This week has seen clear blue water start to emerge between the main parties.
Boris Johnson’s desire to provoke a general election to settle Brexit over another referendum achieved a boost as (the soon-to-be Lord?) Nigel Farage chickened out of standing in sitting blue seats.
Amongst the Conservative campaign, however, classic attack and rebuttal tactics on Labour spending plans – plus promises on local transport seem to have pushed debate over a Brexit settlement to the back burner.
For Labour, proposals for state-funded broadband services and to reduce the working week show a clear Corbyn-branded ownership over the national campaign strategy. Elsewhere, education and NHS commitments from Angela Rayner and Jonathan Ashworth are bread and butter talking points with northern accents notably absent elsewhere.
Opinion polls giving the Conservatives a clear lead should deliver a working majority but Theresa May’s 2017 campaign catastrophes should make observers mindful that manifestos are yet-to-be published and all campaigns are suffering a lack of sure-footedness from floods to basic policy detail.
That suggests local campaigns and good individual candidates’ feel for local voting priorities from Brexit to austerity will matter more than ever but what we don’t yet know is how far these will magnify or resist national trends. The truism that trends don’t deliver uniform results will surely count again come December 13.
Prediction – workable Conservative majority.
The national campaign still hasn’t caught fire and only a major gaffe by either of the Party Leaders is likely to move the discourse forward from Brexit. At this rate we will be back in December with another Tory minority administration unable to get a decision.
My particular view is from Merseyside, where we’ve always swum against the prevailing political tide. While the voters are obsessing over Brexit, Merseyside’s political class has chosen this as the moment to declare its own ‘Red on Red’ battle for the soul of the Labour Party – a bigger prize to many local activists than parliamentary success.
Seemingly committed to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Labour ushered moderate MPs Stephen Twigg, Luciana Berger, and Louise Ellman out – Angela Eagle and George Howarth would have followed too if not for the snap election – and Frank Field, the popular and long standing Birkenhead MP chose to stand as an independent rather than be pushed aside by the new political wannabees.
With daily revelations about the character of Labour’s new candidates, the LibDems should surely be set to capitalise, but they seem incapable of seizing the moment and their ambitions have to be tempered by the reality that in many Liverpool seats, Labour’s vote is weighed rather than counted.
What Labour’s Brexit-supporters do will matters most. The seats which are worth watching in Merseyside are those with older voters where Brexit matters:
Southport – Can Merseyside’s only Tory hang on? – No. a LibDem win with tactical voting.
Wirral West – Corbynite front bencher Margaret Greenwood will be under pressure as moderate Labour voters turn to the pro-Remain LibDems, probably allowing the Tories to win back a seat lost by deeply disliked former MP Esther McVey.
Birkenhead – Frank Field’s personal popularity will be tested but is likely to withstand the hard left attack – St. Frank is revered in much of Birkenhead and has seen off the Trotskyites before.
Wirral South – Blairite Alison McGovern is popular locally but her older voters aren’t Corbynites and may look elsewhere or stay away in a December election, opening the door to the Tories to take back a seat they lost in the Blair Landslide of 1997.
It is very true to say that what we think will happen at the start of a General Election is not where we will end up. Although the battle has commenced I think the fight will happen in the last 2 weeks and this time much of this election will be decided in hyper-marginal seats and where the Brexit divisions are most acute.
In the last week we have seen polls remain reasonably stable despite gaffe after gaffe and a revolving door of PPCs.
In the final two weeks you will see attention being paid to our devolved regions – in particular North Wales, where there are key battlegrounds for both Labour and the Tories.
Arfon is currently held by Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams. Re-elected in 2017 with 11,519 votes, he was just 92 votes ahead of the Labour candidate. His vote dropped by several hundred since the 2015 election, but notably Labour saw their vote share increase by over 3,000 votes. With Momentum targeting the seat for campaigning, this will be a closely fought battle.
Recent elections have seen Wrexham become a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives, with both seeing their vote shares increased by 5,000 between 2015 and 2017, squeezing other parties out. Ian Lucas, the Labour incumbent who rallied remain support to be elected in 2017, is stepping down. With a 57% vote for leave in the referendum, this will be an interesting one to watch and see whether traditional Labour voters’ party loyalty can be swayed by the issue of Brexit.
Aberconwy, held by Guto Bebb, had his Tory lead slashed by Labour’s Emily Owen who almost took the seat in the 2017. Although Mr Bebb was able to increase his vote between 2015 and 2017, he will not be running and the seat will be contested instead by Sarah Elizabeth Atherton. It remains to be seen how the battle will play out – with a modest leave vote but heavy campaigning by Momentum, this will be an exciting one to watch.
On the ground, this election will be about what happens in all 650 battlefields across the UK and what matters most to a divided country and electorate. Will personality win over Party loyalty? Will local and domestic issues matter more than Brexit and national politics? Or will it just be about Corbyn or Boris?
In an election which is too hard to predict “Who wins? You decide…” don’t forget to give us your predictions in our General Election Sweepstake…