On the 7th May the prevailing view was that this Parliament would be hung. No, not like that; I said would, not should. There was no path to a Conservative outright majority – no party had managed an increase in support after a period leading a Government before. The Prime Minister would be Ed Miliband and his weak coalition would be propped up by a range of SNP, Plaid Cymru, the SDLP, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Why, then, are we assuming that in 2020 there can be no way back for Labour? Given the size of the Tory majority – just 12 seats – we’re hardly in 1997 or 1983 territory.
Yet already the Labour Party has been consigned to the opposition benches for at least the next Parliament, and possibly the one after that, by increasingly shrill and discordant voices on both the left and the right.
There is no reason Labour cannot win in 2020. And for those claiming that the party could be consigned to history, I point to the Lib Dems, polling in the single digits under Menzies Campbell, who went on to join the coalition Government, after the whole “I agree with Nick” thing. Never write off the ability of the British public to do a damned silly thing. Or for them to do it in a damned silly way.
The Tory Government have two big hurdles to cross if they want to make a second/third term. Firstly, the European referendum: it will undoubtedly see the Government split from head to toe, and nobody votes for a split party. Secondly the Cameron resignation: Dave has already announced he won’t seek a third term as PM. So whoever Labour choose as leader will face either George Osborne or Boris Johnson or “some other Tory”. Probably George Osborne, who will spend the next four years as Chancellor making damned sure he is elected leader of the party.
For Labour it is somewhat easier. They know where they stand on Europe. They’re for staying in. So, currently, is a majority of the population. As the Tories spending cuts make less and less sense – cutting maintenance grants for poor students strikes me as a particularly odd thing for someone who professes to believe in a leg up to do – the public will turn against them. After 10 years as Chancellor, will people really want to see George Osborne’s face on TV for another 5 years as PM? And will people remember what happened to the last Chief Executive style Chancellor when he finally became PM?
The electoral maths look bad for Labour – though the Tory plan to reduce the number of seats actually helps them now – and the Scottish situation is a nightmare.
But don’t write them off; don’t assume that the Tories will win in 2020. Lots of water will flow under the Orwell Bridge in that time.