We've now had three opinion polls from ICM, Populus and Comres showing a drop in the Labour vote and a surge for the LibDems, with the Tories either staying the same or dropping a little, but gaining a massive lead by default as the centre-left vote is split. Three polls showing the same thing makes a trend.
I got shouted down a week ago on Labourhome, when I wrote that what was causing the shift to the LibDems was part of the Labour coalition feeling disgusted at the xenophobia displayed by the anti-European wild-cat strikes in Lincoln. Tories rushed onto the thread to say that of course the strikes were popular as "most people" hated Europe - but if that was the case why didn't the europhobic Conservatives gain in the polls? Other people on the old left of the Labour party rushed to say that "everyone" supported strikes - so why the shift away from Labour? Because the elephant in the room was that it was the internationalist europhile LibDems who gained.
To me this seems almost like a re-run of the 1980's. In 1978 we had the unions campaigning against the Callaghan government (which was made up of people on the moderate right of the Labour party), as they tried to force Labour to the left. Result: Margaret Thatcher was elected. Then in the early 80's we saw the right of the Labour party break away and form the SDP, who formed an alliance with the Liberals. And the left of Labour ran amok, with the Miners Strike, Scargill declaring his intention to "bring down the government", something that is the prerogative of the voter alone, and the "longest suicide note in history" declared Labour's intention to take Britain out of the EU. As a result, the centre and centre-left vote peeled off towards the Alliance. Ironically the only thing that saved Labour from being pushed into third place in the 1983 election was the Falklands war. Michael Foot was full-square in favour of the war to get the islands back from the fascist regime in Argentina, while David Owen for the SDP thought the war a waste of time - centrist righties peeled off back to the Tories and patriotic centre-left voters peeled off back to Labour and the Alliance were pushed back into third place.
There exists in Britain a large internationalist and europhile group who are moderate, centrist and mostly middle class, and who have decided every single general election since the 1970's. They don't like xenophobia and they don't like extremism (strikes make them nervous). Forget those on the Tory right or old Labour left who claim that Brits hate Europe. Their opinions don't deliver elections, only those of the europhile middle do.
It was New Labour's genius to court this group, becoming pro-European and centrist in order to do so. Governing as New Labour meant amongst other things facing down the RMT's strike demand for a 40% payrise in the early part of this decade and kicking the RMT out of the Labour party. But governing as New labour also meant the ability to deliver things that helped the poorest of society - the minimum wage, support for parents, Sure Start, improved healthcare, better rights for part-time and temporary workers - something Old Labour signally failed to deliver as they failed to win elections.
Unfortunately the turmoil in the global economy has persuaded some in the unions that it is OK to go back to 1983. They are wrong. The outcome of this turmoil will not be a willingness to tolerate xenophobia or strikes but such things as separating out investment banking from retail banking and increasing banking capitalisation requirements - technical things, not ideological things.
Labour only wins elections when the right of the party (which equals the centre and centre-left of the entire political spectrum) is in the ascendant. Move too far away from the centre and our vote fractures. In the 2001 to 2005 period Blair moved too far away from the centre in the rightwards direction on war and we saw part of our coalition move to the LibDems - it was only because Howard's Tories were even further to the right that we managed to hang on to power. We have now moved back to the centre on war, with the Brown government distinctly unenthusiatic about starting wars anywhere, but the new danger is people wishing to drag us leftwards on economics and Europe. But we can only win from the centre, this has been the case for decades now. Someone needs to have a word with Unite and co to point out the facts of electoral life to them.