History should not give cause for optimism for Labour

Ed Miliband needs to conquer is his image problem which, four years on from taking the leadership of the party, remains a noose around the party’s neck.

Ed Miliband needs to conquer is his image problem which, four years on from taking the leadership of the party, remains a noose around the party’s neck

Next year’s General Election will be one in which the near impossible will have occurred whatever the result.

Should the Conservatives seize the levers of powers they will have defied historical precedents and increased its share of the vote whilst in power between elections.

The last time that happened was Harold Wilson in 1974, and even that was a special case which saw the country going to the polls twice in a year as a response to the hung parliament elected in the February of that year.

The re-election of a coalition government, of whatever form, would also be unprecedented in recent electrical history.

What then of the mountain facing Labour as Ed Miliband prepares later today to deliver his final rallying call to the party faithful ahead of the General Election?

His mission is clear – to ensure that Labour remains a one-term opposition. The last time this was achieved however was in 1970, when Edward Heath managed to bring Harold Wilson’s first government to an end after just one term.

History then makes any result next year highly unusual.

What then of the polling?

Since 1979, there have been just three changes in the governing party. Thatcher took the keys of Downing Street from James Callaghan in 1979; Tony Blair comprehensively beat John Major’s Conservatives in 1997 and in 2010 we know what happened.

Based on data within Ipsos Mori’s historical archives, the figures do not bode well for Ed Miliband or the Labour Party more widely.

Looking just at the polling data from the conferences prior to each General Election, in September 1978, ahead of Thatcher’s victory the year after, the data put the Conservatives on 48 per cent against Labour’s 42 per cent.

In September 1996, New Labour had effectively sealed the deal, with the polling having put the party on 52 per cent against the Conservatives 29 per cent.

For the Conservatives in September 2009, Ipsos Mori saw the party polling 36 per cent against Labour on 24 per cent.

The lesson from recent history is clear – the party going into the final conference ahead of the general election has found themselves either winning outright or being the dominate force within government.

With this month’s survey data from Ipsos putting the Tories on 34 per cent, one percentage point ahead of Labour, the party would need to pull a rabbit out of the hat if it is to form a government next year.

But the second mountain Ed Miliband needs to conquer is his image problem which, four years on from taking the leadership of the party, remains a noose around the party’s neck.

Whilst those in Labour circles might point to the polling in September 1978 which put Jim Callaghan ahead of Thatcher when voters were asked who they were most satisfied with, despite the Conservatives going on to win the following year, this remains the exception to the rule.

In September 1996, Blair led Major on satisfaction rates by 13 percentage points whilst David Cameron, at the same time in 2009, enjoyed a 16 percentage point lead over Gordon Brown.

With this month’s Ipsos Mori polling putting David Cameron’s satisfaction ratings at 39 per cent compared to Ed Miliband’s 29 per cent, the Labour leader has everything to do to persuade a sceptical public that the party and he himself in particular is ready to govern for the One Nation he spoke about in Manchester two years ago.

History does not give cause for optimism.

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