Talking at the Fabian Society’s conference today, I pointed out that the past is not always a helpful guide to the political future. After all, Labour is wanting to return to power after spending just one term in opposition. It has done that before – and each time it has, it has done it by keeping the leader who lost the previous election.
So there it is: history says ditch Ed Miliband, forget about the dysfunctional style that forced Tony Blair to kidnap a civil servant and bring back Gordon.
However, the past can at least make clear what the basic parameters are within which events are being run this time around. In the case of the 2015 election, it’s useful to look at how parties have changed in their popularity between the January of the year before a general election and polling day itself.
Taking, therefore, the data from my database of opinion polls since 1945, we find that in five of the last six Parliaments the opposition’s position has worsened between the January of the year before and the subsequent general election. If the average movement all six happened again this time, we’d have a Tory lead in May 2015 of 2%, which on a uniform swing would give Labour a lead of around 30 seats.
One party having the most votes and the other the most seats would be both a Lib Dem dream and nightmare: a dream as it maximises the party’s negotiating power to have two parties with a plausible mandate, a nightmare because acceptance of any deal would be much harder for that very reason.
As for the Liberal Democrat electoral performance, looking at the last five Parliaments (ignoring this time the sixth, the 1983-7 one due to its very unusual third party patterns), the third party’s vote has gone up on average by 5%, which would mean a general election share in 2015 of around 15%.
Consider those figures a benchmark, not a prediction, of course.