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The final countdown

  • Published at 11:56 pm December 6th, 2019
2019-12-06T123157Z_1299257110_RC2OPD9SPD0G_RTRMADP_3_BRITAIN-ELECTION-JOHNSON
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures during the launch of a general campaign poster at the Kent Showground in Detling, Kent, Britain on Friday, December 6, 2019 Reuters

Support for the Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, has not benefited from the large Remain marches of autumn, and its 'Revoke Article 50' stance seems an own goal, so the trend continues

With only a few days before votes are counted, opinion polls still average a consistent 10-point lead for the Conservative party over Labour.

Although Labour has had some popular manifesto pledges and is firming up some of its voters, polls at most see its share edging into the low 30s – a big drop since 2017, leaving enough of a gap to give the Conservatives a clear majority.

Boris Johnson is benefiting from the collapse of the Brexit Party which, when newly formed in June, bagged 31% of the (always low) turnout for elections to the European Parliament. The departure of four Brexit party MEPs on Thursday, to fall in behind the Tories’ “Get Brexit done” mantra, only adds to opinion poll predictions suggesting Johnson is likely to stay above 40% of the vote at this election.Support for the Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, has not benefited from the large Remain marches of autumn, and its “Revoke Article 50” stance seems an own goal, so the trend continues. 

Johnson’s approach of risking a hard Brexit, which seemed to go disastrously wrong when trying to push votes through parliament just two months ago, is on the verge of taking the Conservatives to a fourth election win in a row.

A costly triumph, given the divisions Johnson’s strategy has already deepened within his party and the irreconcilable promises he is making among different parts of the electorate, but victory nonetheless – provided – he secures a majority. Anything less he cannot afford, as Theresa May found to her cost, despite securing over 13.5 million votes.

Not for nothing, then, has Johnson’s team been practising a “Ming vase” strategy of minimizing appearances and trying to walk him over the line. 

Friday’s head to head with Jeremy Corbyn risks some of this of course, but the calculation is that it is now too late for most of the voters the prime minister needs to be swayed.

By the early hours of December 13, everyone will know for sure, so this briefing is the last of its type; a surfeit of post-match analysis will be available on the airwaves as soon as the exit poll hits.

Until then, the usual caveats apply. On the ground, it remains difficult to be sure. Posters are scarce in people’s windows, and walking around with canvassers in marginal constituencies is riddled with confirmation bias. There are also very local trends, with some seats having lively public hustings and others with moribund local parties, where the only activists visible are those bussed in from outside.   

The most predicted probable outcome is still a notable Conservative majority, the second a different type of hung parliament. The least predicted, and most improbable, is a Labour majority.

Five questions to follow up this election campaign

  1. Are party loyalties changing?
  • If some of Labour’s “red wall” of traditional Northern and Welsh working-class constituencies is breached by lots of Conservative victories, this question will get louder. Likewise, if a surge of tactical voting deprives the Tories of many Southern English seats
    1. Does the UK need better rules for TV debates?
  • Yes, social media is still the Wild West, and the public depends on or trusts television the most for reliable news. The present free for all in debate formats and styles needs harmonizing
  • While the UK public is long used to a lot of pro-Conservative bias in its newspapers and this is “priced in” blatant party propaganda is now being amplified by the choice of broadcasters devoting a growing amount of airtime to only reporting  front page headlines, increasing the need for more to be done to level the playing field on air, as election law requires
  1. Does Brexit beat party unity?
  • So far, certainly, the Tory strategy of “Get Brexit Done” has been enough for Brexit party voters who flocked to Nigel Farage in May, to be seduced by Johnson’s slogan
  1. Does identify count?
  • For all the lobbying done by assorted minority ethnic and religious community groups, there is no hard evidence it makes much difference
  • Psephologists are clear that while sometimes there is a skew one way or another between men and women, a voter’s class, education, employment, income and the location of a constituency are far and away the prevailing factors in how people vote, not their identity
  • Northern Ireland is the exception that proves the rule; its leading parties are all organized on sectarian religious divides or so called “unionist” vs “nationalist” lines. While the UK liberalized abortion and decriminalized homosexuality in 1967, with none of the culture war throwback seen in the US from the religious right, Northern Ireland still has parties debating these issues
  1. Which party leader will resign first?
  • Farage barely has a party to resign from, but may still be first. Corbyn, if he loses, does not have youth on his side, unlike Jo Swinson, so most likely to follow
  • Nicola Sturgeon clearly the least likely
  1. Buckethead or Binface?
    • After an unlikely copyright wrangle deprived the former Lord Buckethead (a veteran comedy candidate) of the right to use the title, he renamed himself Count Binface
    • Voters in Uxbridge, west of London, where Boris Johnson is MP, have the opportunity on Thursday to decide who is most popular
    • Binface running as Buckethead got 249 votes running in Theresa May’s constituency in 2017, so is favourite; on the other hand, as the PM’s majority is predicted and there is a local university, both Binface and Buckethead’s votes are likely to be squeezed by the local Labour candidate running an “unseat Boris” campaign