General Election 2019: They think it’s all over…

9 Dec 2019

DRD Partner, Pete Bowyer’s view in the final week running up to the general election.

Expect a comfortable Conservative victory, possibly even a landslide.

They think it’s all over – it (almost) is now!

Predictions are a mug’s game. I should know, having wrongly predicted the results of the 2015 General Election, the 2016 EU Referendum, the 2016 US Presidential Election and the 2017 General Election. But, just as confidently as Robbie Savage has anointed Liverpool Premier League Champions already, surely it must be time to call this Thursday’s General Election in favour of the Conservatives?

Let’s take a look at the evidence. On the final weekend before the Election, we saw a whole batch of new polls all pretty much telling the same story: the Conservatives ahead by 8-12 per cent, giving the party a clear Parliamentary majority. There were only two outliers. ComRes for the Remain United campaign (using different methodology to the rest), has the lead down at 6 per cent, bordering on hung Parliament territory.  Opinium in The Observer, which put the Conservatives a whopping 15 percentage points ahead, points to a three figure landslide.

The pundits are saying that the result is still within a margin of error between a Conservative landslide and a hung Parliament. Don’t believe them. They’re just trying to breath life into a dying race in the same way Chris Sutton might claim that Liverpool could still lose six matches in the New Year. In truth, we are a margin of error between a Conservative landslide and a comfortable Conservative victory.

Clutching at straws

What straws are Labour clutching? They tend to come in three varieties, other than the generic “you can’t trust the polls” type (except, obviously, when they show the gap closing).

Firstly, they point to last time.  It’s true that a majority of polls during the 2017 campaign had the Conservatives well ahead. On Election day itself they only edged the popular vote by a measly 2 per cent. However, back then, beneath the headlines, a clear movement to Labour could already be detected by this stage in the campaign. The Conservatives today are just 0.5% off where they were at a corresponding point last time, whereas Labour are 3.8% behind. True, Labour has made up some ground in the middle of this campaign, but it appears to be too little, too late. The most recent polls show the gap widening, not tightening further – tomorrow’s YouGov MRP notwithstanding.

Second, the party point to the ‘YouthQuake’ of 2017: younger voters, who pollsters find harder to reach in their samples, coming out in their droves on polling day itself to ride to the rescue of Labour. There are more convincing factors in explaining Labour’s “surge” last time so I won’t spend too much longer on it here, except to say that the pollsters, unsurprisingly, have compensated for the issue in their sampling. In any case, it may only help Labour in a handful of university seats.

The final point is more convincing, but by no means a silver lining for Labour: that there are a very large number of ‘Don’t Knows’, and they will break for the party, even if they have to hold their noses to do so.  At the start of the 2017 campaign, around 25% of previously loyal Labour voters were undecided, compared to just 11% of previous Conservative voters. On polling day itself, when the chips were down, they duly turned up and voted for the party. This time the numbers are much smaller, and the differential significantly less. Using even the polling company that gives Labour the most hope amongst the Don’t Knows (Survation), they have just 13.6% of previous Labour voters undecided against 9.8% of previous Conservatives.  If they do break along traditional lines, this may add a percentage point to Labour’s tally, but nowhere near the five percent plus they need to force a hung Parliament.

Wider evidence

Cold hard polling is not the only indicator that points to a significant Conservative victory.  The circumstantial evidence is just as strong, and perhaps even more telling, not least in the growth of tactical voting. A swathe of websites has been set up to persuade the electorate to vote against the Conservatives constituency-by-constituency. The Observer, unusually refusing to back Labour, published a list of fifty seats on Sunday, urging its readers to vote tactically. Celebrities like Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan have been touring marginal seats campaigning for whoever the leading non-Conservative candidate in the constituency is. And on Friday evening, we witnessed Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and John Major at a rally entitled ‘Final Say – Stop the Brexit Landslide’ (the name is a giveaway) begging voters to “choose wisely.” None of this speaks of confidence in the Opposition winning on Thursday. Rather, it smacks of desperation.

The word on the ground is equally dismal for Labour, even far away from the crumbling northern “red wall.” Take two seats in London which I visited at the weekend.  One, in the south west of the capital, sees Labour hoping to gain from the Conservatives.  The other, in north east London, Labour is defending. In the leafy south west, the Liberal Democrat vote is holding up reasonably well at around 25 per cent and looks likely to deprive Labour of the seat by a margin of 3-5%.  On the opposite side of the city, the Labour candidate with a 10,000 majority has already conceded the national election. He also worries about his own seat as Jewish and Hindu voters drift away from the party. What unites both, one strongly remain, the other leave, are the two words you hear most often on the doorstep for voters’ reluctance to back Labour this time: “Jeremy Corbyn.” ♫Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! ♫

But you don’t have to take the words of known critics for it.  The actions of their own supporters speak volumes. Momentum appears to be more focussed on bussing in supporters to the seats of Corbyn loyalists, rather than supporting moderates in marginals. The “decapitation strategy” – looking to knock out vilified Conservatives such as Iain Duncan Smith, Dominic Raab and even the Prime Minister himself – has no chance of materialising, and is a distraction at best. Rebecca Long Bailey has already been criticised for running what amounts to a putative leadership campaign. And out-there Corbynista out-rider, Aaron Bastani, tweeted at the weekend: “Whatever the result on Thursday none of the party leaders should resign immediately.” Hardly a vote of confidence in the Dear Leader.

How did it all come to this?

The more interesting question is how did it all come to this? At the start of the campaign, many Cabinet colleagues doubted the wisdom of Boris’s decision to force a General Election. He appears to have been vindicated, largely fighting off the SNP surge in Scotland and the Lib Dem threat in the South West and in suburbia.

The chief failing has been Labour’s. Why did the leadership go all-in on the most radical manifesto in its history, when a couple of choice re-nationalisations could have sufficed? Why did the Leader insist on remaining “neutral” on the most important policy decision since the Second World War? Why did two billion magic money trees needlessly have to be felled to pay for the party’s spending plans? Why did they not confront the scourge of anti-Semitic racism in the party? Why have they insisted on promoting far left spokespeople throughout the campaign and yet suppressed more moderate voices (has anyone heard from Sir Keir recently?)? In short, why has Labour’s challenge fallen as flat as Manchester City’s?

There does not appear to be any satisfactory answer to any of these questions, except perhaps the most obvious. In Neil Jordan’s 1992 Oscar winning film, ‘The Crying Game’, a captive British soldier recounts Aesop’s fable of the Frog and the Scorpion to his IRA kidnapper. A scorpion which cannot swim asks a frog to carry it across a river on its back. The frog hesitates, afraid of the scorpion’s lethal venom, but the scorpion argues that if he were to poison him they both would die. The frog accepts the logic of the argument, but midway across the river the scorpion spears the frog with its deadly sting. In their dying embrace, the frog asks the scorpion why he did it. “I couldn’t help it,” he replies. “It’s in my nature.”