With one of the closest-fought general elections in living memory just four weeks away can Labour still beat the Tories?

The Tories under David Cameron have capitalised on New Labour’s well-deserved unpopularity, maintaining a consistent lead in the opinion polls. But the very strength of the Conservatives has reminded millions why they detest the Tories so much.

Fear of a Cameron government is driving them back to Labour, with Brown and Darling astutely capitalising on the revulsion. For the first time in decades, a clear difference has opened up between the main parties on economic policy. Labour has raised taxes on the rich. The Tories promise to cut them.

Labour’s resilience is depriving Cameron of an easy victory. The polling gap between the two has closed.

Because seats are won on a constituency-by-constituency basis, there can be little direct connection between a party’s national share of the vote, and the number of seats it receives. Labour recorded the highest vote share ever in 1951, at 49%, but still lost to the Conservatives, whilst the Liberal/SDP Alliance won 25% in 1983, but received only 23 seats.

That peculiarity means that a hung Parliament is now a serious prospect, with no single party having a majority. Plans being drawn up by top civil servants will allow Brown to stay on as Prime Minister to assemble a coalition government. And there is speculation about the Liberal Democrats becoming “kingmakers” in any potential deal.

But whatever government is formed, all the main parties agree on the question of spending cuts. They just disagree over how much to cut. Labour want to cut least, Tories more – and the Thatcherite Lib Dems most of all.

All of them want to see ordinary people pay for the banks’ bail-outs. None of the parties are prepared to seriously challenge the bankers. The left will need to show how to break that consensus, after the election.

For this election, the priority is to stop the Tories. As the row over gay rights shows, Cameron’s cuddly image hides the same old nasty party. We can’t let the bigots into power.

But we can’t give the party of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars a free ride, either. Some constituencies have strong left-wing candidates standing. Elsewhere, other left voices deserve a vote.

Stop the Tories. Vote left where you can, vote Labour where you must.

James Meadway

Radical economist James Meadway has been an important critic of austerity economics and at the forefront of efforts to promulgate an alternative. James is co-author of Crisis in the Eurozone (2012) and Marx for Today (2014).