A Labour majority could still happen. Photo: Getty
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Amid increased uncertainty, Labour remains the favourite

The Labour party could still win a majority in 2015.

One half of the governing Conservative-Liberal coalition heads into the general election in the midst of an acrimonious schism. Political grievances that have been bubbling under the surface of British politics for many years are seeing a party formed just 20 or so years ago appealing disproportionately to working-class men, vastly increasing its vote share – although thanks to the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system it will only slightly increase its number of seats. In the meantime, an electoral breakthrough by secessionist nationalists is set to pave the way for their ultimate withdrawal from the UK.

This, as you may have guessed, is not a prediction for the events of 2015, but a description of the 1918 election – the similarities are striking. Back then, the party facing schism were the Liberals, the insurgents were the recently-formed Labour party, and the secession-minded nationalists Ireland’s Sinn Fein.

History doesn’t repeat itself of course, but it does rhyme. Today, as then, we find ourselves looking forward to an election where the old rules do not apply. Next May will likely see the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour this time, taking the smallest share of the vote the electorate has awarded its two largest parties since that 1918 election. A secessionist Westminster breakthrough, this time by the SNP, is unlikely to set the stage for Scottish independence (as it did in 1918 for Ireland), but it could have a significant impact on the level of devolution that Scotland is awarded next year, particularly if the SNP holds the balance of power in a hung parliament. And Ukip does not, at this stage, look likely to repeat Labour’s feat of supplanting one of the two main parties of government, but it probably will – as Labour did until 1931 – make hung parliaments significantly more likely.

UK politics has seldom seemed more uncertain. The increasing popularity of the "non-traditional" Westminster parties, not just Ukip but the Greens and the SNP as well, has unpicked the fabric of the old Labour-Conservative duopoly. The latest Ashcroft poll puts the Conservatives’ projected share of the vote at 30 per cent and Labour’s at 29 per cent. To put that in context, the Conservatives managed 31 per cent when they were swept away by Tony Blair’s first Labour landslide in 1997. Labour’s 29 per cent, meanwhile, is equal to Gordon Brown’s abject performance in 2010. Neither party is winning, and yet, thanks to the first-past-the-post electoral system, it remains certain that one of them will form the dominant part of the next government.

More by accident than by design, both the Conservatives and Labour find themselves in with a good chance of taking that spot. Which will "win" and, indeed, what "winning" will actually mean remains unpredictable. With a small recovery in the polls, Labour could conceivably win a majority; electoral mathematics make it particularly difficult for the Conservatives to do so, though not impossible. As the polls continue to tighten however, a majority for either party is looking significantly less likely. So if we can’t predict with any confidence either the winning party or the manner of its victory, we are left with four possible scenarios.

The least likely at this stage is a Conservative majority. The party would need to beat its 2010 performance vs Labour to achieve this, which, with Ukip’s rise and the collapse of the Lib Dems (at the Tories’ expense and to Labour’s benefit respectively) is a tough ask. If forced to formulate a probability I would rate the chances at around 10 per cent.

A Labour majority is more likely; the party needs just a 3 per cent lead over the Conservatives, which it has had for much of the last two years. Ukip’s invasion of Tory-held marginals can be expected to swing an electorally significant number of seats Labour’s way. Labour’s recent performance however has fallen, while the increasingly popular Green party may potentially take votes disproportionately from Labour in much the same way Ukip has from the Conservatives. Combined with the deepening unpopularity of Labour’s leader Ed Miliband, these chances are lower than they were two months ago. I put them at 20 per cent.

A hung parliament is the most likely outcome in my view. Labour still holds the advantage in terms of who would be the biggest party. The latest poll putting the Conservatives 1 per cent ahead of Labour would still likely result in Labour winning more seats if replicated in an election, thanks to the more efficient dispersal of Labour voters. I rate the chances of Labour becoming the biggest party in a hung parliament at 40 per cent and thus the chances for the Conservatives at 30 per cent. These probabilities are obviously subjective and not to be taken as exact estimates. But they do indicate my broader conviction that, despite the economic recovery, Labour remains significantly more likely to enter government next year than the Conservatives.

None of these scenarios is particularly attractive for investors. Typically the election of an unapologetically left-of-centre leader like Ed Miliband would be the less attractive option from a market perspective. But the Conservatives’ contortions over Europe and the impossible demands they are likely to make of our European partners in any renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership might make a Conservative victory at least as unpalatable an option for investors.

So if the electorate isn’t particularly impressed by what’s on offer at Westminster, they aren’t alone.

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent investment consultancy

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent consultancy based in London.

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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.