Battle for Westminster: Predicting the Unpredictable Brexit Election
While the United Kingdom is embroiled in a Brexit crisis, the public is heading to the polls for the third general election in just five years. The government lost its majority when Johnson expelled 21 of his MPs for voting against the government. In calling the election Boris Johnson is taking a massive gamble. There is a chance he won’t gain a conservative majority, resulting in another hung parliament. With strong polling numbers and a Brexit deal on the table, Johnson’s gamble may pay off. However, the Labour party and other smaller parties are desperate to deny him the tory majority that he has staked his premiership on.
The Conservative Party currently holds a large lead in the polls, a rough average of between 10-12% over the second- placed Labour party. However, in the 2017 general election, the conservatives held a similar and often larger polling lead at this stage of the campaign. What followed was a collapse in the vote share and a surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. Have the Conservatives learned their lesson this time? They arguably have a better campaigner in Boris Johnson and despite his gaffe-prone personality still maintains higher net approval rating than opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. They also have a good strategy of targeting traditionally Labour voting constituencies that swung heavily in favour of Brexit in 2016. These areas, mostly in the north and midlands of England were once considered Labour heartlands but now could propel Boris Johnson to a majority. The Conservatives have also worked hard to win over the Brexit vote. With a deal in place with the EU, it is little wonder why Boris Johnson’s strategy of making Brexit central to the campaign and constantly arguing to ‘get Brexit done’ is popular. There are potential problems for the Conservatives, however. The party is likely to lose seats won in Scotland in 2017 due to its hard Brexit stance and also many remain voting constituencies in London could be lost to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the south. In order to win this election, the Conservatives need to make up for the expected losses and gain some on top that elsewhere.
On the other hand, many in the Labour party did not want this general election and it is pretty obvious why. The party is well behind the Conservatives in polls and leader Jeremy Corbyn is deeply unpopular. On Brexit, the party’s policy has changed considerably and many in the country do not understand its stance. The party is under pressure from both remain voters who could favour a more explicitly pro-remain party like the Liberal Democrats and also leave voters in the north of England and Wales. Boris Johnson has criticised Labour for its Brexit policy which is to renegotiate a new deal and put that to a referendum. This has not proved popular with both remain and leave voters as it does not resolve Brexit soon and could still take the UK out of the EU. In 2017 Labour faced many of the similar problems but still managed to deny the Tories a majority. Corbyn was praised then for running an effective campaign, although he now faces a stronger Conservative party. If Labour can still perform well enough in traditional working-class seats whilst not allowing its remain voter base to collapse, then we could see Corbyn vindicated in his support for the election.
In this election, the performance of smaller parties will have a massive effect. The Liberal Democrats will hope to pick up seats as the most explicit remain party. Along with its new leader, Jo Swinson, came a new Brexit policy; the revocation of article 50. This would ensure the UK remains in the EU without a second referendum. The Liberal Democrats will hope to persuade remain voters in London, southern England and some parts of Scotland that they are the only party with real power to stop Brexit. This is a controversial issue as many Labour candidates favour remain too and there is a potential for the remain vote to split. Other remain parties include the Green Party and Welsh independence party Plaid Cymru. These three parties have agreed to stand aside for each other in 60 seats in a ‘remain alliance.’ In Scotland, the Scottish National Party are expected to gain some Conservative seats and along with the Liberal Democrats could be major players in the next commons should the Conservatives fail to win a majority. The Brexit Party is standing in all seats not won by Conservatives in 2017. The leader, Nigel Farage, appears to hope to win some Labour leave voters in an attempt to secure a pro-Brexit majority in the next parliament.
Nearly three and a half years on from the Brexit vote, which is still unsolved and has fractured British politics, another momentous electoral event is coming up for the United Kingdom. The outcome of this election is very difficult to predict, but drama and bitterness are guaranteed.
Conor Paterson – Politics Editor