In the last fortnight the starting gun for the General Election 2015 was fired as the UK’s four biggest political parties – yes, UKIP unfortunately are counted as the fourth – held their annual conferences where they set out their stalls for the next eight months of campaigning.
Back in 2010 when the coalition agreement was signed, many expected and assumed that with just a few months to go until May 2015 – Labour would be comfortably leading the opinion polls and that the new leader – Ed Miliband – would have captured the hearts and minds of the general public.
In reality, few would now be surprised to see David Cameron extend his stay at 10 Downing Street.
At this moment it’s close, too close for those Labour supporters who feel let down by the coalition.
And for Labour it’s far too close for comfort especially with UKIP creeping into the picture, and with the number of voters who would label themselves undecided.
The floating voter. Those in the north who are typically Labour but feel uninspired and let down by the party who is meant to be fighting for them.
And then those Conservative voters who feel the party aren’t being strong enough on immigration and the EU.
For many UKIP is strongly looking like the alternative, as the Liberal Democrats pay the price for selling out party values for a little bit of time in the limelight.
It’s leaving both major parties falling over themselves to play down the UKIP threat while also trying to persuade those floating voters that their party – whether it be Tory or Labour – can provide exactly what they’re looking for.
It’s a lot easier for David Cameron to persuade those in the south – who see UKIP as the tougher Tory Party- to vote for him in May.
Infact the Tory Party conference did just this for many – a promise of lower taxes for the rich and tougher policy on immigration and EU.
These promises, if kept, can easily eradicate the UKIP attraction for the nervous Tory voter.
It’s not so easy for Ed and the Labour Party.
The threat of losing next year’s general election was very real even before the rapid rise of UKIP.
The consensus is that this is largely down to Ed Miliband and his inability to appeal to the common man.
Politics is a game of charm when it get downs to it; policy matters very little if you’re a good orator and know how to work a crowd.
Ed doesn’t but Dave and Nigel can, and that has set alarm bells ringing for the Labour Party. The average Tory voter likes Cameron, the same can’t be said for the average Labour voter and Ed. For many he’s indecisive, weak and lacks any ideas for real change. But again, all that can be forgiven or pushed under the carpet if Ed could capture the imagination of the crowd.
Unfortunately for him, it’s gaffe after gaffe. From the bacon sandwich incident to forgetting to mention the deficit in his conference speech. Ed seems awkward and out of his depth; it’s arguably effecting his popularity.
A YouGov pol on the 7th October carried out for The Sun newspaper put the Tories ahead of Labour by 2%: 35%-33%. That followed one from the 6th October carried out by Lord Ashcroft which also put Labour trailing the Tories.
However, two polls carried out by Populus this month makes better reading for Labour putting them ahead of the Tories 37% to 33%, although questions over Ed’s leadership qualities remain.
Former Labour deputy PM John Prescott questioning last week whether Ed really is the man to take the party forward.
The Labour Peer accused Miliband of being ‘too timid’ while writing in his Sunday Mirror column on the 6th October.
“Ed seems to be pursuing a core vote strategy of getting 31 per cent of traditional Labour supporters with a few ex-Lib Dem voters. He might as well have said at the end of his conference speech: ‘Go back to your constituencies and prepare for coalition'” wrote the 76-year-old.
And the criticism has continued for Ed, from party doners and other peers angry at the proposed mansion tax.
All in all Ed is lacking support from his party and those on the ground, so much so his deputy, Harriet Harman had to again deny suggestions that he would face a leadership challenge in the next few weeks.
Is one needed? The recent by-election in Heywood and Middleton, Greater Manchester, where Labour regained its seat by just over 600 votes (collecting 11,633 votes compared to 18,699 in 2010) suggests that voters are becoming readily disenchanted by the party.
Is it policy? Yes. Is it Ed? Probably more so, but who is out there to replace him? Some would say Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham and others are calling for Alan Johnson to return.
Others are questioning whether anyone in the fold would actually do enough to save Labour before May 2015.
Can Ed survive? It’s surely going to be interesting.