Can Labour expect a drubbing on June 5th?
Cast your mind back to the last Euro Elections which were held on the same day as the local elections on June 10th 2004. In the weeks beforehand the Tories had suffered serious opinion poll reverses as UKIP’s strength started to emerge and all the predictions were that the Tory leader of just eight months, Michael Howard, was going to fail at his first major electoral test.
Yet when it came to real votes the outcome was terrible for Labour as can be seen in the panel above. The GB vote share of 22.6% that Blair’s Labour secured was unprecedented for a governing party in a national election. The Tories had “won” by a sizeable margin.
If that’s what happened to Labour in the relatively benign environment of four and a half years ago what can Brown’s party expect on June 5th 2009? However you read it the Tories are doing much better than then and could be set up nicely if the general election is not on the same day or has been held beforehand.
Gordon Brown, surely, does not want to go into the final period before the general election with his party seen as a big time loser?
But that’s not all. It’s not just the Euro Election where Labour could suffer on June 5th – there are the local elections planned for that day as well.
And here’s the rub – the vast bulk of these will take place in wards and divisions that were last fought on May 5th 2005 – the day of the last general election which inevitably led to local turnouts being way above what happens when they are held on their own.
And turnouts in the 30s rather than the 60% average of 2005 will add further to Labour’s toll. For the overwhelming challenge Brown’s party faces is getting its vote out in elections when the government of the country is not at stake.
So a June 5th 2009 general election or one just beforehand solves a lot of problems for the PM who in the spring will, no doubt, be boosted by the G20 meeting which has been scheduled for London for April. As host there should be plenty of photo opportunities for him and Barack Obama.
In spite of all of this I am far from convinced that he will do it. The polls are not going to return to what they were in September 2007 and for any prime minister general election timing is a massive decision where deferral is often the easiest option.
Gordon will be very aware that Harold Wilson probably got it wrong by going too early in 1970; Edward Heath should have gone earlier in February 1974 but dithered and then lost and, Labour lost power in 1979 when Jim Callaghan might have clung on if he had gone in October 1978.