It now seems likely that all 3 of the main parties will have their current leaders in place by the May 2015 General Election (Ed M’s current difficulties not withstanding). Presumably shortly after that date, at least one of the parties will then make a change, depending on how the election has panned out. But this means that none of the 3 party’s will have changed leader for a period of 4 years and 8 months – the longest period which none of them changed since the 1975 election of Margaret Thatcher to the Tory leadership, ending a period of 8 years without such a change (as Mssrs Heath, Wilson and Thorpe led their parties).
It is curious, is it not, that at a time when none of the three leaders look especially strong - with net approval ratings of something like -29 (Clegg), -23 (Miliband) and -10 (Cameron) – that the parties haven’t made a change. Especially when polling for the parties isn’t anywhere where they’d want it to be. Lib Dems have stayed 10-15%, Tories today are at 23% (just 1% above UKIP), and Labour’s lead, while consistent, is nothing like the size most experts think it ‘should’ be at this stage of the electoral cycle – and appears to be falling.
So why no putsch against the leader? Well of course, there have been ‘mutterings’ in all three parties. Anyone observing Lib Dem conference will pick up the vibes of those on the left of the party, we hear over and over again of the letters demanding a leadership vote by the Chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, and just look at the civil war now apparently erupting in Labour. Yet I don’t think anyone seriously believes that any of the leaders are about to be replaced. How come this sudden outbreak of loyalty?
Well, dare I suggest that while each party’s internal electorate has more than a few problems with its leader – they each think the other party’s problems are bigger than their own.
If you’re the Tories, you look at Ed Miliband, who they are apparently about to Kinnockise, and Nick, who I think we would all have to agree has a few image problems with the electorate at large; and you think, while Cameron may not be ideal, he’s better than the other 2 – after all, he is described over and over again as more popular in the country than the Tory party overall. So you stay your hand.
If you’re Labour – you see a relatively recently elected leader still finding his way, yet consistently leading a party polling ahead of the rest - and compare him to Cameron, pulled ever rightward by a set of uncontrollable MPs and the rise of UKIP, and Nick Clegg (same image problems apply) – and again, conclude you have the better of the deal, and stay your hand.
If you’re the Lib Dems, you see Ed Milband struggling to control a party split between the Blairites and the Unions, and Conservatives torn apart by the rise of the right and UKIP, and conclude that your leader is the only one leading a vaguely united party – and you stay your hand.
So, unusually, all three party’s conclude that while their leader has a few issues (to put it mildly) – he’s a better leader than the other 2. And generally, its only when you conclude that your leader is inferior to one of the other 2, or they lose an election, that you change.
Funny old world, isn’t it.