It’s an election

April 20th, 2017

Give me an unexpected political event and I’ll give you a largely incoherent mass of political predictions that, more often than not, won’t come true. Whilst I say unexpected political events, many were predicting the General Election of 2017. I wasn’t. I was busy telling anyone that would listen that invoking Article 50, setting off a ridiculously short two-year negotiation process, and then nobbing off to have an election would be supremely stupid. I still think I’m right but that’s where we are. Wooo

Any way you look at it this is going to be the oddest election that many of us have seen, and hopefully will ever see.

There is no reason for it, there is no part of it that is in the national interest, it is little more than a naked grab for power by the Conservatives. It is illustrative of the thin sliver of influence that politics has in the UK now that such blatant game playing is not only possible but, in all likely hood, will be rewarded.

I’ve been trying to think through what I see as the strategies for each party (at least each party until I get bored).

The Conservatives are in the relatively unusual position, of a sitting Government, in fighting an aggressive election. They are looking for an increased majority and the chance to remove the potential impediment of the House of Lords from negotiations with the EU. By codifying leaving the single market into their manifesto they will stop the House of Lords from considering challenging this later due to the Salisbury Convention. An increased Commons majority reduces the need to give concessions on the details of negotiation with the EU.

How will this play out with their current constituencies? It’s a risk. I can’t think of anyone that believes following this course won’t do anything but massive economic harm to the country. As the previous two elections have been fought on a ridiculously simplistic notion of economic competence it indicates how much the country has shifted in the last few years. If nothing else we’re fickle.

Their twin aims have to be to consolidate their 2015 wins from the Lib Dems and to make inroads into Labour constituencies. I can’t conceive of any constituency where the Conservatives will be fighting a battle against Labour.

The thing that most surprised me about the 2015 election was the dramatic shift from Lib Dems to Conservatives. Like many, I had predicted that Labour would benefit from the deep unpopularity of the coalition Government. I think those wins are the most vulnerable. I’d be surprised if those voters, that could start with the Lib Dems, and shift to Cameron’s opportunistic conservatism could also carry on down the road to May’s full on evil Empire. I think many of those seats are coming back, though probably not in the Lib Dems weirdly  Brexit loving South West heartland.

The key challenge for the Conservatives is whether the Lib Dem, pro-EU message, will make inroads in their Remain constituencies. The Conservatives hold around 79 Remain constituencies. Few of them are likely to be vulnerable but resources are going to have to be allocated to keep them. I would advise them not to use battle busses  if they want  to keep their candidates out of prison.

The Conservatives can take those losses if they focus on new opportunities in the midlands and north. UKIP has been an enabler for the Conservatives. Long standing Labour voters were able try out another party with UKIP and found out the world didn’t end. Some are going to make that move to proper Conservative voting. Albeit finding out that the world probably will end this time round.

Labour will be fighting a defensive election. The obvious threats are Conservative gains in midlands and north. Labour has not managed to articulate a position on the EU that has satisfied anyone; trying to out Brexit the Conservatives seems foolhardy but they also seem to have no interest in differentiating their position. Coupled with a leader that is most unpopular in their traditional heartlands, they have a massive hill to climb to hang on to what they’ve got.

Trying to focus on non-EU issues is a plan of sorts. It’s undeniable that vital services like the NHS and Social care are collapsing as a direct result of Government policy. The largest problem Labour have is that in two years they’ve not managed to articulate any consistent view of the future. I know this election caught them by surprise but you can’t really tell everyone to stop talking about Brexit if you don’t have anything else to talk about. Pointing out everything is rubbish only goes so far.

Like the Conservatives, Labour will have to defend themselves against the Lib Dems. The disgruntled Remain vote is one that no other election has ever had to contend with. It goes beyond parties but is it sufficiently concentrated to swing a constituency? More importantly do Labour have an answer? Current indications are that they will just hope it all goes away.

I do not envy the Labour party in allocating resources in this election, it’s going to be like whack a mole. Fighting simultaneous, but different, battles requires comprehensive and consistent policies and a deep and shared understanding of them. In seven weeks.

Oh yeah, and Labour will write-off Scotland. There is nothing to be won there.

The Lib Dems have this easy. As the nation’s great electoral chancers they will do what they’ve always done. Promise the world to everyone and see what happens. They have nothing to lose and are lucky to be the only party (of size) articulating a pro-EU position. In many ways they are going to take the position that UKIP used to have. Nobody cares what they actually stand for but project what they want on to them.

The one ray of light in this is the terms of the Fixed Term Parliament Act. Under the Act, an early election gives the Government a subsequent four-year term. Which means that Theresa May has only won herself an extra year. In that year the size of majority is likely to be irrelevant as the only legislation passed will be EU related. The Tories are going to have to own this mess properly.

If the Labour Party can resolve its death wish in the next four years and begin to distance itself from its current position then 2021 could be interesting.

[edit] I wasn’t going to add this as this is already too long. But if you’ve made it this far, why not?

I did leave out the part that I think could have a significant impact on the election. Relative campaigning capacity.

For years the Tories have relied on paying for campaigning because their membership is tiny. After the expenses investigation they surely have to stop that. Equally they have relied on young people who have been willing to get up and go to constituencies all over the country. Leaving the EU will have an impact on their ability to recruit young people.

I think Labour has a similar problem. There is a large increase in membership but they are concentrated in metropolitan areas, not the constituencies that could suddenly become marginal. They also have to contend with how they turn members into campaigners. How many will hold their nose and campaign for MPs they don’t like, on an EU platform they don’t agree with just to help Corbyn tread water?
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