Given the core mathematics of the next UK General Election that make it so difficult for him to lose why is Tony Blair making such a big deal of the June 10 elections for the European Parliament? Why is he mortgaging his short-medium term political future with the commitment for the referendum on the Euro constitution?
Sure June 10 2004 is not going to be a good day for Labour. The last time the Euro seats were fought, in 1999, Labour had an unmitigated disaster. The opinion polls had them at 56%, to William Hague’s Tories on just 25%. Yet when it came to real voters putting real votes in real ballot boxes Labour could only manage 28% – or HALF what the pollsters were saying. The Tories, written off by everybody got 35.8% – admittedly on a very low turn-out.
Sure the political climate has changed since 1999 – the opinion poll leads are smaller if non-existent, the Tories are more sure-footed and credible under their new leader and the LDs are enjoying their highest poll ratings since the heady days of the Alliance before the Falklands War in 1982.
Sure Tony Blair must be worried that if Labour could not get it supporters out in the favourable climate of 1999 then it is going to be much tougher this time.
But he has been able to take some measures to ameliorate the situation – tinkering with the election time-table so that the 2004 local elections take place on the Euro day will boost turnout as will forcing through postal voting in parts of the country even though there have been strong warnings about fraud; and of course he’s ditched the Labour party’s own rules to bring Ken Livingstone back into the party as candidate in the London Mayoral Election.
But who cares about the European Parliament? William Hague’s 1999 triumph had no impact at all on the General Election two years later. And as we’ve been saying repeatedly on Politicalbetting.com it is very hard for Tony Blair to get beaten on 05/05/05 – the suggested General Election day – because of the way the Westminster seats are distributed.
The Euro referendum is going to dominate the UK political scene for a long time to come and it is by no means certain that the strategy of trying to paint the Tories as extremists who just want to be out of the EU altogether is going to work. Michael Howard, as we saw in the Commons yesterday, is so much smarter than previous Tory leaders and is not going to let them get away with it.
The question of what will you do if the referendum says no is hard for Tony Blair to answer. Referring to the Irish experience in such a situation just makes him look even more slippery.
One thing is for sure – we need some new political betting markets