After last year’s “summer of silence” (in the words of one shadow minister), Labour is aiming to hit the parliamentary recess running. Ed Miliband’s speech tomorrow marks the beginning of a “summer offensive” that will feature more than a dozen major speeches by members of the shadow cabinet in the next five weeks.
The campaign will be framed around “The Choice” between a “Labour future” and “Tory threat”. The aim, as I write in my column this week, is to present the general election as a diametric battle between the two main parties, deterring former Lib Dems from returning home and traditional Labour supporters from defecting to Ukip. Having previously spoken of a new era of “four-party politics”, Labour has returned to acting as if there are just two.
It is a message that the party badly needs voters to hear as they find alternative receptacles for their discontent. Lord Ashcroft’s most recent marginals poll found that Ukip is now in first place in Thurrock (Labour’s number-two target seat) and in Thanet South (where Nigel Farage will likely soon announce his candidacy). The Greens are polling at their highest level since 1989. If the election produces a second successive hung parliament for the first time since 1910, it is this fracturing of the anti-government vote that will explain why.
Labour’s attempt to present itself as the only vehicle for anti-Tory voters makes sense, but it is not without risk. By framing the general election as a contest between itself and the Conservatives, it helps to reinforce the equivalent Tory message that the only way to stop the opposition taking power is to vote Conservative (not Ukip). If enough Ukip supporters return to the Tory fold, Labour could struggle to win many of the Conservative marginals it has targeted.
For the Tories, the danger of presenting the election as a Manichean battle between itself and the opposition is that the 25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems who have defected to Labour are even less inclined to return (as I’ve written before, Tory MPs recognise that they need a partial Lib Dem recovery to remain the largest party).
If there is cause for Labour optimism it is that the number of anti-Tory voters is higher than the number of anti-Labour voters. As recent polling by Ipsos MORI found, 40 per cent of the electorate would never consider voting Conservative, compared to 33 per cent for Labour. With a far stronger brand, it is the opposition that has the most to gain if voters come to view 2015 as a battle between red and blue.