Ed Miliband is more unpopular than Nick Clegg. This is the news that greets Labour activists this week as new polling suggests that the Labour leader is more unpopular than the most vilified politician in British politics today. A poll by ICM conducted for the Guardian put Ed Miliband’s net approval ratings at minus 39% whilst Nick Clegg's rating is minus 37%. For a prospective Prime Minister in waiting, this is disastrous. Labour voters are well aware that their leader is considered “aloof”, “academic” and “odd.” This has led to 43% of the party's own voters claiming Ed Miliband should step down.
However, despite short term difficulties the future looks bright for the Labour party. For whilst they face cyclical problems, their opposition faces much more significant structural issues. I predict that Labour will dominate the 21st century just as the Tories did the 20th and Liberals the 19th. Successive Conservative majorities look unlikely given the party faces three considerable structural challenges.
The most overt to Tory strategists is the inbuilt Labour bias in the electoral system. Due to larger rural constituencies the Tories need around 40% of the vote to secure an overall majority. Conversely the Labour party needs only 35%. With Labour polling well above that at the moment electoral strategists like Douglas Alexander hope to squeeze through a majority in 2015. The truth is that the 36% of the vote the Tories won in 2010 was 1% more than the Labour majority of 2005.
Worse still is the party’s toxicity amongst ethnic minorities. Lord Ashcroft’s polling identifies that the Conservative party picked up just 16% of the ethnic minority vote in 2010. He also identifies that in the 20 most vulnerable Labour seats the Tories failed to win in 2010, the average non-white demographic was 15%. This is in contrast to the 20 most vulnerable seats which the Tories did win; where the non-white demographic was just 6%. This clearly shows how the Tories’ crisis with minorities is costing the party seats. The problem is bad enough when you look at the absolute figures: just 5% of British Muslims identify with the Conservative party. However, unlike the Tory problems with women, this is a demographic which is rapidly expanding. With 35% of British minorities claiming they would “never vote Conservative;” with every General Election that passes a Conservative majority looks more and more unlikely.
Lastly the Conservatives are facing a toxic electoral landscape. Even with their disastrous leader Ed Miliband the Labour party still has a chance of government due to a united left. The current labour poll lead is more stubborn than commentators often suggest. This is because the party has been buoyed by disillusioned Liberal Democrats who believed they were supporting a party to the Left of New Labour. For years Labour lost voters to the Lib Dems due disillusionment with Blair’s “third way project” and the Iraq war. Shocked to find the Liberal Democrats in government with the Conservatives they are now returning home to a more traditional Labour party under Miliband. This is bad enough for the Conservatives; yet UKIP only adds to the crisis. With the largest contingent of UKIP voters still being ex Tories the Conservative party must face a battle for its right wing vote: a battle it has never had before. This is a perfect storm for Tory election hopes.
With palpable economic growth reaching traditional Conservative voters and an unelectable leader in the form of Ed Miliband, it is not unlikely to see Cameron scrape a minority government in 2015. Yet in the longer term a reenergised Labour party coupled with the Conservative’s structural problems look set to resign the party to almost perpetual opposition. Interrupted only by infrequent minority governments.