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Thoughts on this week's elections. [Jun. 14th, 2004|10:42 pm]
Today is the day Michael Howard lost the next General Election. Following on from two and a half million votes for a hardline Eurosceptic party, and a worryingly high 800,000 votes for a neo-fascist party, Michael Howard responded by...

... reshuffling the health and education portfolio in his Shadow Cabinet.

It is clear that, as I thought he would, he has been seduced by the misconception that British elections are won in the centre ground.

They are not, they are won in the popular ground. The Labour Party didn't perform badly in the 1980s because their policies were extreme, but because they were unpopular, and their leaders were poor communicators.

In making the next election about Health and Education, Michael Howard will win over perhaps a couple of percent of voters who are on the moderate right and voted for New Labour or the Lib Dems because the Tories were incompetent, had run out of steam, or they were disillusioned with Thatcherism.

He will lose to UKIP, further right, or to staying at home, all those who didn't vote Conservative in 1997 because the Conservatives didn't stand for anything, because Maastricht had given too much ground to Europe, because crime had risen uncontrollably, and because the Tories were no longer a party of lower taxes.

In addition, he has failed, with a nod to the left and a wink to the right, to realise how divided his own party is. They will not hold together in the centre ground, and they need a leader who will steer a clear course in one direction or another, and accept that it may result in half a dozen MPs defecting at the edges - and wave them off cheerfully with a smaller, but stronger, team.

This is of no particular importance to me - I have no desire to see Michael Howard installed as Prime Minister, but if he is, it will not be by fighting an election on the issues where Labour is most trusted. The shift is to the right - the Lib Dems did well in local elections, where their message was anti-tax, and badly in the European elections, where their message was pro-Euro, anti-war.

If you disagree, ask yourself whether you can imagine Tony Blair, at the start of the next General Election campaign, declaring that he wishes to make it a referendum on Labour's moderate policies on Europe, crime and immigration.