It’s the most important election for a generation. ‘Boris’ is ahead in all manner of polls but the result remains unequivocally unpredictable.
The 2017 snap election presented many Brexiteers with an opportunity to unseat the MPs attempting to sabotage the result of the EU referendum. Other voters may have called it a ‘Selexit’: a means of selecting the political party to deliver Brexit and by extension nominating the preferred version. Either way, voters participated in the last general election on the assumption that Brexit was going ahead. That certitude has been increasingly eroded with each rejected deal and each episode in Parliament.
The upcoming election is, at first glance, a coded second referendum. Remainers are being persuaded towards the Liberal Democrats who vow to cancel Brexit, whereas the Conservatives, who pledge to ‘Get Brexit Done’, are going for the Eurosceptic vote. The newly created Brexit Party is deliberately not standing in Conservative strongholds to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote. Early speculations even envisaged the Brexit Party and Liberal Democrats as the two new major parties. But this general election is not simply an EU referendum in party political clothing. If it were, the result would be predictable and it is anything but.
In the time that the UK Parliament has vainly negotiated a Brexit deal, so many socio-economic issues disappeared from the frontlines of political discourse. These include poverty, inadequate housing, low wages, educational cuts and poor job security, especially zero hours’ contracts. The announcement of the December election caused these problems to step back into the limelight and they became highly weaponised in the Labour Party’s election manifesto that vows to address them.
While the other parties’ Brexit policy is their main vote winner, the promise to address ongoing austerity is central to Labour’s game plan with the Party promising to give the People ‘a final say on Brexit’. Reminding the electorate of the problems that have worsened while Brexit has dominated has worked in the Party’s favour, providing ‘its strongest lead over the Conservatives as the Party most concerned about people in real need in Britain (59% vs 34%)’. Thus, the return of forgotten austerity seems capable of securing a Labour victory and affecting the subsequent ‘Final Say’. We could see voters persuaded to forgo Brexit in favour of fixing the austerity long overshadowed by EU matters. Just that outcome seems plausible, further opinion polls contradict it.
The latest Ipsos MORI Political Monitor polls show Labour to have convinced voters of their compassion, but not their leadership competency. The party’s ‘being fit to govern’ rating is nine points lower than in 2017 and a staggering 75% of those asked described the Party as ‘divided’. The perceived schisms in Labour can only have been strengthened by its ‘Leave’ wing that actively opposes the Party’s official ‘Remain’ stance. And here is where the Conservatives’ selling points come in. Until now, the Tories were always more divided by the EU than Labour. Now the tables have turned and that ability to keep to a consensus and plan may well be what is attracting voters. 49% of those polled see Boris Johnson as ‘the leader who would make the most capable Prime Minister’ and Johnson has a 21% lead over Jeremy Corbyn for general likeability. More voters say the ‘Conservatives have a good team of leaders (37% [+10] vs 22% for Labour) and are fit to govern (46% vs. 29%).’ Concurrently, the polls predict traditional Labour strongholds of Bishop Auckland, Great Grimsby, Stoke-on-Trent North and Workington will elect the Conservative candidate. These are all places that voted to leave the EU.
That the traditional Socialist heartlands are now favouring Tory rule poses the question – why? Is it simply because voters there favour the Brexit that Boris promises or because the Tory Party seems simply more organised? Or does it bleed into the wider issue of delivering the will of the People? Many voters feel those with the power to uphold the referendum result have deliberately sabotaged it. That some Labour MPs have needed to be persuaded to respect the ‘Leave’ outcome has angered so many, as did the vetoing by the ‘Tory Rebels’. The Liberal Democrats have been ridiculed by some for keeping the word ‘democrat’ in their name while vowing to overrule the result of a democratic vote. Yet 18% cannot trust them to keep their promises in any event. Thus, are the Tories doing so well in the polls and winning in Labour heartlands because voters are adopting a ‘better the devil you know’ mentality, enhanced by the good organisation the Party espouses? Or is it because many British voters feel ignoring the vote to leave would be so undemocratic, any future votes would simply not be worth the ballot paper they are cast on?
Simply put, this election is chiefly so unpredictable because it is impossible to tell what people will prioritise: tackling austerity, party reliability, good leadership and organisation, delivering Brexit or the upholding of democracy, the definition of which is open for interpretation.