All the rage nowadays, it seems a cultural compulsion to partake in the fanatic, social-media marketed pursuit of a certain activity or mood for a precisely defined period of time. Oftenhappiness, this in-vogue peculiarity allows the participant to determine for how long one must endeavour towards this emotion before reclining into a state of grouchy melancholy once more, satisfied that an adequate amount of joy has been achieved for at least the foreseeable future. The influence of this cult is usually negligible when it comes to politicos however, since we are logical/sad/stubborn (delete to preference) enough never to desire the fickle temptation of anything else but cold-hard political analysis. That said, this year may be exceptional. Indeed, for we know that, barring a constitutional or governmental collapse, in 365 days’ time will be the 2015 general election. That means 365 days of non-stop politics, building to a frenetic conclusion on the 7th May. 365 days of politics difficult not to get somewhat fanatic about.
Apart from the date, however, what do we know about the forthcoming election?
Well, as has been the case with most modern British general elections, the battleground on which the major parties will be pitched is sure to be the economy. The Conservatives, in theory, hold a strong advantage in this regard. After all, the boisterous blustering of Balls and co. has in many regards consisted of hot air, red-faced ranting and little else. The economy is growing; the deficit is falling; Labour’s prediction of an economy shackled by austerity and saddled by unemployment has been lambasted as hopelessly inaccurate. Yet to claim that the battle over the economy has been won would be disingenuous. Labour has made substantial inroads (no less into our eardrums) with its ‘cost of living crisis’ rhetoric, something which has arguably shaped the economic debate for the past 12 months. As I have stated previously, the potency of this trope is sure to wain as the economy grows and incomes start to rise. However, inequality will doubtless prove to be a profitable avenue, and one which Labour will be venturing down more and more frequently over the coming twelve months. The Conservatives still haven’t been able to shake off their tag as Tory Bullingdon Boys, and Labour will doubtless use this as a route into the issue of inequality.
I have gone nearly 300 words without mentioning them, but I’m afraid it is unavoidable to leave out a fruitcake from a tea party. Indeed, to the near hysterical delight of UKIP, it also seems that the question of Europe will be near the top of the political agenda in 2015. The problem is, there seems to be near universal confusion (UKIP excluded) as to where a profitable stance is located. Farage is obviously making substantial gains on the issue, but to what extent this is merely a cult of personality, so to speak, blurs the waters where the larger parties are concerned. The likes of Labour cannot benefit hugely from this issue, but they can certainly suffer disastrous losses. As we have seen in the past, Europe is toxic; Labour needs to assume a stance and firmly commit to it, otherwise it could prove a Major electoral nightmare (sorry, the pun was too tempting).
However, as we well know, these next 365 days will not revolve solely around issue-based contests. The Americanization of our political system is more evident than ever; with Obama’s chief election strategists each having picked their dog for the fight. As such- with leader debates now also becoming a firm feature of UK elections- the politics of personality will be more influential than ever. In this scenario, I suspect apathy will be the unwelcome winner. Indeed, we are not experiencing a renaissance of inspiring political leadership; far from it. Political discourse is too often defined by stale soundbites prescribed by backroom spin-doctors, far removed from the passion and spontaneity of day-to-day existence. Yet David Cameron will see himself as having the ascendancy, behind the omnipotent Farage. Ed Miliband will need a character transplant, and Clegg a spine transplant, to come out of any personality encounter unscathed. This could considerably influence the decision of voters on polling day, most of all as to whether to turn up at all.
So, I feel the time is ripe for a prediction. Well, both Cameron and Miliband have a lot more work to do, in what is a relatively short time period, if they want to saunter into the foyer of 10 Downing Street without the clinging embrace of Nick Clegg. However, if I was to place a risk-free £5 bet on the outcome, I would plump for a slender Labour majority. It is true that they are peddling an increasingly steep course where the economy is concerned, and Ed Miliband’s leadership qualities are unconvincing at best, but his policies strike deep into Lib Dem territory. Thus, when the seemingly inevitable occurs; a Lib Dem electoral collapse, Labour will be waiting at the door with the evicted notice. This, more than anything else, will provide the votes Ed needs to paint Westminster red once again.