib Dems’ flat-lining 10% polling yet (I think it will happen, but much closer to the general election). I think 2014 will mark Ukip’s high point, however: support will drift away the closer we draw to the May 2015 general election. Okay, I’ll stick my neck out… The polling averages for the parties (according to UK Polling Report at 31 Dec 2014) will be Labour 36%, Conservatives 33%, Ukip 14%, Lib Dems 10%.

5.       And while I’m riding for a fall, here’s my current best guess of the Euro election results. I think Ukip will edge the popular vote, but that Labour may still win most seats. Let’s say Ukip 26% (24 seats), Labour 25% (25 seats). That means the number of Conservative MEPs could be halved, down from 26 to 13 on, say, 18% of the vote. And it also means I can see the Lib Dems losing out, notwithstanding the protection offered by proportional representation in these elections – perhaps only retaining three seats compared with our current 12. Think your powers of forecasting are better than mine? Put them to the test here – http://www.euroelection.co.uk/make_prediction – and we can check back on 25 May 2014…