The real issue at the UK election jpoc opinion
On June the seventh, 2001, the UK will hold a general election. Everyone assumes that the result is a foregone conclusion and that there is little to fight over. The first part of this is correct, the second part is far from certain.
The result has been a foregone conclusion for a little over four years though it is not something that has been discussed. It is a simple fact that in the UK, no government has ever lost at a general election if it has gone into the election with a parliamentary majority of over 150. Tony Blair and New Labour comfortably passed that threshold in May 1997 so, from that date, it was clear that the next election would also return a Labour government.
William Hague recognised this after the 1987 election and he was initially reluctant to stand for election as the Conservative party leader because he knew that there was no possibility of him winning the subsequent general election and forming a government.
He gambled on being able to reduce the majority at that election and thus hold on to the job with the prospect of winning the election to be held at the end of Tony Blair's second term in office.
Now, with New labour holding a larger lead in the opinion polls than at the last election, his strategy is coming unstuck. New Labour will win the 2001 election and it appears that they will do so with an increased majority thus ensuring that they will then go on to win a third term in office in an election likely to be held in the spring or autumn of 2005.
Why is this happening? There are two reasons.
The first is that the Tories have committed the same sort of electoral suicide that afflicted the Labour party in the early nineteen eighties. Then we had the likes of Foot, Benn, Scargill and Hatton in full public view and the public had little difficulty making up its mind about such a ramshackle bunch of idiots who put facile dogmatic posturing ahead of appealing to electors.
The Tories are doing just the same. They have swung so far to the demented right that they have managed to make Michael Portillo look like a reasonable human being! They are a party in which many feel free to express views which are explicitly racist. They are also adopting a policy on the European Union that is somewhere between saying "Everything about the EU is bad but we should stay in" and "Everything about the EU is bad so we should leave." These policies are the same kind of ballot box suicide as Labour's policy of unilateral disarmament was under Michael Foot.
More than this though, they have another problem. In the run up to the 1997 election, I described the situation as being that almost everyone hates the Tories and the only people who will support them are rabid right wingers and people who hate them but who are afraid that the Labour party will wreck the economy.
The out-turn for the economy of the last four years of Labour party rule in the UK has been, by the standards of the previous thirty years, a stellar success. Unemployment has fallen, inflation has been held in check, low interest rates have kept mortgages affordable, growth and investment have been steady.
The UK has not seen such an economic performance since the sixties and, now that the part of the electorate who feared that Labour would trash the economy have come to accept that this is not the case, there is a whole new tranche of New Labour voters.