As MPs and Peers fly to sunnier climes, the start of the summer recess provides a good opportunity to examine the outlook for the Coalition and the Opposition, and foolishly try and predict how the major parties might fare for the rest of this Parliament.
Ed Miliband will pack his suitcase by far the happiest of the three Party leaders. In the past six months public perception of his competence has improved by 32% to -21, whilst David Cameron’s fortunes have had moved in the opposite direction, with approval ratings falling by 22% to -25. Labour is also now seen as more competent than the Government in several areas, including the economy.
In the eyes of the public, the past six months have seen the Government lurch from one catastrophe to another. The poor reception of the budget and the announcement that the UK had officially entered into recession in the first quarter of 2012 have severely undermined the Government’s economic credibility. This has exposed dissatisfaction amongst the Tory backbenches, as well as divisions with the Lib Dems, most obvious in the recent rebellion over Lords Reform.
Yet, any temptation to write off the Conservative’s chances at the next election would be premature. Labour hold an average 10% lead in the polls, but in 1980, with Michael Foot as leader, Labour enjoyed a 24% lead over Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government and lost the 1983 election heavily. Miliband is beginning to be taken seriously by the electorate, but Cameron still is seen as more Prime Ministerial by a 10% margin, and the opposition have yet to convince the public that they can provide a credible alternative to current Government.
History shows that the British public tend to be conservative, with a small c, in times of particular hardship, and Cameron will retain his characteristic confidence that an improvement in the country’s economic performance will improve his party’s fortunes. Cameron will face an increasingly disgruntled Party when the Conference season kicks off, but will hope that the impending reshuffle and re-launch of the coalition will draw a line under the most challenging period he has faced. Yet, whilst Cameron’s inner circle previously believed that the younger Miliband was incapable of providing a realistic threat, the reality is that the outcome of the next election is now too close to call.