Whichever way you view it, this is fundamentally another Brexit-dominated election. The choice for prime minister is between two widely disliked figures. It’s probably the most bitter UK campaign in living memory, with the ideological gulf between the two main parties greater than at any time since 1945. Nevertheless, it also seems that voters will be more likely to abandon their usual parties than in any other post-war election. Many now identify as Leavers or Remainers, rather than as habitual supporters of a particular party. Despite Twitter’s ban on political advertising, online dirty tricks muddy the issues and distort the discourse in this new era of dubious campaigning techniques.
It’s known that the Conservatives have hired experts in this field. If an initial untruth bombards the social networks, it remains embedded in most minds as a fact, even when subsequent revelations disprove it. By then, we’ve moved on to a dizzying number of carefully calculated new distractions.
Just as liberal Republicans have been an extinct species on the US political landscape since the 1980s, today’s Conservative government is well on the way to extinguishing the embers of one-nation Toryism, despite Johnson’s repetitive use of the term. The Prime Minister’s recent self-promotion as improbable champion of the NHS is against all the evidence of what free trade deals with the US would mean to pharmaceutical costs and much else. This — like the harder line on law and order — is a pitch to Labour’s socially conservative pro-Brexit heartlands. It seems to be paying off. Some recent polls show that the Prime Minister is now more trusted with healthcare than Jeremy Corbyn — a development that must be sending shockwaves among Labour strategists. If Labour’s signature issue has been snatched for this election, it leaves the party seriously short of ammunition on a mostly hostile media-driven battlefront. The Johnson manta of “getting Brixit done” seems to have had more impact among traditionally Labour-voting Brexiteers than any concerns about the NHS or the spiralling rich-poor gap. Labour has failed to gain the impact that should have followed revelations like the leaked dossier on secret trade negotiations with the US. While precious few Tory voters will switch to Labour, a considerable number of traditional Labourites look set to back the Conservatives.
Paradoxically, Brexit voters commonly express their vague dislike of the EU “telling us what to do”, while the US President’s extraordinary pronouncements on UK political figures, royal family members and diplomatic appointments go unnoticed. Brexit serves as a surrogate for a wide range of public grievances. For the Conservative Party, it’s a vehicle for a radically deregulated neoliberal economy. A far cry from one-nation Conservatism.
Much has been made of the changed minds of many referendum Brexit voters in the light of more information on the overall implications. Little, however, has been said about the unknown number of Remainers who now reluctantly accept leaving in order to move on, and keep faith with the Brexit majority. In significant numbers they appear to be denting the vote for the Liberal Democrats, whose authoritarian policy of revoking Brexit without a referendum looks out of touch with present reality. While some Labour Remainers will undoubtedly switch to the Lib Dems, the centre party may also lose ground to the Greens. Jo Swinson is no Caroline Lucas.
Labour’s long-term hand-wringing has evolved into what might be seen as a principled way forward between two hardline positions, except that a great many voters have little appetite for relative complexity, and perhaps even less for another referendum. The party’s post-referendum fence-sitting has hurt its credibility and throughout the campaign opponents — and the media — have hammered away at this, as well as the tensions within the party that continue to simmer.
Among the other uncertainties are to what degree wet Tories might turn towards the moderate social conscience and economic policies of the Lib Dems. For voters from the left, however, the party remains tainted by its unpopular earlier coalition with the Tories. The resultant austerity measures (which current leader, Jo Swinson, supported) undermine her expressions of concern for poverty in this campaign. With support for the Tories stabilised, Labour’s best last-minute hope of picking up more votes seems to be among wavering Lib Dem supporters.
The Brexit Party has lost wind since the Conservatives have moved closer to Nigel Farage’s position. Since Farage’s electoral compromises to help Johnson, his party looks more like a lobby group. How much of an inroad into Labour’s crucial Scotland vote might the SNP make? Leader Nicola Sturgeon was probably correct in her assumption that, in the event of a hung parliament, Jeremy Corbyn would prefer to cut an idependence referendum deal with her, rather than facilitate another Conservative government. She shrewdly points out that the Labour leader has supported independence movements everywhere else. Sturgeon knows, however, that without Scotland, Labour’s chances of forming future governments diminish substantially. Is long-term Tory rule in Scotland’s closest friend and neighbour a price that anti-Conservative Sturgeon considers worth paying for independence? And is Scotland leaving the UK a price that some Tory strategists quietly consider to be worthwhile in order to keep Labour out of office for at least another generation?
After each substantial tv appearance of the party leaders during the campaign, straw polls show Corbyn and Johnson with similar approval ratings. This in sharp contrast to the opinion polls, which continue to give Johnson a commanding lead. As Corbyn receives more exposure, the opinion polls, influenced largely up ’til now by an overwhelmingly antagonistic press, show Labour’s position improving — though not by enough — while the Tory lead has plateaued.
It’s a bumpy ride. A larger than usual number of voters may claim to go along with the popular choice, while opting for something quite different in the seclusion of the voting booth.
Our chart has been compiled with reference to speeches, manifestos and, where applicable, voting records. Should significant policy changes be announced during the campaign, the chart will be updated accordingly.
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