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UK election – options by Denis MacShane

Election Note 25 November 2019
By Denis MacShane

    1. It remains hard to predict with certainty the election outcome.  The opinion polls give Johnson a clear lead but they gave Theresa May a similar clear lead at the same stage in the 2017 election. When Boris Johnson became prime minister in July opinion polls gave the Brexit Party on 20 per cent of the vote. But there are no Brexit Party candidates in any Tory seat so that vote now supports Johnson which gives him a flattering (to decive)  lead in polls today. But all he is doing is increasing vote share in seats that are already Tory. Tonight’s 25 November poll shows Labour up 2 points.
    2.  I was canvassing Saturday in Watford, a Tory seat north of London with a 2000 majority, and on Sunday Canterbury, a Labour seat won in 2017 with a tiny majority of just 187.
    3.  In neither seat – one a morning street stall on the High Street talking to voters and in Kent intensive door-to-door knocking did I sense any enthusiasm for the Conservatives. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson are disliked and neither is seen as a worthy prime minister.
    4. The Johnson mantra, “Get Brexit Done”, reflects the clear Brexit fatigue but it is not clear that Brexit fatigue extends to voting for the Johnson version of Brexit which as one of our best commentators wrote this morning “means the end of British manufacturing as we know it.”
    5. I was surprised in Kent which voted 59-41 to Leave in 2016 at how little enthusiasm there was for Brexit. More than one voter said it would be damaging for the next generation of younger people.
    6. Nigel Farage has all but disappeared as an important figure in the campaign. The Liberal Democratic leader, Jo Swinson, did not impress in the Friday evening BBC TV interviews with Johnson, Corbyn, the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson. Ms Swinson was repeatedly attacked by members of the audience for her statement she would simply ignore the 2016 referendum result and  revoke Article 50 to stay in EU. Several said this was simply undemocratic with much support in the audience. Others attacked her record as an MP and minister in the David Cameron government where she voted for harsh cuts to social welfare for disabled people and women pensioners. She stuttered and never got back any composure. I would judge the hopes of a major LibDem breakthrough based on their success in the European Parliament election are now dead.
    7. In fact, it is hard to see where lots of seats will change hands. I don’t see many Labour seats falling to Johnson. I don’t see Corbyn’s leftwing manifesto winning Tory seats. But in terms of numbers out canvassing and reach-out to young people, Corbyn and Labour are making the running. The Tories and LibDems try and depict him only as an anti-semite. Labour has got major problems with anti-semitism and few of the UK’s 260,000 Jews will vote Tory. (I wrote about this here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/labours-antisemitism-problem-denis-macshane)  But Johnson has problems with the regular surfacing of disgusting anti-Muslim prejudice by Tory Party members, some holding local office. Not many of the 3.3 million British Muslims will vote for Johnson.
    8. Other factors should be remembered. 26 per cent of voters say they have not yet decided how to vote. Nearly 1.5 million young voters (18-34 years) have put themselves on the electoral register since October. They do not share the anti-Europeanism of older Tories. Of 30-49 year olds now with families, worried about schools, housing, the Johnson-Tory monomaniacal obsession with Brexit seems silly. It is not they are ardent Europhiles. They regard the way Theresa May (up to July) , Boris Johnson and other Tories who can or could only talk about leaving Europe as single issue militants who ignore Britain’s real time problems. Only three out of ten of this group say they will vote Conservative. How many Tory seats will the SNP win in Scotland? Will the DUP lose 3 seats to modern pro-EU Ulster unionists and the SDLP? Johnson only knows southern England. This election may turn on the votes of the other nations in the UK.
    9. I talk to Labour MPs most days and all report an electorate that is not moving, that dislikes  Corbyn but holds Johnson in contempt, that just wants Brexit to go away and knows Johnson’s proposals mean Brexit dominating Britain for years to come. The fact Nigel Farage is standing Brexit Party candidates in Labour seats is helpful to Labour as it divides the anti-EU vote between Johnson and Farage.
    10. Perhaps it will become clear. It was assumed a week ago that the television debates between potential party leaders followed by the publication of party manifestos would bring some clarity. This has not happened. No-one really knows. My best guess is that as elsewhere in Europe voters will not give a single party a clear majority of seats and full authority to govern. The House of Commons may become a Parliament of No Majority.