‘Honoured that you are writing my father’s biography’ the late Tony Benn, ‘...wonderfully written’ Hilary Benn

‘Sparkles with fascinating detail…a remarkable story of Liberal and Labour politics in the first half of the twentieth century.’ Michael Crick, Political Correspondent, Channel 4 News

‘Casts much light both on the evolution of British radicalism, and on the legacy which he bequeathed to his son, Tony. Professor Vernon Bogdanor, King's College, London

‘Brilliant biography…wonderful reading about the father and...discovering more about the son.’ Steve Richards of The Independent

‘Well-written and carefully researched, this fascinating biography brings to life a major figure in British political history…an excellent job of weaving together the strands of a complex life…as well as filling in the background of the Benn family’ Richard Doherty, military historian

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Cameron & Miliband can only win by being offensive

The 2015 general election will be won on seats, not votes. Barring anything beyond the realms of likelihood, either Ed Miliband or David Cameron will win. The stakes are high. The loser is almost certain to have to give up their party leadership and to see their party split.

To ‘win’ Ed Miliband needs to end up as prime minister, even if he is heading a coalition government. The Conservatives have set the bar higher for themselves. David Cameron as prime minister heading a single-party government, maybe just short of an overall majority, is the least that his party would consider a victory.

Neither Labour nor Conservatives have enough seats at the moment to win the election. Fighting only a defensive campaign is therefore almost certainly going to lead to defeat. Both parties have to try and get some more seats from somewhere. So, where can the Labour and Conservative parties expect to pick up the extra seats?

The first option which clearly makes no strategic sense is to go on the offensive against UKIP - a party which has one seat - maybe two by the time of the election. With UKIP looking likely to pick up a small number of seats and possibly fairly equally from Labour and Conservative, the party plays little strategic part in the overall battle for the election.

Then there are the Liberal Democrats who will be fighting a defensive campaign. Evidence from the Eastleigh by-election and from Lord Ashcroft’s polls suggests that the Conservative-Lib Dem battleground has been fought more or less to a standstill, with few seats likely to change hands between the parties in either direction. The Labour-Lib Dem battlefront has moved in favour of the Labour Party, but only one third of Lib Dem seats had Labour in second place at the last election. Although some Lib Dem seats in England may well fall to Labour, in Scotland the SNP are likely to take seats from both Labour and the Lib Dems. Labour gains from the Lib Dems in England may well be cancelled out by Labour losses to the SNP in Scotland.

This leaves the Labour Party and the Conservatives pretty much exactly where they started off. Plaid Cymru’s three seats and the Greens’ and Respect’s single seats are not numerically of any significance in the overall battle for victory.

This all leads to the logical, inexorable, but largely-overlooked, conclusion that the only place that Labour or the Conservatives can find enough seats to win the election is from each other. Even then, there are only a few parts of the country where Labour and the Conservatives are in a head-to-head battle, largely limited to London and the Midlands of England.

Any strategy by Labour or the Conservatives which is not targeted at this battleground is almost certainly a distraction and a waste of time, money and effort. The battle so far has not really sounded like a head-to-head Labour-Conservative battle for centre-ground voters in London and the Midlands.

Being offensive is the only hope for Miliband and Cameron. Who will win the battle? So far, David Cameron sounds more offensive, but his guns are facing in the wrong direction. Ed Miliband sounds more defensive. With only six months to go the key battle of the election does not seem to have started. In fact due to the fog of war - or in this case UKIP and Scotland - it is not even clear that the protagonists have identified where the battlefield is.

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