Sunday 26 October 2014

Miliband's electoral strategy unravelling fast

You could feel sorry for the Labour leader Ed Miliband these days. As his party should be riding high in the polls, the numbers show that barely a simple majority of people would cast their vote for Labour in May. On top of that, pretty much no one, friends and foes alike, thinks that he is prime ministerial material, which begs the question, why vote for the party in the first place. The shadow cabinet appears to have taken leave of absence for the last couple of months, seemingly hoping not to be associated with the car crash at the next general election.

If that was not enough, the Scottish Labour party leader Johann Lamont has just resigned. As a parting shot, she did not neglect to put the knife into Ed Miliband's flagging authority and twist it, for good measure. In her statement she said that the London Labour Party was treating her Scottish Labour Party like a branch office (anybody heard this before? Alun Michael and Wales perhaps?). This is more significant as it may seem at first. Scotland is important to Miliband's chances to form a government next May for several reasons.

Bacon batties are the least of Miliband's problems now

First, his circle has long put all the money on what's called the 35% strategy. In effect, it is the hope that, due to the electoral maths, Labour would get into office without winning over a broad majority of voters. It's of course a strategy borne out of the realisation, that Miliband's appeal to centre ground voters is so vanishingly small, that there is no hope in hell he gets more than 35% in the first place. All other things being equal, this strategy might still work.

This is where Scotland comes in. The second part of the strategy is that Scottish Labour MPs will provide the Westminster majority to heave Miliband into office. Enter devolution and the SNP, the Scottish Nationalists. As part of the deal to win over Scots to vote NO to outright secession, all party leaders offered devolution max to the Scots. Which in effect means that Scottish MSPs (parliamentarians in the Edinburgh parliament) will decide a whole raft of things without interference from London. This however means that Scottish MPs in Westminster should also not vote on English matters (the MPs of the Scottish Nationalist who sit at Westminster have long had a tradition of voluntarily abstaining from votes on English matter). Yet, without Scottish votes in Westminster, Miliband will have no majority to form a government. So, if he grants more autonomy to the Scottish Labour Party, he effectively makes the argument that has been put forward by the Conservative Party for a long time, that is no English government should have a majority solely by virtue of Scottish MPs.

That's where the 35% strategy reveals its fatal flaw. Without the support of Scottish MPs, Miliband wont have a majority, hence no government. So he has to deny Scottish MPs of Labour any independence. Which does not look good for a party that kicked off devolution in the first place.

As this perfect storm is gathering strength, Miliband is doing what his political master, Gordon Brown, used to do: disappear from view. The Labour leader has not been seen or heard since Friday, which may just give an extraordinary insight into his (in)ability to deal with problems once he gets into Number 10. If Miliband does not address this Scottish issue head-on, his electoral chances are fading fast, bacon batty or not.

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