Now that the storm-in-a-teacup in the PLP, orchestrated by 3 ne’er-do-well malcontents and gleefully inflated by the Tory tabloids, is over, it is as well to assess the state of play before another bout of self-indulgent hysterics blows up. Before the PLP gets afflicted again with a turn of the jitters, look at the evidence. The latest poll puts Labour on 32%, the Tories on 31%, UKIP on 14% and the LibDems trailing at 11%. This 1% Labour lead is dismissed as wafer-thin and fragile – and of course a 5-10% lead would be much more reassuring – but the significance of that 1% is widely misunderstood. If there were an election now with that polling distribution deployed across the country in a uniform swing, Labour would now have 55 more seats than the Tories and with 321 seats would be just 5 seats short of an overall majority. Not a bad position from which to start an election campaign! Nor is this just a polling freak. Just 6 months ago in the May elections Labour ended up with a virtually identical spread of votes across the country – actual votes, not responses to pollsters – which left the party just 4 seats short of an overall majority. So despite the roller-coaster of the last 6 months, Labour remains in a potentially commanding position.
There’s a lot more evidence that is relevant too. The Survation poll only a day or two earlier put Labour again on 31%, but the Tories at 27%and UKIP at 23% – a bigger margin over the Tories and UKIP exerting greater damage to the Tories. The Rochester by-election in a week’s time will almost certainly fall to UKIP, which will very likely provoke further Tory defections. The Financial Times has already identified 2 weeks ago 5 Tory MPs who would be more likely to keep their seats if they defected to UKIP. The Tory party is already on the cusp of a split over Europe, and the only question is whether it happens before or after the election. The Tory shambles in the debate (or rather non-debate) in the Commons on Monday over the European Arrest Warrant shows how far the rot has already set in. Perhaps most significant of all, Ashcroft’s polling points up another crucial point, that Labour’s lead in the marginals where it really counts is higher than the average across the country.
None of this is to suggest it’s a done deal. It certainly isn’t. The major inroads by UKIP and the SNP provide a major confounding element of uncertainty, and both have to be addressed though not by a welter of personal attacks which nearly always turn out counter-productive. What is needed are two things. One is a rapid rebuttal machine to counter quickly and effectively the lies increasingly pouring out of the Tory machine. The other, even more important, is a commanding narrative focused on the 4 or 5 central issues on which Labour intends to fight the election, and then to stick to them through hell or high water all the way to the election.