...or how I learned to stop making policy and attack the other team
The next year is going to be interesting, and I don't think it's going to be very pretty. Due to the way the nation is viewing the various parties right now it feels like we're going to be in for some of the, well let's say "not most edifying" months of UK politics. The Tories are threatened by a Labour opposition that naturally will gain votes simply by being that opposition, but also from the other side by UKIP and the incessant coverage they gain which will offer them a fresh challenge. Labour look to absorb disaffected Liberal Democrats but also somewhat fight off UKIP on the immigration question. Liberal Democrats, as it happens, appear to have the simplest job to me and that is just to argue their own relevance. Whether they can ever succeed in that now is another question.
I think we'll see a period of everyone attacking each other, and the negative politics that ensues is surely likely to put voters off as much as pull them in. However with such little policy difference between them, and little more policy to add, it looks like the only option on the table they've got.
The Conservatives need to fight off UKIP as well as somehow helping the Lib Dems shore up their vote. It's vital for the Tories to help Lib Dems because every vote that returns to Lib Dem from 2010 is another vote towards them retaining seats, outside of the Tory/Lib marginals of course! I imagine we'll ultimately see the Tories turn on the Lib Dems in one of the most beautiful expressions of political friendship. They'll claim the Lib Dems held them back, that the Lib Dems stopped them moving ahead on Europe, that they stopped them from reforming on immigration, etc, etc. Lib Dems would be crazy to not graciously accept the attacks, print them on their leaflets and give them to their current GE2010 "don't knows"
In line with this they'll make a big deal about how, free from coalition, they would go further on Europe and immigration in an attempt to hold off UKIP. They know that UKIP support is burgeoning right now but they also know that a significant proportion of them would come back to vote Tory if it was the difference between that or Labour getting in. I'm generalising here, but there may be a hope in some quarters (particularly Labour's) that the UKIP vote will split the Tories and allow them to sneak through. I'm sure it'll happen to some degree, but not as high as current predictions would suggest...a majority of UKIP supporters are not coming from previous votes for the big three.
With this in mind Labour will be fighting hard on it's own two fronts. First to highlight how there are a lot of things the Lib Dems helped the Tories with. It seems to be their strategy now, an all or nothing one. They seem to not be too bothered that there is still a real potential that they could end up without a majority and need other parties to push through their legislation, and that creating real ill feeling in the remaining Lib Dem ranks may be contradictory to that need. The next is that they'll big up the UKIP vote, disgustingly as some may find it. The best thing for Labour is for it to steal votes, be they through Lib Dems disgusted at a frankly disappointing Lib Dem effort in government coming to vote Labour, or UKIP taking those Tory votes and letting Labour sail past even with only modest gains in votes.
I think this is why we're not seeing Labour come out with real policy right now. They don't need it, or so they seem to feel. If they feel they don't need to actually win the support of people on their own merits then that is their choice, but it seems a rather pathetic one to me. It is clear that they'll continue much of what the Tories have laid down, having started an amount of it before Tories took office, and so I guess I'm not surprised that they'll be concentrating more on trying to make people feel angry at other parties. It may not get them votes, but then people forced into apathy after previously voting Lib Dem or Tory is not exactly a loss for Labour either.
Lib Dems have the most freedom but also potentially the least credibility. They can once again actually throw out policy ideas knowing that they won't really have much chance to implement them, if at all, even if in another coalition. They'll also want to return the favour on the Tories and make a case for the various progressive policies that Lib Dems and Tories got through and of course paint it that they'd not have happened without the Lib Dems. Out of all of the parties they have the most scope for actually putting forward a positive case for voting. Coupled with, I would assume, a tightening and reverting back to core targeting strategies I expect them to be more resilient than people want to believe.
We'll also see them attacking Labour in places, though I suspect that they won't be playing that up too hard. The reality is that Labour is their best chance of continuing power in some form or another (and that is clearly a tenuous prospect at best right now) and their wavering voters are sympathetic to some of what Labour is saying. Going on the attack here isn't going to be the strategy that wins, not if they can get the right message together on what they have done, and more importantly *what they will try to undo*.
And then there is UKIP. I expect their support to reach around 16% nationally if the Tories don't play the game right...but Tories have been playing this game for a long time. While they have very little positive to say, and will do as they have done for years and attack the other parties for letting immigration get out of control (hah!) they also are probably the only party that'll have a competent policy portfolio...even if the majority of the country actually disagree with it. But that doesn't matter, and it will potentially keep them votes they've gained this year as they present possibly one of the most professional campaigns....outside of the gaffes and outrageous remarks that a fair number of their membership and leadership will utter...in the areas they focus on.
So UKIP will be attacking everyone, Tories will be attacking Lib Dems out of love, and attacking Labour for not having any ideas out of "the mess(tm)" while undermining UKIP. Lib Dems will be attacking Tories, though a not for the same reasons the Tories are attacking them, and Labour will be sitting there hoping to create a storm of immigration apocalypse controversy while explaining to everyone that the Lib Dems are simultaneously irrelevant and evil incarnate.
Here's to a "fine" year of politics ahead.