Submitted by George Callaghan…
It looks as though the Conservatives are headed for substantial victory. Boris Johnson came to office determined to make Brexit a reality and to call an early election. It is hard to decide what was a higher priority for him. BoJo is nothing is not astute. Looking at the chronicles tells any student of history that a prime minister who calls an election as soon as he takes office always wins.
There are a number of reasons why it suited the Tories to call an election in 2019 rather than wait for later. A new PM always has a honeymoon. Better to capitalize on that before it is gone. BoJo overpromised and wanted to hold an election before his promises failed to materialize. The economy was going fairly well and Brexit was still the main item on the agenda. The Conservatives have an advantage over Labour on this issue. On income inequality, the NHS, pensions, education and the environment Labour enjoys an advantage. The Tories greatest asset is Corbyn. Therefore it made sense to call an election while Corby was still leader. If BoJo had waited till 2020 Labour might have finally defenestrated Corbyn.
Boris flip flopped on an early election. In 2007 he excoriated Gordon Brown for his ‘arrogance’ in not calling snap election on becoming PM. In fact it was Brown’s fatal mistake. Labour had a small lead then. Had Brown gone to the country in the autumn of 2007 Labour would have won and been in office until 2012 by which time the UK would have been through the worst of the recession. When May became PM in 2016 Boris was in the cabinet and did not demand an early election. When Boris became a PM he initially said no to an election.
Boris Johnson came to office and vowed that Brexit was a do or die mission by 31 October. It is die then! Astonishingly there has been little pushback for this broken promise. Brexit did not happen on schedule because the Remain majority in Parliament kicked it into touch. You might say this is not Boris’ fault. But he still promised something that he knew he could not guarantee.
The Conservatives attempted to prorogue Parliament despite Boris and most Tory leadership hopefuls promising not to do so. The Big Lie from the Tory Party was that this prorogation was unrelated to Brexit. I believe that the prorogation was lawful but I recognize that Boris was fibbing about his motivation for it. The courts struck down the prorogation. This is a constitutional innovation. For the first time the royal prerogative has been overridden by the courts on the ground that the government was mendacious about the intention behind it. Are the Supreme Court justices guilty of Remain judicial activism?
Despite the prorogation being overturned Boris knew that he had another advantage. He could go to the country on the basis that it was Parliament versus the people. Boris would put himself on the side of ‘the people.’ This is a bit far-fetched since Parliament only postponed Brexit and did not block it. Opinion polls show only 45% are Leavers now.
In the middle of September the Conservative Government seemed to be in paralysis. The Remain majority had got it trapped. The government could not do Brexit without a deal and it could not get an early election. The EU seemed to be intransigent. But Boris broke his own red lines. He then brought home a deal from Brussels which is very similar to the one he opposed in 2018. Boris somehow got the deal through Parliament.
Labour has also been all over the place on an early election as it has on Brexit. Corbyn wanted an early election as soon as Boris became PM. In September Labour was against an election before voting for one in October. Remember under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 there can only be an early election if two-thirds of the House of Commons votes for it.
Why did Labour go for the early election with the Tories ahead in the polls? If you are an opposition you do not want to keep the other party in office. You want to become the government asap. Why should Labour prolong a Tory Government for a single day? If an opposition party votes against an early election it will be called chicken. Some Labour MPs recognize that the party will never win whilst Corbyn is leader. There has already been an attempted coup against Corbyn by his own party. As we all know he was resoundingly re-elected by the grassroots. Labour lost the 2017 election but Corbyn did not stand down. Therefore, Labour moderates concluded that the only way to be shot of Corbyn is for him to lose again. There are those who say that the mass membership is so far left that even if Corbyn leads the party to a second defeat the ordinary members will still keep Corbyn as leader. If he goes then he will be replaced by someone of the same ilk.
In 2017 Labour played a blinder. The party started at 27% in the polls. Corbyn exceeded all expectations and raised the party to 40% in the election. He ran the Tories very close. Even as a day one detester of Corbyn I have to hand it to him that it was a signal achievement. Labour won the battle of social media. Labour won among the youth. Labour was helped by the Liberal Democrats being in the doldrums. The Lib Dem share of the vote in 2017 was even lower than in 2015. In 2017 the Lib Dems were still tarred with the brush of having been the Tory coalition partner under Cameron. They had a feeble leader. None of these factors now pertain. People have forgiven the Liberal Democrats for having propped up Cameron’s Tories. This is despite Jo Swinson having served as a minister under Cameron and railroaded through some of his most anti-socialist policies. The Lib Dems have positioned themselves as an ultra Remain party. Their policy is clear and simple. As the Lib Dems have risen from 7% in 2017 to 16% in the current polls this is a problem for Labour.
In 2017 May was much more popular than her party. Therefore, the Tory campaign focused very heavily on her. However, he leaden footed campaign meant that a huge Tory lead turned into a 2% lead in the actual poll. Theresa May almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Boris is the only politician in the UK who is universally recognized by his Christian name. He has been a household name for two decades. As a campaigner he is as rumbustious and eye catching as can be. He is also a polarizing figure. The Tory campaign is focusing on him but not as heavily as it did on May.
The conventional wisdom is if you are miles ahead in the polls then play it safe. Do not risk it with a head to head debate. May followed this rule in 2017. She ducked the challenge. This was part of her lacklustre campaign. In a sense it worked. The Tories ended up with the most votes, the most seas and in government. But it was no famous victory. Boris, by contrast, has manned up. He chose to take Corbyn on face to face. Both gave a good account of themselves. But neither landed a knockout blow. Neither party has laid a glove on the Lib Dems.
The real wild card in this election was the Brexit Party. Most of UKIP has decamped to the Brexit Party. Nigel Farage is the leader of the Brexit Party. In October he railed against Boris’ Brexit deal as a betrayal. In November Farage changed his mind. The Brexit Party was due to contest every seat in Great Britain. Significantly Farage announced he would not be standing. But before long Farage stated that his party would not field candidates against sitting Tory MPs. This is a relief to the Tories. It was highly improbable that Brexit Party would win a single seat. But the could have taken away enough votes from the Tories to hand a few seats to other parties. The Brexit Party is now only contesting seats held by Labour, the Lib Dems or the SNP. But this makes little sense. The Conservatives do not have a majority at the moment even taking into account the Tories who have had the whip withdrawn. The Tories need to gain at least 10 seats to have even the slenderest majority. Therefore the Brexit Party standing in Labour held marginals could prevent the Tories being able to deliver Brexit. If the Brexit Party stood in a rock solid Tory seat it would make no difference. Since the Brexit Party stood down half its candidates its vote share has fallen off a cliff. Why should a voter belief in a party if the party does not believe in itself? If you were inclined to vote for the Brexit Party and it has withdrawn its candidate who will you vote for now? You might vote Tory or Labour or not at all. You will not vote for a very pro EU party like the Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru or SNP.
Labour’s position on the EU is a muddle. Corbyn was a Eurosceptic for decades. He opposed the UK joining even the EEC. In 1983 he was dead against the EEC because it was a capitalist club. Only after 2010 did he support the EU. He campaigned for Remain in 2014 but his heart was not in it. The result was so close that if Labour had a passionate Europhile leader then Remain would have won. Labour has tried and failed to articulate a coherent EU policy since 2016. Labour has constantly contradicted itself. This issue is even more problematic for Labour than for the Tories. The Labour held seats in northern England are the most Leave of all.
The current Labour position is a monstrosity. A Labour Government will renegotiate a deal with the EU. Brussels may well tell them to go whistle. But if Labour get such a deal will it get through Parliament? Labour would then call a second referendum and put the deal to the people. Labour would then campaign against its own deal! You could not make it up. It is loonytastic!
Labour’s policy would prolong the Brexit debacle by at least 6 months. Everyone is sick to death of hearing about Brexit. Move on! Business demands that the UK sort it out. Leave or Remain. But do not continue this stasis. The whole mess could have been sorted out in March 2019. Like May’s deal or not it would at least have ended the muddle and palsy.
The Labour Party should be doing much better. The NHS is screaming. 50 000 nurses have left the profession early in the last 10 years and they are not being replaced at anything like that rate. The Windrush deportations have incensed the black community most of whom vote Labour. Income inequality is very wide. Accommodation is as extortionate ever. Education is in a shambles. A recruitment crisis bedevils teaching. The armed forces are a shadow of their former selves. Bo Jo kowtowing to Trump disgusts most people. Public transport is creaking. Crossrail has been delayed again. HS2 is being delayed and its cost is ballooning. The Conservative Government has failed to honour is promises. Pollution and climate change are hardly being tackled. The Tories have not deregulated as they are supposed to. There has been so much incompetence, inefficiency and dishonesty. Yet Labour is not benefitting.
Labour’s policies can charitably be called audacious. This uncosted wish list would be economically cataclysmic. Labour would have to increase taxes hugely. Labour’s defence policy is inane. Labour would keep Trident but never use it. Why have it then? These far left fantasies do not withstand a moment’s scrutiny.
Unlike in 2017 Labour seems to have gained nothing during the campaign. The Tories have not fallen back. The fact that the Brexit Party has basically copped out means that the Tories have a good chance of forming a majority even if a very slight one.
Plaid Cymru do not seem to have gained much from Labour’s poor performance in Wales. PC might gain two seats at most.
The SNP seems to be doing almost as well as last time. The SNP will probably take a few seats off the Tories. Labour will likewise take a couple of Tory seats in Scotland. North Britain is the most Remain part of the UK therefore the Tory share of the vote will fall sharply there.
In Northern Ireland there are only a few marginals. The SDLP will probably take back Foyle. The unionists have a good chance of retaking Fermanagh South Tyrone. Down North will be unionist of some kind. The DUP will probably lose Belfast South but retain Belfast North. The DUP and UUP need to amalgamate but have not.
The DUP is irate with the Tories for betraying the pact. The Democratic Unionists are aghast at the deal with the EU which the DUP feels weakens the Union. They will not support the Tories again.
The Liberal Democrats will easily double their tally of 12 from last time. They will gain Richmond Park for instance. Since 2017 several Tories and Labour MPs have defected to the Lib Dems. But most of these defectors are standing in seats not held by the Lib Dems. Apart from Luciana Berger all will lose. This is a pity since if Chuka Ummuna had stayed in Labour he could have been PM. The Westminster Independent Group will all be voted out.
There are two and a half weeks to go. As Harold Wilson said – a week is a long time in politics. But barring any disaster for the Tories the Tories will be the largest party. Boris was accused of sexually molesting two women in 1999. Did he put a hand on a lady’s knee at a party? It is easy to believe. But as he is popular people have chosen to disbelieve it.
The unpredictable part is how votes turn into seats. Anything can happen at backgammon. 1% of the House of Commons is 6.5 seats. If you get 1% of the vote will you get 6 or 7 seats? Er no… The system favours the duopoly. It is cruel to the minor parties. The party with the most votes does not always get the most seats. You can go up in votes and down in seats or vice versa. The latter happened to the Lib Dems last time.
It is likely that the Tories will get just over the magic number of 326. In reality the necessary figure is a little lower since Sinn Fein refuse to take their seats. If they did they could have stopped Brexit. SF has ditched so many principles. In 1998 it campaigned for the Good Friday Agreement which recognized the legitimacy of Northern Ireland’s place in the UK. SF holds 7 seats currently. If SF loses a few then that changes the number needed for a working majority.
If the Tories do not get a majority then they have a major headache. No one will offer them even a confidence and supply agreement. The DUP now regard the Tories as Judas. Labour, the SNP and the Lib Dems will not countenance it.
The trouble is the result of this election will be not much different from 2017. The Conservative and Unionist Party will then find it hard to rule.
Corbyn will then finally see sense. Who will be the next Labour leader? Keir Starmer is a good prospect. If Sadiq Khan were in the Commons he would be a contender. He is a fairly effectual Mayor of London. Khan is riding high in the polls and cruising for re-election as mayor in May 2020. There have been 5 mayoral elections thus far. It looks as though he will win the next one by the greatest ever margin.
The Tories are on 39% in the poll of polls. Labour is on 28%. But there is a margin of error. Am opinion poll is just that. It is not the actual vote. An opinion poll is never perfect. Some people lie. Some refuse to answer. Some change their minds later. Some later fail to vote. There is a margin of error of 2% points. What is Labour is actually on 30% and the Tories are on 37%? In that case it is just conceivable that Labour could get the most MPs. This would still not be 326 or even close. But Labour would be able to reach an accommodation with the Lib Dems and the SNP.
The SNP have demanded scrapping Trident. Corbyn would be only too happy to deliver his heart’s desire. His own party would not otherwise let him get away with it. Sturgeon would also demand another referendum on breaking up the Union. Corbyn has vacillated on this own. The suits in the City would not like a Corbyn Government. The Pound would fall. The markets would spook at his blood red bolshevism.
This a consequential election. The Tories are taking social media much more seriously than last time. The Conservative and Unionist Party has taken on board public fury about cost of living and public services. The Tories have been frightened into pledging more funding.
Corbyn is an indefatigable and zealous campaigner. But he is not electrifying crowds the way he once did. The old magic has done. Is he too old? He is a liability and not an asset. Only 20% of people approve of him. He is therefore less popular than his party. He drags it down. Put it this way – a third of Labour voters do not approve of him! People vote Labour despite him and not because of him. But there are still Corbyn cultists. Every pundit there is said he would a catastrophe for Labour and they have been proven correct. If Labour had a plausible leader they could win now.
Labour needs a complete rethink. After 3 election defeats on the trot it will be desperate to win. It needs a new Blair. Not a charlatan and a narcissist but a modernizer, an affable figure who appeals to people outside the Labour tribe.
Jo Swinson is youthful, engaging and let’s face it nubile. Her party is doing well but not as well as it did in the glory days of 2005-10. Why? Against a hard left Labour Party with a terrible leader and a controversial machiavellian posho Tory leader the Lib Dems should be performing more strongly.
Please God by the time the next election rolls around the Brexit issue is finally buried.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.