Do Labour Dare Hope? – Election Update

News and Politics

When the election was called, I made a number of predictions which now appear somewhat ill-judged. Foremost among these was an assumption that Labour’s vote share will likely decline before polling day. So far, the opposite has happened. While the Conservatives have been hugely bolstered by the near-total collapse of UKIP, Labour has also experienced a surge in the polls, seemingly at the expense of the Greens and more interestingly the Lib Dems and maybe also UKIP. A YouGov poll released today has the party on 38% (it’s highest since 2014) with the Conservatives down a few points to 43%. If this poll is not a freak outlier, as it still may very well be, then Labour have essentially closed within five points what was, when the election was called, a twenty point gap.

As much as I’d want this to be true, jubilation will have to wait until we get to see more polls, however, that being said, what is increasingly beyond doubt is that Labour has experienced a surge (the proportions of which are highly debatable) over the past few weeks.

The former Tory Leader, William Hague, once stated that his party has two modes: Panic and Complacency, and the latter I believe is now a significant factor behind recent developments. Personally, I don’t think that the Conservative Campaign is quite as bad as some say, largely because, just as in 2015, a significant part of it is invisible and focused on digital targeting, however, it is still pretty darn abysmal. It still shocks me that the same people behind Cameron’s 2015 surprise win are capable of running such a poor operation, although perhaps the spirit of complacency has gotten to their heads too.

I mean, gosh, where to begin? Theresa May seemingly looked at her initially giant poll lead and assumed that she could start drowning puppies on live television and still win in a landslide. She must have thought that the British public hated Corbyn and adored her so much that (perhaps as Thatcher had done decades earlier) she could get away with a number of deeply unpopular, albeit allegedly necessary, policies.

First, there was fox hunting, which is still a really big deal for some reason (I mean, honestly, aren’t schools and hospitals a little more important than the welfare of some occasionally cute mammals that shit on the lawn and eat your garbage?). Hunting is still vehemently opposed by the overwhelming majority of the UK population, and those that do like it would have voted Conservative anyway. And then there was the ‘Dementia Tax,’ a plan to fund social care by forcing the elderly to sell away their homes, as well as the end to the pension triple lock. It really shows just how certain the Tories were of victory that they dared to attack the elderly (the one part of the population that is certain to vote).

Meanwhile, encouraged by her high approval ratings, Theresa May decided to run her campaign as if it were a Presidential run. Conservative branding was stripped from party literature in the North of the country, instead replaced with talk of “Theresa’s candidates” and “Theresa’s Team,” while actual policy substance was disregarded. Last year, another female politician tried a similar strategy against an anti-establishment outsider with solid, populist, messaging… It didn’t go well. Meanwhile, the lack of returns from the overwhelming focus on Brexit has shown what I’ve believed to be the case for a while – That Brexit is nowhere near as important of an issue to most people as pundits believe. Most Britons think that that battle has already been fought and now just want the government to get on with it, and therefore Labour’s strategy of largely ignoring the issue while focusing on domestic policy was probably the correct decision.

Speaking of Labour, and of policy – To seemingly everyone’s surprise, the party has been running a very good campaign. Messaging so far has been solid, and capable of penetrating into minds of those who don’t stay up at night thinking about politics. Popular policy pledges have been consistently repeated on radio and television, and they seem to be getting through. A recent YouGov survey has asked voters about what they perceived to be the main policies of the two parties. For Labour, the top two are scrapping tuition fees and increasing NHS funding. For the Conservatives, the ‘Dementia Tax’ and “Going ahead with Brexit.” While, in the wake of the Manchester attack, the Tories still lead on issues of defence and security, perhaps Labour’s message about cuts to police budgets under the current government may also have a positive effect. Corbyn himself has done a rather good job so far, and while most voters still really don’t like him, perhaps he’s a negative factor which increasing numbers of them are willing to overlook. So yeah, to my surprise, the Labour operation has managed to find within itself a healthy dose of competence.

And then we come to the Lib Dems, the one party who seemingly had little to lose and everything to gain from this election. Personally, I expected them to make modest gains, unlike some who apparently expected Tim Farron to become the Leader of the Opposition. However, even that seemed to have been too optimistic. To the surprise of most, including myself, who expected moderate Labour voters and some pro-remain Tories to defect to the Lib Dems, the opposite has happened. Former Lib Dem supporters who voted for the Tories in 2015 have barely moved, while considerable numbers of the party’s remaining backers have switched to Labour. Now there is even talk of Nick Clegg losing his seat in Sheffield.

UKIP’s collapse is a peculiar phenomenon, and I have a strange feeling that it may not necessarily be the godsend that the Tories expect. The predominant belief right now is that those seeking to predict individual constituency results should simply take at least half of the UKIP vote and give it to the Conservative candidate. I think that’s a huge oversimplification because it completely ignores regional context. UKIP’s 2015 vote can be largely split into two groups. Former Tories who were angry about the European Union, and former Labour and BNP voters who were angry about immigration. The former group, who largely reside in the South, are obviously going to go back to the Conservatives now that Brexit is dealt with. However, the latter group, who largely reside in the North, is a far more open question. Many of those people really do not like the Tories, and never did. They are the reason that Paul Nuttall feels obliged to bang on about the NHS, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they either stick with UKIP or maybe even go back to Labour. Therefore, the result would be Theresa May piling up extra votes where she doesn’t need them while Labour clings on to its heartlands.

Now for some caveats. While current polling trends are good for Labour, actual election results are not. The local elections on the 5th of May made for grim reading, however, that was before Labours apparent surge towards the end of the month. Secondly, there is also a danger of Labour piling up votes in safe seats, as YouGov’s regional polling might suggest. Go and ask Hillary Clinton about how an absurdly unrepresentative voting system can make irrelevant one’s national support. Thirdly, once polls start predicting a tighter race, Conservative fear tactics about a Corbyn-led government propped up by a “Coalition of Chaos”, a prospect most only recently thought impossible, will be far more effective. Fourth, polls almost always overestimate Labour’s support – that may very well be what we’re seeing now. Fifth, there are still two weeks to go, so expect CCHQ and their (plenty) allies in the media to go absolutely nuts.

Perhaps that Conservative landslide which we thought inevitable might not be such as foregone conclusion after all. If Theresa May comes away with a majority similar in scope to what she possesses now, don’t be surprised to see her ousted as leader of her party even before Jeremy Corbyn.

 

 

 

 

“Brexit Cannot Be A Success” – Why A Deal Between Britain and the EU Probably Won’t Happen

News and Politics

If you haven’t heard by now, Jean-Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission, had dinner at Downing Street with May and her chief negotiators last week – and then leaked the details to the German press. Essentially, it’s a culmination of what we already largely knew: The UK is unwilling to pay any substantial ‘divorce settlement’ and the European Union does not want Brexit to be a success. Shocker!

Clearly, this was already obvious to anyone who understands the people involved and the interests they happen to represent. “Brexit cannot be a success,” as Junker himself said, because such an outcome is contradictory to the EU’s long-term goal of, well, continuing to exist. One shouldn’t require much explanation as to why the union simply cannot allow a member state to exit on terms which are even relatively equal to those that it enjoyed inside. Britain will either leave on a deal which involves considerable financial compensation to the block or without a deal at all. Moderate Brexiteers, those that delusionally hoped for both sides to come to a mutually beneficial agreement, will come out in droves to explain why that simply isn’t fair but, well, what on Earth did you expect? The only outcome which benefits the European Union is the one in which the European Union doesn’t suffer an existential crisis, and where Britain gets hammered as a warning to other potential defectors. Tad mean? Sure. Kind of resembles a Mafiosi protection racket? Uh huh. Welcome to the real world sunshine.

Now, if Britain happened to be lead by individuals willing to compromise, then a deal could still potentially be struck. A bad deal, sure, but still better than no deal at all. Still better than us crashing out of the European Union and the Single Market with no transitional period and then having to conduct business with our single largest trading partner on WTO terms. Unfortunately, I’m quite sure that’s exactly the direction we’re heading in because Theresa May has decided to fill her top team with hardcore Brexiteers to whom the prospect of Britain completely severing ties with the EU isn’t even all that frightening. A “Clean” or a “Hard” Brexit is precisely what David Davis (The Secretary of State for Leaving The European Union) and Liam Fox (The Secretary of State for International Trade) have campaigned on for years. Their children are unlikely to be affected by cuts to state schools or rising food prices, and their taxpayer-funded second homes in SW1 will ensure that the ever rising cost of rent will similarly be an issue that only the plebs will have to concern themselves with.

So no, I don’t think there will be much resembling a deal at the end of the, absurdly short, two-year negotiation period, or at least the chances of us reaching one are more or less whatever odds you assign to Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minster on the 9th of June.

I wouldn’t expect Theresa May and the Conservatives to suffer too much politically from such an outcome, or at least not for a long while. A narrative is already being set by the right-wing tabloid press which continues to exert an ungodly influence over British politics. If, or when, the negotiations fail, two camps will be entirely at blame. One will be the unreasonable men in Brussels, of course, who refused to ignore their own political interests in order to ensure that Britain is punished. The second recipient of blame will be far more frightening. It will be the “Saboteurs,” the “Remoaner” fifth column which did nothing but “talk Britain down,” and the foreigners who keep stealing all the jobs that nobody else wants. And a considerable part of the population will continue to drink the kool-aid because they couldn’t possibly have been wrong and because confirmation bias continues to be a powerful force. After a while, as the economic consequences begin to hit home and the opposition gets its house in order, opinion will shift, but only then.

***

Okay, so as I was in the middle of writing this, Theresa May decided to step outside of number 10 and give a rather extraordinary speech. Not only, she said, had “The European Commission’s negotiating stance hardened” but that “Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.” Furthermore, she claimed that “All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June.”

There are two things to be said about that statement. Firstly, it’s brilliant electioneering. May has practically implied that a vote for any party other than the Conservatives is a vote for Brussels and Jean-Claude Junker. A vote for the Conservatives, therefore, is a vote to tell that sleazeball and his cronies where to shove it. A vote against continental meddling in our affairs.

Secondly, however, the claim that European politicians and officials are actively seeking to influence the result of June’s election is both absurd and simultaneously dangerous. To make such dramatic accusations against the very people on who’s ‘goodwill’ Britain’s long-term future depends is an outright act of national self-harm. Theresa May will get her majority all right. It will probably be very big. However, as did Cameron when he called the Referendum in the first place, she is trashing her nation’s future for the relatively short term benefit of the Conservative Party. Whoever wrote that speech should be given a bloody medal; before being sent straight down to hell.

 

Briefly About The TV Debates – Why They Won’t Happen and Why Corbyn is Right Not to Take Part

News and Politics

So, according to recent polling, the majority of the British public want Theresa May to take part in a live TV debate ahead of the upcoming election. Regardless, she is still insistent on refusing. A lot of people are somewhat cross at her and seem to think that sharing Change.org petitions will force the PM to change her mind, which it goes without saying is a little silly. Then, today, Labour announced that Jeremy Corbyn won’t be attending any debate if May doesn’t do so either after BBC and ITV expressed a desire to go ahead without her. It goes without saying that, with both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition missing, there probably won’t be any TV debates after all.

That might be a shame, since these things are always pretty fun, but, I’d briefly like to explain why I think that:

  1. Theresa May’s refusal to take part is terrifically obvious
  2. Corbyn’s decision to not attend a debate without her is actually the right one.

Firstly, unlike the USA, the UK does not have a history of televised election debates. In fact, they’ve previously only happened in 2015 and 2010. That aside, May was never going to allow herself to be dragged into one because, to put it bluntly, she sucks at media and, unlike Cameron, has an opinion poll lead large enough to essentially warrant telling the broadcasters to go fuck themselves. May has nothing substantial to gain from a TV debate and a lot to lose, so the obvious response is to avoid it.

In 2001, when the Labour government had a similarly massive poll lead, William Hague (the Tory leader) practically begged Blair for a debate. However, Labour’s election wizards rightfully concluded that it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Blair, who was far better at media and debating than Theresa May, then won his second landslide and everyone moved on.

In 2010, when polls were on a knife’s edge, the first general election debate in British history was held, the star of which ended up being neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown but Nick Clegg, the charismatic new Liberal Democrat leader. As a large portion of the electorate at the time was both sick of Labour and still wary of the Conservatives, Clegg and the Lib Dems proceeded to rise spectacularly in the polls. TV election debates almost always benefit the underdogs. 

But why shouldn’t Corbyn take part? Surely, if May doesn’t show up, that will give the opposition a very good platform to hammer the government? No. It won’t. Instead, it will probably result in the best case scenario for the Conservatives. This already happened before. In 2015, a second debate was held between all the major opposition parties after Cameron refused to come. The event descended into chaos as the opposition leaders quickly came to resemble the very “Coalition of chaos” that Conservative propoganda was warning the public about, with all the polls and pundits predicting a hung parliament.

So no, Corbyn shouldn’t show up to any debate if May is “Empty chaired.” That’s exactly what Crosby and CCHQ want.

Can Labour Avoid Total Catastrophe? – Electoral Predictions For June

News and Politics

As I wrote on this blog yesterday, the snap election on June 8th will end with Theresa May securing a very comfortable majority, which should be rather obvious to everybody. The only question is exactly how large will that majority be? I mentioned some historical parallels the other day, so perhaps that’s not the worse place to start. In 1983, the last time when Labour was both in opposition and this far behind in the polls, it ended up with 209 seats – pretty bad, but only approximately 30 less than what the party commands now. However, the electoral map today looks significantly worse for Jeremy Corbyn than it did for Michael Foot.

What Do The Numbers Say?

So, the current polling average has the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 26%. According to a traditional “Swingometer,” if the vote was held today, that would translate into a Conservative majority of 94, having taken 41 seats from Labour and one from the SNP, as you can see in the graph below.

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The Numbers Are Misleading

Well, sort of anyway. Firstly, I have a slight suspicion that the current polling is somewhat exaggerating Labour support. Why? Well, because it usually does, and, as I will explain later, it is highly likely that Conservative support will increase as the campaign properly begins. Under first past the post, even small swings can bring substantial changes to the map. For example, if (instead of 42/26) the Conservatives manage to win 44% to Labour’s 24%, their majority increases to 130.

Secondly, it would be wrong to take these calculations as absolute gospel, even if the projected national swing is correct. That is because some constituencies are likely to see a higher than average swing due to issues such as Brexit. According to the graph above, the Liberal Democrats will only gain one seat (Cambridge from Labour). That is almost certainly untrue, as the party will likely gain a number of pro-remain seats from the Conservatives, as the latter’s election chief has warned. Furthermore, a majority of those happen to be former Lib Dem seats anyway, making their comeback there more likely. Another example could be Labour seats where many people are employed in nuclear power or the defence industry, as such voters will be much more susceptible to anti-Corbyn messaging due to the Labour leader’s previous views on energy and the military. Such local concerns are not represented in national polling.

What Is Likely To Change Between Now and June?

Glad you asked. First and foremost, Labour’s support will likely decline. Since Corbyn was elected leader, his ardent supporters have wasted no time complaining about unfair media coverage. Well, over the next few months they will discover what a Conservative Party media machine really looks like. Tory operatives will dig up everything unsavoury the man has ever said or done and hand it to their friends in the press. Every comment he ever made about the IRA. Every newspaper he ever worked for that condoned terrorism. Every penny he ever took from the “wrong” people. Everything which contributes to an image of Corbyn being simultaneously dangerous and incompetent. They will destroy him, just as they did with Milliband and Kinnock, only this time their people will have far more material to work with.

Speaking of “their people,” Lynton Crosby has already been hired to help lead the campaign. That’s the 60-year-old Australian who engineered Cameron’s surprise victory in 2015. Some of his tactics have certainly come under staunch criticism, but the man knows how to run an election campaign. They’ll wake up at 5 AM every day for six weeks and their machine will be devastatingly effective. Tory HQ has also hired the same pollsters as last time round, also known as “The only people in Britain who weren’t surprised by David Cameron’s majority.” Simply put, as far as talent is concerned, Labour isn’t even close. They weren’t close in 2015, and now most of the party has accepted their face and is only worried about the internal battles to follow.

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Get ready for an updated version.

 

Tory Apathy 

Now for some counterbalance, I suppose. In 2015, the Conservatives owed their much-renowned victory to a terrifically effective fear factor. Third party voters and apathetic Tories alike were driven to the polls by the feeling that a Labour government propped up by the SNP was a very real possibility. Much of Crosby’s messaging initiative was focused on precisely this.

This time, however, few people in Britain actually believe that Jeremy Corbyn can become Prime Minister, and that’s a problem. If Labour manages to do a decent job of mobilising its voters, then the potential apathy on the other side might ensure that they lose by a significantly smaller margin than most expect. Combine that with moderately sized Lib Dem comeback, and May’s projected supermajority might not be quite as super after all.

Why Now

That’s what a lot of people, myself included, were undoubtedly wondering as May went back on her approximately 7 million promises not to hold an election before 2020. I suppose the reason she finally couldn’t resist is that it’s unlikely to get any better from here for the Conservatives. By 2020, Corbyn might have resigned and been replaced with someone at least half-competent, while the realities of leaving the European Union without a proper trade deal might begin to set in. This is her best chance to get a huge majority while likely reducing the opposition to its lowest number of seats since before the Second World War. Temptation is a potentially irresistible force.

My Pointless Prediction Then…

All things considered, and while it will be much easier to tell closer to the date, my own feeling is that May will take somewhere between 40 and 50 seats from Labour while the Lib Dems make moderate gains from both Labour and the Conservatives. The SNP will probably hold on to almost every seat in Scotland despite one or two loses to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives. UKIP will get nowhere. Brexit was the worst thing that ever happened to them.

Quick Thoughts On The Early Election

News and Politics

For obvious reasons, since Theresa May became Prime Minister last summer, all sorts of people began comparing Britain’s second female PM to Margaret Thatcher. However, among the more politically astute, some comparisons were made with Gordon Brown, Labour’s own last (perhaps ever) resident in Number 10. Neither May nor Brown obtained their posts through an election, neither within the country or even within their respective parties. Both became Prime Minster at a time of great national uncertainty, be that Brexit or the 2008 financial crisis. Both long contemplated on whether to call an early election. Brown kept hinting at one but eventually chickened out, while May kept saying that an election wasn’t necessary until she asked the commons to give her one after all. However, this is largely where the comparison ends, because while Brown got booted out and replaced by the coalition government, May’s electoral fortunes will be far closer to that of Mrs Thatcher.

Few are in any doubt about what is going to happen on the night of the 8th June. Just as in 1983, The Conservatives will all but certainly achieve an overwhelming parliamentary majority at the expense of a bitterly divided and farcically led Labour Party. The Thatcher comparison in that sense is thoroughly uncanny. Therefore, this election will be all about what happens afterwards. That said, there are some details which might give us a hint as to what could be in store for the long term, especially concerning a potential political realignment. How many remain voters can the Liberal Democrats snatch from Labour and the Conservatives? Despite inevitably losing huge amounts of swing voters to the Tories, how will Labour’s electoral coalition hold up? The party’s support is currently split between overwhelmingly pro-remain metropolitans and it’s traditional working class base, of whom a considerable amount back Brexit. Will that balance change? And if yes, how? As for UKIP, forget about it. UKIP is over.

Of course, May’s reasoning for calling the vote is largely nonsense. In her initial announcement, she accused all the opposition parties of playing politics, while in reality, her decision to hold the election in the first place is the among the biggest examples of “playing politics” there could be. Those complaining that the snap election will waste valuable Brexit negotiating time are also largely kidding themselves. Those negotiations won’t really start until the end of September anyway – because this little thing called “Democracy” exists on the continent as well, and talks are currently rather fruitless until the French and the Germans figure out who will end up governing them throughout that process.

Finally, coming back to Labour, the question on everyone’s minds is what happens to the party’s leadership after it inevitably gets thrashed in June. Well, my personal prediction is that Corbyn will attempt to hang on until Party Conference in September. The hope is that his supporters can pass the so-called “McDonnell Amendment” (lowering the number of MPs one needs to qualify for a leadership election) and then have Corbyn safely step down while anointing a successor. The other internal battle that is bound to occur pretty soon is over mandatory reselection of MPs in time for the general election. After failing to get a single Corbynite candidate selected for any of the recent by-elections, Labour’s left will be keen to replace many of their opponents in safe seats, giving themselves another alternative to cling on to the leadership should the McDonnell Amendment fail at conference. The chances of the party’s NEC actually approving such a measure, however, remains very slim.

Those are my initial thoughts anyway, I’ll probably write more as the campaign begins. Should be fun.