Today’s poll conducted by Angus Reid for politicalbetting.com shows the Conservatives no less than thirteen points ahead of Labour (39-26) with the Liberal Democrats close behind on 21%.
One or two posters speculated that the REAL battle in the forthcoming General Election campaign wouldn’t be for victory but for second place between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
This provoked some interest but it’s not a thought that thoughtful Conservatives would relish – indeed, it’s the very stuff of Tory nightmares.
In 1987, there was a by-election in Greenwich. I worked for the Alliance candidate and what happened was fascinating. Once it became clear the SDP was second and the Conservatives were nowhere, the Tory vote disintegrated but, more interestingly, as the SDP advanced, the Labour vote fell back too as voters jumped on the bandwagon and the final swing of around 16% from Labour to the SDP was far greater than anyone expected.
What happened ? Put simply, the reason for the political duopoly was exploded from the within in this one locale. The Conservative and Labour parties enjoy a symbiotic existence – for most Conservatives, the rationale for voting Tory is to keep Labour out while for Labour supporters the main reason for voting Labour is to keep the Conservatives out. The logic of that is that IF the rationale for voting for one of the parties is removed, the rationale for voting for the other goes with it.
Therefore, it serves the Conservatives to keep Labour as a viable threat because it justifies their own existence and the same is true for Labour. The cosy duopoly remains as long as the two parties keep each other as the principal threat and focus and therefore each has a reason for keeping the other alive.
IF it became clear and generally accepted that Labour were in third and stood no chance of winning nationally, two things would happen:
1) The Labour vote would disintegrate further.
2) The Conservative vote would start to fall in sympathy.
The nightmare for David Cameron would be for a set of polls ten days before polling showing the Conservatives ten to twelve points ahead of the Liberal Democrats with Labour back in third. As the perception spread with growing media coverage, Cameron would find his own lead failing as his supporters come to realise they could vote Liberal Democrat safe in the knowledge Labour wouldn’t win.
By polling day, the Liberal Democrat bandwagon could have rolled right over Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg could be heading to Downing Street.
It probably won’t happen but watch how the Conservative and Labour parties support each other if it even looks possible….