In the wake of last week’s predicted Brecon and Radnorshire by-election defeat, the Tory majority is reduced to one and a 2019 General Election is all the rage at a best price of just 8/13 with the best political betting sites. Who would win it?
Before answering that, we must consider different contexts. One scenario involves the government falling to a vote of no confidence in early September, thus enabling a poll before the Brexit date of 31/10/19. More likely if current speculation is correct, Boris Johnson would schedule a poll for shortly after the UK has exited without a deal. It is sure to be an interesting few weeks ahead in the political betting.
In either or any case, the Tory chance revolves around the Brexit Party. The Brecon and Radnorshire result confirmed that Nigel Farage has the Tories by the short and curlies. Had they stood aside, a Tory candidate damaged by filing false expenses claims may well have been re-elected.
As it stands, the Brexit Party is fielding general election candidates. They are determined to keep Johnson true to his Brexit promises. I do not believe, however, they will do anything to hurt the Tories in a general election in which their dream is on the line, so long as no deal Brexit is the prize. There will be a pact that either involves the party standing down entirely, or giving the Tories a free run in selected seats. If it has already been delivered, they will cease to exist.
If we are looking at a pre-Brexit election, the Tories would commit in a manifesto to leave on October 31st without a deal. The opposition parties will coalesce around a second referendum. Johnson will pitch it as the will of the people versus the "Remoaner" establishment.
At this precise moment, the polls look good for the Tories although that depends on the firm. Yougov and IpsosMori have Labour trailing by around 9-10% but Comres and Opinium have them more or less tied. However after 2017, we must take early polls with a large pinch of salt.
When Theresa May called that election, Labour were around 25% behind. They ultimately lost by 2% after by far the most dramatic campaign in living memory. The anti-Tory and critically anti-Brexit vote coalesced around Jeremy Corbyn. Both main parties saw a huge rise in their vote share, with everybody else bar the SNP squeezed.
Another, more arguable but quite convincing, explanation says Labour are better suited to fighting campaigns nowadays. Their strategists say their improvement started the moment that media impartiality rules kicked in. Then their mass membership - the biggest of any European political party - went to war on social media and changed the narrative. They won Facebook.
We must also consider how leaving the EU, mid-campaign, without a deal would play out. If there is chaos, the Tories would surely suffer. If perceived to be relatively smooth, Johnson will make hay mocking the scaremongering of Remainers.
These are factors to certainly bear in mind but, until the facts change, we must deal with where we are now. There has been no sign of Labour winning extra voters since 2017. Far from it - they’ve hit historic lows. The chances, therefore, of maintaining that vast coalition of progressive voters are miniscule. In contrast, if BP stand aside, one must expect the overwhelming majority of Leave voters to back the Tories.
Irrespective of Brexit, this is in keeping with the history of UK politics. The dynamic here is ‘Tory or not’. The reason Conservatives dominated the 20th century was a split left. Polling trends dating back to the early eighties show how Labour’s performance depends on Lib Dem strength.
1983 was the last time Labour was so split or left-wing, following the creation of the breakaway SDP and their subsequent alliance with the Liberals. Whether it enabled Thatcher’s majorities is hotly disputed but it certainly made them bigger.
I am very confident that Jo Swinson - the only woman leader among the three biggest parties with the clearest anti-Brexit message - will cut through as Lib Dem leader. They are not going to be squeezed nationally as per 2017 and could poll up to 25% - this from 7% in 2017.
Furthermore, it seems unimaginable that Corbyn can generate anything like the excitement of the 2017 campaign. Not only is he at odds with a huge chunk of his 2017 supporters on Brexit, but lack of clarity and the appearance of opportunism has ruined his core brand - authenticity.
His approval ratings are catastrophic.
A Lib Dem surge will have two effects. It splits the progressive/Remain vote in dozens of Con/Lab marginals - in favour of the pro-Brexit Tories. But equally, have great potential to regain dozens of seats lost to the Tories after their coalition.
The importance of tactical voting cannot be overstated. At their lowest ebb in 1997 and 2001, when Tony Blair won huge majorities, Tories found themselves attacked on two fronts. A strong Labour Party in their marginals, whose support would disintegrate when the Lib Dems were the main challengers to the Tories.
That tactical coalition imploded after they backed the Tories in 2010 but the Brecon result and recent local elections suggested it is returning. It is possible that, with so much more information online nowadays, that a national anti-Brexit coalition forms a pincer movement against the Tories - benefiting the SNP in Scotland, Lib Dems across the South and wealthy suburbs and Labour everywhere else.
I think the first two will materialise but Labour will fall flat. They are defending 39 seats with a majority below 4,000 and will lose most of them. However on the other side, I expect the Lib Dems and SNP to take around 25-30 from the Tories.
What that would leave is a very similar scenario to now. Either a hung parliament where the Tories hold most seats or a small majority. Coral go a best price 2/1 about the latter but for me, the best bet is Royal Panda's 4/5 about the Conservatives winning most seats. It doubt that market will even be close.
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