A Christmas general election is coming. By voting to reject Boris Johnson’s Brexit timetable, Parliament has made passing his Bill significantly harder.
Unlike most general elections, the outcome could be pivotal in deciding the future of the UK for the next 50 years.
Polling gives the Conservatives more than a 10-point lead over Labour (YouGov 21st October). However, our election system does not reward parties for piling up votes in safe seats or coming a close second place. 2017 also showed that polls do not predict outcomes.
Given this context, how are the different parties approaching this upcoming clash?
The strategy for the conservatives in this election is a complete break with previous successes and political norms. David Cameron won his majority in 2015 by tacking closely to the centre of politics. He was able to hold together a coalition of voters which included UKIP supporters as well as increased votes from former Lib Dems, the young and ethnic minorities (their best result amongst this demographic).
Boris Johnson is doing the exact opposite. By appealing almost exclusively to Brexit voters, he is likely to turn away the more liberal group that voted for the conservatives in 2015. The calculation is that they will be able to pick up those voters who have historically voted for UKIP/Brexit party as well as old Labour voters in the north of England.
In writing off their more liberally inclined seats such as St Albans, Richmond, Guildford etc., can they replace them with dozens of seats in Labour’s heartland? On balance, it seems unlikely.
They won 317 seats in the 2017 election. It wouldn’t be surprising if they lost all 13 of their seats in Scotland in addition to 25-30 other seats in England and Wales to the Liberal Democrats. So to get their majority, they would need to win a minimum of 50 Labour seats, many of which have never voted Conservative in their history.
Seat Prediction: 290 – 320
Labour’s approach is to try and build a coalition across both Remain and Leave voters through their policy around backing a second referendum. They’re banking on voters being tired of austerity and being willing to vote for a party promising major changes. They see 2017 as a vindication of this strategy. However, you never fight the same election twice.
In 2017, Corbyn was up against Theresa May who was not a natural campaigner. The Labour Party was also able to pick up the majority of the remain vote through their ambiguous position on Brexit. In 2019, the country is far more polarised on this issue than they were. Therefore, having a policy of supporting a referendum, but not supporting either side, is unlikely to please anybody.
In the end, Labour will end up in the unenviable position of losing Brexit votes to the Conservatives and Brexit Party but seeing their Remain votes head to the SNP and Lib Dems. Their only hope is that the Brexit vote splits between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives allowing them to hold their northern seats. Boris Johnson has been able to head off most of this danger through his more hard-line Brexit policy and so this is not a likely outcome.
Seat Prediction: 230 – 270
Best of the Rest
Divide the Unionist vote, bash Westminster and question the legitimacy of Brexit in Scotland.
Seat Prediction: 40 – 50
Talk up the danger of Brexit and a Jeremy Corbyn government. They hope that they can pick up the voters who went to Cameron in 2015 as well as social democrats leaving the Labour party.
Seat Prediction 40 – 50
They claim Boris Johnson’s deal is not a real Brexit and that only they are the protectors of Britain’s future. They will certainly target those Leave-voting Labour seats that voted heavily for UKIP.
Seat Prediction 0 – 5