Image © The Freedom Association
Since the 2010 general election, there has been much doom written by left-wing commentators about the British electorate leaning further and further towards the right. Ed Miliband’s ever-scathing critic, Dan Hodges, stated that ‘the electorate is shifting to the Right, not to the Left’ and argued that Labour must consequently move there too. There is an element of truth in the assessment that on issues such as Europe, immigration and the economy, the political right is currently more popular. However, there has not been a clear shift of support from Labour to the Tories since the election. Labour has increased its support since 2010, both in terms of membership and according to polls surveying voting intentions. There has though been a different shift to the political right occurring: the transfer of support from the Conservatives to UKIP, a development that could be of vital importance come 2015. Labour can benefit from this fracture amongst England’s political right much in the same way that the SDP/Liberal/Labour divides in the 1980s aided three successive Thatcher governments. Defection of votes from the Tories to UKIP helped Labour squeeze past in marginal seats in 2010. This effect seems only likely to increase as right-wing dissatisfaction deepens with this government.
The problem for Cameron is that many right-wing voters and politicians see his coalition government as weak on issues of core importance. In his memoirs discussing his years in parliament, ‘A Walk-On Part’, former Labour MP Chris Mullin noted on the day of the 1997 election result that ‘victory is not when our side get the red dispatch boxes and the official cars, but when something changes for the better.’ This line of criticism, that there is no point being in power if you fail to get the right policies enacted, can be seen in every negative left-wing account of New Labour. Increasingly, it seems that Thatcherite backbenchers and voters are having this same thought about the present government. Their aims are not being met, dissatisfaction is rumbling ever louder and UKIP’s policies are looking more attractive.
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