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So, What Do You Think You Could Have Done Differently?

23/06/2014 12:44 BST | Updated 22/08/2014 10:59 BST

On the 8th of May 2015 the defeated parties at the general election will inevitably be asked 'what could you have done differently to stem your defeat.' The typical reply tends to be 'we should have recognised the signs the electorate were sending us, especially after the local and Euro elections'. So, rather than try to guess which one will win (and possibly spared this exchange), I'm going to hypothesise responses each could give in response to that question. This is, as Peter Snow famously used to say, just a bit of fun!

So, because they are the largest party in the current House, let's begin with the Conservatives. Assuming they return to opposition, they will reflect on their record on issues with as economic performance and, of course divisions over Europe (divisions between soft and hard Eurosceptics). Principally, was the programme of austerity enough to lay the foundations for a meaningful recovery, or indeed was austerity the programme which killed off the recovery in the first place? No doubt most will say they should have followed more traditional conservative policies, such as cuts to income tax, cuts to benefits such as Jobseekers Allowance, and corporation tax. Granted there are signs of a paper recovery at the moment, but on the ground that simply isn't being felt. The housing book in the south east and London does not translate to greater prosperity. Also the creation of 2 million new jobs sounds good on campaigns, but if the electorate is seeing no evidence of genuine prosperity then the message may fall on deaf ears. So, maybe engineering a feelgood factor through a VAT tax would help spread that feeling around the country some more. But of course there's Europe. Clearly if in opposition after 2015 Cameron (or whoever wins their leadership election) will not be able to deliver the promise of a referendum. So, it'll likely be a guarantee for 2020, and opposition to the new government's position on Europe (whatever it is) by saying it is caving in. So, to continue selling this message in the run up to 2015, the Conservatives may want to consider making the recovery more real and downplay some of the Europe rhetoric.

Should Labour lose in 2015 they will want to know why their arguably more popular policies haven't convinced the electorate that they could govern. Surely they could defeat this government with ease, given its unrepresentative nature and essentially Thatcherite character. However such a loss would be devastating given they have had four years to spell out their alternative. Problem is their economic approach seems to be broadly similar to the Conservatives, with promises of tough welfare cuts and continued austerity. Thus, the few disagreements seem to be over pace rather than strategy. However the big issue, as ever, seems to be the leadership. Ed Miliband is a geek. (As am I, for that matter!) However they tend not to be electorally credible because they are not 'one of us'. The electorate will gravitate towards someone they trust the most (or distrust the least). Of the leaders of the three main parties, Miliband is the most geeky (let's not let Cameron or Clegg off on this one - they are geeks too, just not as bad!) In fact, it is the ungeekyness of Farage which makes him more appealing, but that's getting side-tracked. If Labour want to know why they lost, it is because the electorate simply didn't believe Miliband was capable of being Prime Minister. And, since the programme on offer isn't that much different, why not leave Cameron and Clegg in charge?

Speaking of Clegg... if the Liberal Democrats 'lose' (ie: get 20 seats or less) then they too will want to know what they could have done differently. They joined the coalition in the national interest, did what was right for the country, and made noble sacrifices etc etc. All that good stuff has kept Lib Dems alive in media interviews for the last four years, but it won't do them much good in the real world of an electoral disaster. Put simply, the electorate think the Liberal Democrat's lied over their motivations for the coalition, lied on fees, and lied on listening to the concerns of the electorate. Clegg is the symbol of this character assassination, in part because he promised a new politics. The new politics looked worse than the old, however the negative image goes beyond him. Put simply, the Lib Dems are, as a group, a tainted brand. Unfortunately the only thing they can do now is to ditch Clegg shortly before the conference season, negotiate a departure from the coalition, and then work their socks off to blame it all on Clegg. This is the same strategy Brown and Miliband tried over the Iraq War and Blair. For them it worked slightly, although there is the lingering uncertainty over Labour's position on Iraq, despite Miliband's apology. However, if they do nothing, then the answer to the opening question will be 'Clegg'.

So, there we have it. A few random speculative thoughts on what each party could do to change their electoral fortunes. But at the end of the day one of the two main parties will form the next government, either with or without a third party. Each of them could do something now to enhance their chances, however it would seem as though it is Labour and the Liberal Democrats who have the most immediate need. The tragedy of their position is on 8 May 2015 they will be kicking themselves if they do nothing.