A general election is just 18 months away, and both the Conservatives and Labour are starting to look at the impact of their brand on their vote share. Over the past month, opinion polls have been putting the Tories on around 31% and Labour on 39%, which if applied as a uniform swing, would provide a strong majority of around 100 for Ed Miliband.

On the surface then, Labour seem to be doing pretty well – but on some key issues, such as immigration, welfare and crime, it’s failing. In September of this year, a poll by Labour Uncut showed that the public hold Labour accountable – by a margin of ten to one – for the size of the benefits bill. This is allowing the Tory government to cap benefits, enact real terms cuts and demonise ‘scroungers’. This will be a problem for Labour come 2015, who attack Cameron for harming the poorest in society.

Miliband’s attempt to shift the economic debate from the deficit to cost of living has been moderately successful so far. Thatcher’s legacy of the nasty party lives on, despite her demise, and people don’t trust Cameron to help out those struggling in difficult times, even though people also claim to support benefit cuts. There’s the paradox: cuts to benefits will hurt the poorest in society. Labour needs to continue to shift the debate and take aim at the destructive welfare policies of the government.

So, if Labour are pushing back against the Tories on the economy by reframing the debate, where can the Tories turn to win votes? They have the upper-ground when it comes to immigration and crime. Yes, the tough stance on immigration will loose the social liberal vote to other parties. ‘Never mind’, the Tory might say, ‘We’re going to lose that anyway over the cost-of-living. What we need to do is go back to the right and sure up The Shires!’

Cue UKIP, whose populist rhetoric is set to cause a political storm in the 2014 European elections. Yes, the Tories do lead Labour on immigration, but amongst the people who it is actually a deciding factor, UKIP are miles ahead. Cameron’s apparently soft touch on immigration, gay rights and Europe is pushing the right wing of his party into the arms of UKIP, who are regularly polling at 10%+ in opinion polls.

In 2015, the ground the Tories will be fighting the election on will be interesting; if Labour succeed in their reframing of the economic debate, that cause will be all but lost for Cameron and his destructive austerity. Much of the cost-of-living vote will also be the voters Cameron might have once won back through socially liberal measures such as gay marriage. Tacking more to the centre again will now lose the Tories a lot of votes to UKIP, any more right wing and they might as well be UKIP. The Tories are suffering an identity crisis. Labour seem resurgent, here’s to this trend continuing into 2014.

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