It’s been a bit of a whirlwhind, but it’s been over four weeks now since Theresa May shocked the country by calling a snap election, and now it’s only 17 days til polling day.
A lot has changed in that time, and there’s still lots that could go fantastically well or horribly wrong for May’s Government or Corbyn’s opposition – but just where it will go next is anybody’s guess.
At the start of the election the polls had the Tories on course for a landslide victory, and as the campaigning gathered momentum the Tories’ crushing grip on the election became stronger and stronger. The prospect of a Conservative victory on the scale of Tony Blair’s 1997 political earthquake were very much on the cards, and it was very unlikely that many of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour hierarchy could see them stay on.
What’s happened, by the looks of things at least, is that the Tories have cannibalised the UKIP vote share – as the right-wing, pro-Brexit vote has coalesced under Theresa May. This is bad news for Labour, as those voters they crucially lost in 2015’s election seem to be going to the Tories rather than “coming home” – with UKIP being seen as a “gateway drug” to supporting a real right-wing party.
This support was seeing the Tories gain ground in places that they hadn’t done so well in for generations, or even longer. The predictions were of as many as 12 seats in Scotland, a twelvefold increase. In Wales they topped Labour in the polls, being the first time that they’d have done so in almost a century.
The other subcurrent we’ve seen in this election is the failure of the Lib Dems to fight back as they’d have hoped. 2015’s election saw them obliterated, but since then they’re traditional local support has seen them pick up some key by-election victories. However, the local elections across the UK showed this didn’t translate into a general vote, and the Lib Dem’s polling averages throughout this campaign have been falling rather than rising.
This all seemed set for an election that was almost entirely over, but last week’s manifesto launches changed all that. Labour’s manifesto, while positively left-wing, has been received warmly by the media, the party and the general public. It’s policies have been supported, with nationalisation of rail and industry, more spending on the NHS and education services and support for care being among them. While some believe it as more of a wish list than an actual programme for Government, it does seem to show Corbyn’s version of Labour as a more palatable version of what many people expected.
For the Tories, their manifesto has been a catastrophe. Coverage since it’s launch have focussed on their two care reforms, dubbed the “dementia tax” and “death tax” respectively, which have forced the Prime Minister into a u-turn before the manifesto has even been put to the voters. Even worse, especially for a sitting Government, have come the revelations that the manifesto hasn’t been costed, that is that they don’t know much their proposals will cost. The Tories still have a strong lead in the polls when it comes to which party is trusted most with the economy, but this will surely dent that a little.
Putting this all together, and we’ve seen a small but steady shift to Labour in the last week that could continue into the crucial last stage of campaigning. Labour have regained their position in Wales, with a 7-point swing in their favour in just this week alone meaning they may even gain a seat there.
Here’s my current polling averages and my predictions on how many seats each party would win if the election were held today:
|47% (+9)||32% (+1)||5% (+8)||8% (-)||4% (-)||2% (-2)||2% (-)|
While this is still a win for the Conservatives, it is on the lower end of the spectrum, being broadly similar to 2015’s results – giving them a working majority of just 44. Proportionally, their best chance of gains would come in Scotland – as the SNP’s faltering in the last year has seen them take a dip. Even still, it’s possible that Conservative votes could return to Labour in Scotland and create a spoiler effect that means fewer Tories are elected than were imagined just a week or two ago.
Make no mistake that the Tories are going to form the next Government, but the capitulation of Corbyn and Labour might not be on the cards quite yet – even though it’ll be a poor performance for a party in opposition.
The next 17 days will decide the fate of the Labour party, probably much more so than the country. Taking the Tories to task and minimising their victories would be a win for Corbyn, but also a sign that he isn’t capable of truly beating the Government. If he voluntarily resigns after the election having taken Labour to a more-or-less breakeven point, and perhaps cherrypicks a more moderate successor, then his legacy might be one that catapults Labour to victory in 2022. Otherwise, the endless storm that has been British politics for the last few years might just rumble on further.