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History not on Labour’s side

By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Is Sir Keir Starmer heading for a landslide or will the General Election be a close run thing? Jim reports on two major surveys this week that reached very different conclusions.

One hundred years ago this week, Ramsey McDonald became Labour’s first Prime Minister. With the Liberal Party soon to go into steep decline, it could be expected that the Tories and Labour would divide up power fairly equally between them over the next century.

The reality has been that Labour have only held power for thirty-three of those hundred years. Of the 25 General Elections held since 1923, Labour has only won decisively on five occasions, three of them being under Tony Blair.

I mention these historical facts because there have been two major opinion polls out this week, predicting very different fates for Sir Keir Starmer this year, and I know the one I believe.

The Daily Telegraph ran a poll on Monday predicting a Labour majority of 120. It was commissioned by a previously unknown organisation called Conservative Britain Alliance. Its results were accompanied by doom laden warnings from Lord Frost, the arch Brexiteer. Its intention seems to have been to warn Tory moderates to toughen the Rwanda Bill or face election oblivion.

Then came a poll with a very different view on Labour’s prospects. The BBC carried a survey conducted on their behalf by the respected pollsters Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher. The academics gave an estimate of what the result of the 2019 General Election would have been if it had been fought on the new constituency boundaries that will be applied this year.

Their conclusion is that Labour needs a national swing of 12.7% to get an overall majority. Tony Blair only got a swing of 10.2% in his landslide victory in 1997.

Labour spokespeople are right to repeat the mantra that they are not complacent despite their huge poll lead. A combination of an improving economy, a dangerous world situation, and the uninspiring ultra caution of Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Rachael Reeves could see that gap close.

In the meantime, let’s remind ourselves of that first, short lived government. It came about after the Tory Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, blundered into an ill-advised election. A similar mistake was made by Theresa May in 2017. In 1923 Baldwin wanted tariffs to protect the British economy. Labour and the Liberal were against. The result had the Tories nearly seventy seats ahead of Labour, but lacking an overall majority, with the Liberals thirty behind Macdonald. Not for the last time the Liberal leader made the wrong call as king maker. Herbert Asquith decided to give Labour a chance in power, not realising that in the 1924 General Election the vast majority of workers would decide they should in future be represented by Labour not the Liberals.

Macdonald’s government only lasted months. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia had only taken place six years before and many thought Labour was the thin end of a similar red wedge into British politics.

The 1929 Labour government was ended by the world slump. Clement Attlee headed, what many regard as the most successful Labour government after the war. Harold Wilson won four elections between 1964-74 but only one convincingly in 1966.

The forty odd years since 1979 have been dominated by the Tories with the exception of the triple victories of Tony Blair.

The likelihood is that Sir Keir Starmer will form a government. It may be a minority one, and given the huge economic problems, there is already speculation about how long he will last. History would suggest not long. It is up to Starmer and his team to try and change the historic pattern and make Labour once and for all the normal party of power.

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