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The Palace of Westminster: The path to power is ever more tortuous (Graeme McLeane CC BY SA 2.0)


Jeremy Corbyn will not become Prime Minister any time soon. It may seem foolish to make such bold assertions in these times of political upsets; at present nothing appears as certain as that the previously unthinkable will happen. Yet, for all Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s calls for a million people to come out on the streets to force the Tories out, Corbyn’s path to 10 Downing Street is still extremely tortuous.

When I was writing for Standpoint’s June issue it looked as if Theresa May was heading for the biggest Conservative Party majority since 1983. The seemingly unlosable bet of engineering an early election — despite the constraints of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act — when they were up to 20 per cent ahead in the polls came seriously unstuck for the Tories and they lost their majority.

The Conservative strategists got one thing right and three things wrong. They were correct to believe that their vote share and total vote would soar compared to 2015; they gained nearly six percentage points and more than 2.3 million extra votes. It was the best Conservative performance in terms of total votes since 1992 and in share of the vote since 1983. By the party’s own calculations their vote should have produced a Conservative majority of well over 100.

What almost nobody, including the strategists, had foreseen is that Labour’s vote would also soar. They gained more than 40 per cent of the vote for the first time in 15 years and more votes than in any general election except 1997. Indeed, predicting Labour’s rise and Corbyn- mania would have been an extremely audacious call. Even Corbyn’s strong supporter, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, had said of him earlier this year, “Corbyn has proved completely useless . . . JC could scarcely have made a bigger hash of it by design.”

The rise in Labour’s fortunes is not merely a product of the youth vote and Corbyn’s bribe to students in promising to extinguish their debt. Youth turnout was much lower than at first thought — 59 per cent of 20-24-year-olds voted, not the more than 70 per cent speculated by some. According to YouGov’s massive 50,000-plus post-mortem survey of how people had voted, Labour had a lead over the Tories of 26 percentage points among thirtysomethings and six percentage points among fortysomethings. Only at the age of 47 did those voting Conservative start to exceed those voting Labour. This is obviously a massive cause of concern to the Tories for future elections.

The Conservative campaign had also believed that with the collapse of UKIP’s support — from more than 12 per cent in 2015 to under 2 per cent in 2017 — the vast majority of these voters would come over to the Tories. Attracting them was key to the strategy of the Tories’ election guru Sir Lynton Crosby and it explains why the campaign attempted to frame the poll in terms of Brexit. What they had not reckoned with was the degree to which many poorer voters still found the Conservative brand toxic. These voters may have been willing to vote for the indisputably right-wing Nigel Farage and UKIP; they could not bring themselves to vote for what they perceive as Tory toffs. Conservative candidates I have spoken to in seats which had a high UKIP vote share in 2015 believe that this vote went in roughly equal proportions back to Labour and to the Conservatives. Crosby had envisaged that 80 per cent of it would go to the Conservatives.

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