Ukip likely to play defining role in determining next PM's prospects

One year out from a general election and party strategists are eyeing fickle voters

Labour leader Ed Miliband, Lib Dems leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron are a mere 12 months away from testing their popularity at the polls. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/PA

Labour leader Ed Miliband, Lib Dems leader and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron are a mere 12 months away from testing their popularity at the polls. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/PA

Fri, May 9, 2014, 01:02

Nick Clegg went to a nightclub this week – although admittedly one of London’s most famous ones, the Ministry of Sound – to launch his party’s campaign in this month’s local elections in England.

Given the party’s unpopularity at national level, a few in the nightclub could have been forgiven for thinking that a nightclub with the word “ministry” in the title may be as close as any of them will ever again get to power.

The general election is just a year away, unless something extraordinary happens to break the alliance that has lasted since May 2010 between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

For now an early break-up is unthinkable, though difficult days lie ahead for both in the European Parliament and, indeed, the local elections to be held on May 22nd. Civil servants are concerned that they will face partisan pressures in the year ahead.

Labour leads in the national polls, though the gap is narrowing. Wages for some groups – not public service workers – are rising for the first time in five years. Growth figures are rising. Voters, however, are cantankerous.


Mixed messages
Predictions are useless so far out from an election. However, the landscape is particularly complicated for those who might like to try their luck this time since it is filled with utterly contradictory signals.

Broken down, voter preferences read as follows: the Tories are judged to be the best on the economy and crime. Labour, confusingly, are believed to be better on dealing with the cost of living. The United Kingdom Independence Party, on the other hand, scores best on immigration.

British prime minister David Cameron, though disliked by many, is seen as the one who most looks like a prime minister. Labour’s Ed Miliband is considered honest and most in touch with the British public – but also, in the same breath, seen as remote and geekish.

Meanwhile, it has been an axiom of British politics that the opposition wins power only if has a reputation for better economic management than the government it is seeking to dislodge. Despite all of the difficulties since 2010 Labour has never once occupied that position.

Despite this, Miliband has occasionally chimed with public opinion – once, or twice he actually led it – by favouring state direction of the business world, most notably when he proposed an energy price freeze.

Now, Miliband has widened his agenda, proposing curbs on rent increases. Some of his prospective MPs propose a state takeover of the railways, an idea popular even with those who would regard themselves as Tory.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, believe that they will lose perhaps a third of their House of Commons seats, yet still remain a viable player in post-election coalition talks that they see as inevitable.

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