GE2019 Week 3: I’m the next Chancellor, get me out of here…

Friday 22nd November

Hello and welcome to the third edition of Pagefield’s General Election 2019 newsletter, a weekly digest of campaign developments and a look ahead of what to expect in the coming days.

Week three in the jungle of electoral politics and both Labour and the Tories thought a spot of lavish spending might win the public vote. Launching their manifesto, Labour pledged to build 100,000 council houses. Not to be outdone, the Tories promised a million new homes. In a gruesome televised debate, Johnson and Corbyn sputtered to a stalemate sealed with a reluctant handshake: the blue corner scoring on Labour’s Brexit indecision; the reds hammering home their warning that the NHS was to be sold off to American business. Meanwhile, Jo Swinson realised she was not a selling point for her own party, and the smaller parties found themselves shedding support faster than Mauricio Pochettino.

ELECTION BREAKFAST LINE UP: Our post-election breakfast is now just three weeks away. Chaired by renowned election broadcaster Alastair Stewart, we will be joined by Miranda Green (Deputy Opinion Editor, Financial Times and former Liberal Democrat advisor), Andrew Pierce (Consultant Editor, Daily Mail), Kevin Maguire (Associate Editor, Daily Mirror) and more to be confirmed soon. We hope you can join us for some strong coffee, a hearty breakfast and what promises to be a fascinating discussion – whatever the result.

To RSVP or for more information please contact:

PAGEFIELD INSIGHT: This week, Hamish Campbell-Shore wraps up the first TV leaders’ debate and John Crawford, Director of Public Relations at Halogen Communications, Pagefield’s partner agency in Scotland, sheds some light on the SNP’s election prospects.

Policy of the week

Among all of the many pledges made by the main parties, addressing the housing crisis has emerged as a key pillar of both the Conservative and Labour plans for government. Jeremy Corbyn has promised the biggest affordable house building programme since the 1960s, including 100,000 new council houses a year by 2024, meanwhile Boris Johnson announced measures to help first-time buyers and boost private house building, promising a million homes over the next five years.

The Labour Party’s commitments were welcomed by housing charity Shelter, who said they would be “transformational for housing in this country”. The Institute of Fiscal studies, however, raised a concern that if the policy was implemented too quickly it would risk cannibalising house building being undertaken by the private sector.

This policy area should be fertile ground for the Labour Party, particularly as the Government’s record on housebuilding has been sluggish at best. An encounter between Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Andrew Neil where Truss is informed that the Government have delivered precisely zero of the 200,000 “starter homes” promised in 2017 shows the difficulty the Conservatives may have in this area. Rishi Sunak fared no better under questioning on this morning’s edition of the Today Programme.

Fakest news

The most interesting facet of Tuesday night’s leaders’ debate happened not on the studio stage but 200 miles away in central London, where savvy digital operatives Ben Guerin and Sean Topham were executing their latest controversial social media scheme.

For the full hour of the debate the CCHQ Twitter account rebranded as ‘factcheckUK’ in a cynical, but successful, attempt to boost engagement. Meanwhile the party’s leader was extolling the virtues of his apparently transparent and trustworthy administration to an audience of 6.7 million. The irony of this happening only days after Twitter announced a political ad ban was lost on no one.

Calculated stroke of genius, or damning indictment of the current political landscape? Either way, Julie Etchingham and her producers should be kicking themselves for not drawing the audience’s attention to it in real time and calling on the Prime Minister to defend the move.

Brightest star

With the fallout of factcheck-gate still playing out, trust is perhaps the biggest buzzword in British politics at the moment. While CCHQ was up to its usual cloak-and-dagger digital stunts designed to drive traffic to its Twitter page, an audience member at the ITV debate, Fahad Sayood, said that he was in “utter despair” about the state of politics in this country. He then asked, what, according to recent polling, swathes of the electorate are thinking: “How can the nation trust you to bring us back together?”

The prime-time ITV slot, watched by millions of voters, was a key moment for both leaders to try to reassure the electorate that their policies would make the country a better place. Instead, they were laughed at. The fact that a punter in the audience emerged as the night’s best performer probably says it all.

Highest climbdown

Tucked away in the small print of Labour’s manifesto was a revision to the detail of last week’s headline-grabbing announcement of free fibre broadband for all. Possibly in response to critical media coverage and pre-empting the impending forensic analysis by this week’s Sunday papers and their political opponents, Labour corrected its calculations of the cost of nationalising Openreach.

Last week’s £230 million annual operating costs (a figure provided by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2018) have been revised to include an ‘up to’ figure of £579 million (helpfully also provided by the National Infrastructure Commission a year earlier…), with an extra £1.2 billion for 2023-24 thrown on top “to err on the side of caution” just in case the financial savings presumed by a state-run utility and workforce fail to materialise. But no one ever said nationalisation was a precise science.

An honourable mention should also go to Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson who has done something of a U-turn on her own political ambitions by admitting that her prospects of entering No. 10 are unlikely.

Gaffe of the week

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, who last week took home our ‘Star of the week’, found herself earlier this week praising 17 years of Tory rule as she waxed lyrical about the halcyon days of the John Major administration.

“I had the council house waiting to help me, I was able to get back into secondary education, I didn’t have to worry about tuition fees, and I had a national health service that was there for me… in 1996.”

Major slip up. Watch the full clip here:

Hottest take

It’s not the first time this policy has come up but the IFS’ Paul Johnson issued a pithy reminder to anyone who might be interested that some of the Labour Party’s policies are the opposite of progressive.

Poll of polls

This week’s polls favoured the Tories as they increased their lead by another three points. Labour saw a marginal increase, but the Lib Dems and Brexit Party continued to drop off the pace – it looks like the two-party squeeze (as discussed on our recent blog) might be starting.

What to expect next week

The Conservative manifesto, expected to be unveiled on Sunday, will set the agenda for the week, and is pivotal to Boris Johnson’s electoral success. Party insiders are hoping it is simple – unlike much of the 2017 manifesto – and that it doesn’t sacrifice core Tory priorities like inheritance tax and stamp duty in favour of challenging Labour’s social care agenda.

So far Boris has been so aware that the election is his to lose that one commentator was prompted to invoke Roy Jenkins’ description of Tony Blair approaching the 1997 election: “Like a man carrying a priceless Ming vase across a highly polished floor.”

That Ming vase could certainly be in danger during the two TV debates over the next week. The first is a Question Time Leaders Special tonight bringing together the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. The second, next Friday, features figures from all the main parties, including the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Brexit Party, with Boris Johnson reportedly entrusting rising star Rishi Sunak to fill his boots. Get ready with the Superglue.

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