Barely a day’s gone by since we started this site on which we haven’t cursed our failure to save an opinion piece we read in one of the English broadsheet newspapers a few months before the 2011 Holyrood election.
Labour were riding high in the polls, and the more exciteable elements of the Unionist press in Scotland were even tentatively talking of an absolute majority. But the column we read in the Telegraph, or the Times, or perhaps even the Mail On Sunday, by a writer whose name we can’t recall a syllable of, was having none of it.
It confidently predicted an SNP victory, despite them being something like 12/1 against with the bookies at the time, on very simple grounds: no matter what the polls say, when it comes to the crunch voters never elect the party with the worst leader. The most famous UK example is Neil Kinnock, but our infuriatingly-unknown author pinned the same label on Iain Gray, and was proven right in the most spectacular manner. We may have forgotten his name, but we’ve never forgotten the lesson.
We hope one day to remember and rediscover the original piece, but at least now we have a similar one to point to. Politicalbetting.com today reports a dramatic surge of 9 points in Labour’s UK lead, from 6% to 15%. But at the same time it sounds a note of caution: even with Labour so far in front, twice as many people want David Cameron to remain Prime Minister than want Ed Miliband to take the job.
And when it comes down to it, that’s what will decide the outcome of the next Westminster election. It doesn’t matter how much the electorate likes your policies if it doesn’t believe your leader has the strength to carry them out. Labour is infamously reluctant to sack its leaders, and unless something makes Miliband voluntarily fall on his sword in the next three years – and we can’t imagine what that would be – he’ll lead Labour into the 2015 campaign.
If he does, we’ll make our prediction now: regardless of what other events may transpire, Labour will lose, and everyone will know they’re going to lose well in advance of the vote – very possibly as far in advance as autumn 2014. Kevin McKenna referred obliquely to that possibility in his Observer column last Sunday:
“Before long the Nationalists will simply be unable to resist the temptation of urging Scots to vote independence for a Tory-free Scotland. The prospect of living in a country where the party of Thatcher, the Bullingdon Club and the Hillsborough cover-up can never again make a decision affecting Scots will be attractive to many.”
We agree entirely with that view. At present, Labour has leaders both north and south of the border who it’s all but impossible for a rational observer to picture in control of their respective countries. (Go on, just try to imagine Johann Lamont as Scotland’s representative on the world stage.) Whenever you read an opinion poll in the next couple of years, whether it’s about an election or a referendum, always remember to apply the Kinnock Factor to the numbers. It changes everything.