Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CLARION COMMENT: Taking bets on the General Election?

In Editorial on January 30, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Nearer and nearer draws the time when we’ll be back to our nearest polling booths to cast our votes. The next General Election is now a matter of months away – a thought that should be enough to focus the mind of anyone involved in politics.  It’s time to sort out our policies, to set out our stalls, and begin campaigning in earnest.

Not so long ago, Labour supporters in our midst might well have been fairly confident that victory was heading their way. It seemed to be almost inevitable. Labour had been consistently ahead in the polls, the Tories were becoming increasingly unpopular – and as for the Liberal Democrats, what can we say that’s printable?  Their ill-starred alliance with the Tories in the ConDem austerity Government has left them with plunging support. Optimistically,  they may be lucky to hang on to about half their present tally of seats.

But a couple of months in politics can be a long time – particularly if you’re a Labour supporter. Since the Scottish referendum there’s been an unexpected surge in support for the SNP which poses a real threat to Labour in its heartland north of the border. Indeed some of our gloomier poll pundits suggest that Labour seats in Scotland could go down like ninepins.

THE UKIP FACTOR:

There’s also been the rise in support for UKIP, resulting in that party gaining its first toehold in Parliament.  Whilst theoretically UKIP’s surge in the polls  should be damaging the Tories most, results so far suggest that the “kippers” are capable of eating into Labour’s support as well.  These latter-day Poujardists* are basically populists whose policies are little more than (often inconsistent) slogans. And for many voters, there is sadly a gut appeal to the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe message.

AND WHAT OF THE GREENS?

It’s not just UKIP that’s been enjoying increasing support. The Green Party is now level-pegging with the Liberal Democrats in the opinion polls. Indeed, if the Greens fail to win more seats it will only be because of the distortions produced by our electoral system.  Here we have a party that could be considered to the left of Labour on many of its policies.  It’s not just on its basic “green” appeal, though such issues must be considered important. On a wider platform, the party opposes the austerity packages endorsed by the three main parties. And it does believe in public ownership where appropriate (such as the railways, for example).

This increase in support for what were once considered to be “fringe” parties suggests that old political loyalties are breaking down.  We can’t make the same assumptions about the way the electorate might vote. Or, indeed, which party is most likely to be in a position to form the next government. Which raises the question,  are we likely to see another coalition in power after the election (though, hopefully, one of a different hue)?

Finally, it’s difficult to predict at this stage how far the controversy over the performance of Labour’s leader might affect the party’s showing in the polls. The issues involved are covered elsewhere in this issue – but, to put it briefly, in November the media was highlighting the suggestion that dissatisfaction with Ed Miliband’s leadership was provoking moves within the party to replace him with a new pair of hands. How far this was based on mere media speculation is still hard to tell.

But as we said earlier, a couple of months in politics is a long time. And it’s rather longer than that before we go to the polls in May.  As for those of us in the Forest, most of us surely will be campaigning to replace Mark Harper with an MP who will stand up for our interests and those of the community in which we live.  And for many of us, the choice will have to be Steve Parry– Hearn, our Labour candidate.

* Postscript: “Poujardist” was the term coined to describe supporters of French politician, Pierre Poujard, who, in the 1950s, founded an “anti tax” party, which had particular appeal amongst small shopkeepers, merchants and farmers. In 1956 it gained 51 seats in the French Assembly. It went on to become increasingly xenophobic, appealing particularly to voters who had a nostalgic view of what they saw as “the good old days”.

By the mid ‘sixties the “Poujardists” as an organised force had faded. But one young member who’d been elected to the French Assembly on the Poujard ticket was Le Pen – who went on to found the right-wing Front National.

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