Local Elections 2012: a powerful blow from an effective opposition, or a voter-toxic Coalition?

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c/o NevilleHobson

By Luke Prescott

The local elections in England, Scotland and Wales have seen huge gains for the Labour party. Indeed, if mirrored in a general election vote Labour would have a comfortable majority, with Labour taking 38%, the Tories on 31% and the Lib Dems 16%. Big gains across swing seats in the South and Midlands illustrate that Labour and Ed Miliband are making the required headway into the seats that decide elections; even in Cameron’s own backyard.

So, is Ed Miliband leading Labour back to power for 2015 with an effective opposition? Not exactly; the current government is an opposition in itself and does not require a formal opposition to sit in Parliament alongside it. Cameron and Clegg (along with their lieutenants) wage war with each other on a number of issues (like the AV referendum) and have been doing so for some time. The beleaguered and delayed reform of the House of Lords is likely to give way to more open disagreement between the PM and Deputy PM.

The infighting of the Coalition is not going away, for both parties’, it useful in distinguishing themselves as each Party proves toxic to their opposite party’s core voters. This provides breathing space for Labour, as the Coalition partners save the most visceral of attacks for one another. Such an atmosphere is new to the opposition, and Ed Miliband needs to seize the opportunity to run a clean campaign in the run up to the general election.

Whilst the Lib Dems bleed the Tories by seemingly tying them down to the centre ground, and the Lib Dems haemorrhage voters, Miliband can concentrate, not on attacks, but on saving the NHS and tangible plans to nurture the economy back to health. Tory MP Gary Streeter has suggested that the Conservative party faithful are ”gagging” for the government to veer right on domestic issues traditionally seen to be in the Tory backyard, such as law and order, and the police. These credentials have been damaged of late; the cuts to police forces are seemingly to blame for the riots spreading around London, and the rest of the country.

Not only domestic issues, but the rise of UKIP (securing around 13% of votes where it fielded candidates) is also an inevitable source of tension. UKIP have seized the EU vacuum. Pressure has mounted on Cameron from influential elements of the Tory party to renegotiate and repatriate powers from the EU before the next election.

The pressure to veer right on domestic issues, such as the upcoming Lords Reform and Tory backbenchers eager for a Euro-showdown, will lead to disarray in the Coalition in the lead up to 2015. Ed Miliband has two roles in opposition: to derail the current Government, and then to promote his own. With one of these responsibilities taken care of already, Labour can concentrate on portraying themselves as the natural successors of the beleaguered Coalition in 2015. A positively run campaign will distinguish Labour and Ed Miliband from the pack, as voters shun austerity and hardship for a more optimistic vision.

However, a pit fall may come in the danger of losing national focus. The major legislative debates over the coming years will lead to inter-coalition battles and the media will continue to feed into the idea of a strained marriage between two coalition partners, seemingly putting on a brave face for the kids. Ed Miliband and Labour will struggle to be heard at times, and a danger is that at the next election they may look like the kid at a wedding, struggling to find a seat at the grown up’s table.

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