Will Labour’s vote collapse? That’s a question on a lot of people’s lips, although in reality it already has.

Brown on Jeremy Vine show - Bigot GateIf polls are to be believed, at around the 27/28 percent mark Labour’s performance will match that of Michael Foot in Labour’s disastrous election of 1983. Then the party came in just one point ahead of the breakaway SDP – and Margaret Thatcher triumphed, proceeding to take on the miners in the following year.

Now the polls indicate the LibDems in second place and Labour relegated to third – a historic result indeed. Paul Foot describes in his book on the Vote his childhood memories of how miserable his Liberal family were at the results of the 1945 election which saw Labour’s landslide victory. Only Uncle Michael – the Labour rebel – won his seat, and the Liberals spent the next decades as a tiny minority party.

The Liberal decline began as Labour’s rise took place following the First World War and the extension of the franchise to workers and to women. Is that now going into reverse?

It is impossible to predict the exact outcome of this election. The first past the post system produces some weird results. Even if it comes third, it is just possible that Labour will have the largest number of seats since on average it takes more votes to elect a Tory MP – and even more to elect a LibDem. In some seats a LibDem surge may prevent the Tories from winning Labour held seats.

However, some things can probably be hazarded: it will be a very low vote for Labour, maybe historically low for the post-war period. The government which takes office (most likely Tory-LibDem or small Tory majority) is likely to be weak and nasty – a combination which will store up trouble.

Can Labour turn this round in the last week? Almost certainly not. Its latest secret weapon is Tony Blair, the man who lost 1 million votes in the last election and whose appearance on the scene will almost certainly drive even more Labour supporters into the arms of Nick Clegg.

Labour’s defeat will be put down to Brown, his gaucheness and lack of engagement with the voters. He will be remembered for his private muttered words into a Sky news microphone more than for any policies. Which is unfair, but also of his own making. His fault was not to say privately the sorts of things which probably every politician says to her or his aides. Or to describe Mrs Duffy’s remarks as those of a ‘bigot’, which many people might agree with.

His fault has been that, along with Blair, for 13 years he has imposed the new Labour project. Back in 1997, they agreed not to exceed Tory public spending plans and so limited the political advantage the huge labour majority gave him. He bankrolled the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, made London a safe haven for bankers, and boasts about Sure Start and tax credits while he, as chancellor and prime minister, has presided over a widening gulf of inequality.

It is for all these things and more that Brown is now being punished. His strident attacks on Nick Clegg over immigration, and the bragging of Labour ministers about how many people they deport, show that he has learnt little from his unpopularity except to keep on his right wing trajectory.

Only in such an unequal and bitter Britain could David Cameron (Eton and Oxford, secret hobby deerstalking, his and his wife’s family worth £30m) make a pitch for more fairness and equality. Yet it is clear that his wealth and privilege lose him support. So do the Tory policies of raising the pension age, savage cuts and inheritance tax breaks for their friends and family.

Hence Cleggmania. This has been much portrayed as an anti politics development. It isn’t. Many people simply prefer Clegg’s politics to those of the two main parties. There is, despite the best efforts of the BBC to deny it, a big left/liberal strand of opinion in Britain. Clegg’s amnesty for immigrants, his opposition to the Iraq war, his criticism of the bankers, are all serious policies which are popular among considerable sections of the electorate. It is grating to hear Clegg defend council house building against a Labour prime minister.

Many on the left and those once considered natural Labour voters will vote for Clegg’s party on May 6th because they perceive its policies as better, and the party as fresher and newer than the two main parties. A letter in the Guardian signed by a number of writers and artists argued that a vote for Clegg would mark a mould breaking radical change in British politics.

Unlikely. This election, if it results in a hung parliament, will put a lot more pressure on the major parties to introduce PR. But Clegg himself doesn’t represent a break from the old politics. The LibDems don’t represent any left alternative, and within the party Clegg is on the pro business wing.

In the final debate all three party leaders promised more cuts, which puts into perspective the question of who to vote for. In a small number of constituencies there are left candidates who do represent a real alternative to these policies. But the real issues won’t be decided by the election.

Indeed they’re not even being discussed in the election. The economic crisis in Greece, the war in Afghanistan, the threat of global warming, the terrible treatment of asylum seekers, the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, the attacks on health and education ahead – they barely get a mention in the debates and are largely ignored by the media as an election issue.

Campaigning on these issues will define the post election period, and success in these areas will help map out new strategies, and hopefully new parties, for the left.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.