In a week’s time we will likely know which party is going to be running the country for the next 1-5 years, trying to deal with the intractable problem of sorting Brexit, fixing the economy and keeping the country together.
Despite getting off to a poor start as Prime Minister, the election forecast looks broadly positive for Johnson’s Conservatives. The simple message of ‘Get Brexit Done’, whilst entirely misleading, may well resonate with voters who are fed up with Brexit and want to move on to other issues, regardless of whether they voted Leave or Remain. Embarrassing revelations about Johnson’s private life also seem to be quickly forgotten or overlooked, and he has not made any serious gaffes.
The party has lost some political heavyweights though, including Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke, as well as some rising starts and potential future leaders in Amber Rudd and Nicky Morgan. Another potential problem is that if you break polls down by gender, it’s clear that women are not keen on Johnson, and young people are not exactly thrilled with him either. His chances of remaining Prime Minister may therefore rest on getting the core Conservative vote out, along with those who voted Leave, whilst hoping everyone else stays at home.
There have been no major mishaps in the Labour campaign to date, but the party is still trailing the Conservatives in the polls, and its leader has atrocious net approval ratings. However, some of their policies have grabbed the public’s attention, promising giveaways galore such as free broadband (delivered at a cost one third of that of Openreach, without any redundancies) and nationalisation of anything that has at any point been part of the public sector.
As for Brexit, so far Labour’s policy has been to either try and talk about other things (not unreasonably – Brexit does not appear to be the single most important issue amongst voters), or delay any decision until after the election with an unrealistic promise of a ‘better deal’ (the EU will not renegotiate) followed by a second referendum. Labour seems to consider its vagueness a virtue, hoping that it will appeal to both Remainers and Leavers, but this is a risky strategy given that they are competing against the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and SNP, all of whom have clear policies.
The real joker in the pack are the Liberal Democrats. They’ve had a good 2019 so far, with a surge of newly elected MEPs, defections which have increased the party’s MP count by over 50%, a new leader and a clear message on Brexit (unilateral cancellation, in case you’ve missed it). However, they are hamstrung to a large extent by First Past the Post, which means their vote share is turned into a small number of MPs, and the fact that there are several other options if you want to register a protest vote. To make serious inroads, parties usually need 30% or more of the popular vote, and it seems unlikely that the Lib Dems will get anywhere near that.
The other difficulty for the Lib Dems is that their leader, Jo Swinson, has not been that inspiring. Particularly embarrassing are the polls which suggest that the more voters see and hear of Swinson, the less they think of her. There may be more than a whiff of sexism accounting for this – especially as Swinson is up against two male candidates – and it doesn’t help that her voting record in the coalition government is coming back to haunt her, or that she started off claiming to be the next Prime Minister. Whatever the reason though, the Lib Dems need to significantly up their game to be in with a realistic chance of influencing the next government.
Scottish National Party
The SNP seem likely to dominate Scotland – they are the obvious choice if you are pro-independence, pro-remain, anti-Tory, or a combination thereof. This is a problem for all the other parties, but particular Labour and the Conservatives. Labour need to win seats in Scotland to stand a chance of getting an overall majority, but they have the advantage of starting from a low point of 7 MPs. The Conservatives may benefit from being the obvious choice if you are pro-union, but they also have nearly twice as many MPs than Labour to lose.
After failing to do a deal with the Conservatives, Nigel Farage announced that his Brexit Party will contest nearly every seat in England, Scotland and Wales, and then changed his mind and decided to give the Conservatives a clear run in seats they already held. It seems unlikely that the Brexit Party will win any seats, or at the most one or two, given that Farage has had virtually no success in previous elections,1 and the party has already collapsed into bouts of infighting. However, they could be the deciding factor in some constituencies – the key question being whether they take votes from Conservatives who think Johnson’s Brexit is not hard enough, or Labour leavers who are fed up with endless delays and vacillation.
The Green Party will retain their solitary seat. Other than that they are not a threat to any of the other parties and will not be relevant in the formation of the next government.
Psychic Paul Predicts
Past predictions of Psychic Paul proved pathetically prescient, but I think the Conservatives are likely to be returned with a small but workable majority, sufficient to pass the Withdrawal Agreement and get the first stage of Brexit over the line. Even if the Conservatives fail to get an overall majority, I expect them to be the largest party and have first dibs on forming a government – especially given the coolness between the SNP, Liberal Democrats and Labour making a coalition unlikely.