Hello and welcome to the fourth 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.
As the campaigns enter their penultimate week, the Conservative Party were buoyed by a much-eulogised YouGov MRP poll of 100,000 voters, which suggested they are on course for a majority of 68. The painstakingly detailed analysis highlighted that Labour’s so-called “Red Wall” across the West Midlands and the North may come crashing down on December 12th with casualties set to include Labour’s veteran far-left firebrand, Dennis Skinner.
The result, which would be the Tories’ largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s final electoral victory in 1987, shocked the Labour Party into action over their Brexit policy. A decisive shift of tone was registered in leave-voting areas up and down the country, with Labour insiders fearing that they have overestimated the Liberal Democrats’ ability to pick up votes in the Labour heartlands. We can expect to see even more of Labour’s rising stars from outside the M25, such as Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner and Laura Pidcock next week as the party attempts to alleviate any concerns voters may have about them becoming the natural home for the “metropolitan elite.”
Hopes of a Labour majority government had already been dashed earlier in the week, when the UK’s Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis made an unprecedented intervention in the campaign. Levelling accusations that antisemitism had been “sanctioned from the top” in the Labour Party, the Rabbi urged the UK to “vote with their conscience” on December 12th. This came on the day that the Labour Party launched their Race and Faith Manifesto and the irony was not lost on the BBC’s resident rottweiler, Andrew Neil who proceeded to skewer the Labour leader on the subject during a pre-recorded election interview.
You would, however, be mistaken for thinking that the Conservative Party are in entirely good health with only 12 days until the country goes to the polls. The Prime Minister came under repeated scrutiny for dodging difficult interviews and debates; his past remarks about working class people; and on the NHS where Labour added some weight to their attack by publishing 451 pages of documents alleging that the Government were already in negotiations with the US to “sell” the NHS.
It was also an icy end to the week for the Prime Minister who was empty chaired (along with Nigel Farage) by Channel 4 for not turning up for their leaders debate on climate change. The broadcaster replaced them with two ice sculptures to represent “the emergency on planet earth.” When Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s last minute attempt to join the debate in Boris’ stead was rebuffed, the Conservative’s filed a complaint to Ofcom on grounds of impartiality. Frosty.
Two policy topics attracted the most attention this week, with the Labour Party driving the debate on the NHS and climate change. These are home territory issues for Labour and easy for the party to rely on during an otherwise tough week.
In an effort to keep the pressure on the Tories, Labour handed out copies of unredacted scoping discussions between US and UK trade officials to journalists at an event on Wednesday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed that the 451-page document confirmed that the government was intending to ‘sell off’ the NHS, knowing full well that the vast majority of the electorate will not bother reading the dossier to check the accuracy of his claims. With the leaders of the SNP and Liberal Democrats rowing in behind Labour to demand the protection of the NHS in trade negotiations, Labour succeeded in forcing the Conservatives onto the back foot.
Softer, but just as eye-catching, was this week’s cross-party tree-planting contest that nobody asked for. The Conservatives promised 30 million new trees a year, with the SNP and Lib Dems doubling that commitment. However, the winner was the Labour Party with their promise to plant 100 million new trees each year until 2020. As the BBC’s Chris Mason pointed out, that is a shovel-busting 200 new saplings per minute for the next 20 years.
Yet the fact that these issues achieved cut through is nothing short of a miracle for the Opposition. Tuesday was supposed to be dominated by the launch of Labour’s Race and Faith manifesto – but this was overshadowed entirely by an impeccably timed intervention by the Chief Rabbi in The Times, followed by a forensic mauling by Andrew Neil on antisemitism.
Two very contrasting weeks for two men called Andrew. After the Duke of York threw himself into the public arena with a misjudged interview that has drawn intense scrutiny and ridicule, the BBC’s Andrew Neil cemented his position as the deadliest political interviewer on British television. Chosen to grill the general election leadership candidates this year, Neil, with careful research and a ruthless manner, has so far held SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to account in a way that only he can.
Boris has so far refused to say whether he will agree to be interviewed by Neil during the election campaign. With reports suggesting a third Andrew – host of Marr on Sunday – would be a preferable interrogator from CCHQ’s perspective, Neil is leaving the ball in Boris’s court, saying that he will interview him “any time, any place and anywhere”. Jammy Johnson is trying to have his cake and eat it too, for now.
Who knows what to make of the party manifestos? This week the IFS said that neither the Conservatives nor Labour are offering “credible” spending plans. We’re pretty used to people questioning the infallibility of politicians, but to hear it from a well-respected, impartial think-tank is quite something.
In a wide-ranging review, the IFS and its director Paul Johnson warned voters that Tories’ pledge to keep spending in check over the next Parliament were likely to be torn up, leading to either taxes or higher borrowing. And while Jeremy Corbyn proclaimed that only the wealthiest 5% of taxpayers would be lining the government’s pockets, the IFS said yesterday that the party’s planned rise in corporation tax would be passed on to workers in the form of lower wages, and to consumers in the form of higher prices.
Highlighting the panic caused by YouGov’s MRP released earlier this week, the prediction of a Conservative majority of 68 seats led to significant changes being made to Labour and Liberal Democrat election strategies. The Liberal Democrats scrapped their promise to revoke Article 50 – perhaps the central policy of their campaign so far – and will now offer a second referendum instead. Labour’s revised strategy is more nuanced but, at its heart, quite similar. Rather than focusing resources on trying to win Conservative seats, the party will now focus on retaining its Leave-voting, working class northern and midlands seats that the MRP predicts will turn blue on 12 December. Achieving this will require local candidates to be more forthright in their support for a form of Leave, while balancing their messages on the impact of Brexit on the NHS and poverty.
The man who has been at the heart of Boris Johnson’s administration since he entered No 10, Dominic Cummings, wrote a blog this week urging people to vote for Boris if they want to see Brexit over the line. Although it has been reported that Cummings has taken a back seat as Boris’ adviser during the election campaign, he used his blog to send out a “bat signal” to Vote Leave supporters warning them that Brexit is in “danger”.
For those wanting to know how they can help save Brexit, Cummings says the answer is simple: “make the time to speak to friends and family and explain why you will vote for Boris and why you think any other move means a Corbyn-Sturgeon alliance controlling Downing Street which would be a disaster.” And your reward for helping out? According to Cummings: “ if we win, and we get Brexit done by 31 January, then you’re invited to the Vote Leave party in No10!”
As tempting as that sounds…
Misjudged tweet of the week
A new feature this week solely because it was something that we couldn’t ignore; Michael Gove’s bizarre imitation of Stormzy as he tweeted the artist’s lyrics: “I set trends dem man copy.”
Whether it was an attempt to be funny or show off his “street” credentials, the now deleted tweet truly backfired prompting accusations of racism, a major issue within both main parties, and even calls for Mr Gove’s resignation. Perhaps next time, he should take the advice from the title of the song he’s quoting and “shut up.”
Gaffe of the week
Perhaps the gaffe of all gaffes that brought CCHQ a sleepless night: Lee Anderson, the Tory PPC for Ashfield, hit the headlines this week after broadcaster Michael Crick joined him for a not-so spontaneous doorstep encounter with an apparent Labour swing voter.
Unfortunately for Mr Anderson, a phone call to said swing voter (actually a close friend of his) ahead of the visit was all caught on camera by Mail+. Watch the whole cringeworthy encounter here.
Despite predictions of a landslide victory for the Conservative Party from YouGov’s flagship MRP poll, Labour’s steady increase in vote share has continued this week as the Lib Dems continue to slide.
What to expect next week
With Jo Swinson proving anathema even to Lib Dem voters and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party languishing on 3%, the final fortnight finds the election increasingly becoming a two-horse race.
Labour will be switching their campaign strategy to concentrate more on Brexit having realised, perhaps too late, how big a challenge they face from the Tories in the Leave-voting areas of the midlands and north.
But the whole week will be building up to the big BBC TV debate on Friday 6th December. Expect Jeremy Corbyn to try to regain some ground on Brexit while still hammering the NHS ‘sell off’ line which so successfully rattled Boris during their previous TV clash. Emboldened by YouGov’s prediction of a 68-seat majority, Boris will be hoping to play it safe and try to avoid any last minute gaffes.
However, don’t be surprised if, finally, the exchanges become more personal. Given Dominic Cummings’ timely warning against Tory complacency, and the fact that, the debate is being held just six days before polling, both leaders will be in feisty, vote-winning mood.