Published:

103 comments

Each week on Friday, ConservativeHome’s panel of James Frayne, Marcus Roberts, Trevor Phillips, and Salma Shah will be analysing and assessing what’s happening in the general election.

Marcus Roberts

“Labour faces the prospect of serious electoral failure. The reds had not only hoped to fight an offensive election but had planned and resourced accordingly.”

The YouGov MRP* produces headaches aplenty for all three of the main British parties. Let’s look at each in turn.

First, viewed one way, Wednesday’s numbers might even be the worst of both worlds for CCHQ, showing as it did a big Tory lead at the surface but comprised of a host of fragile seat level leads. This risks both voter complacency (‘it’s a done deal’) and danger (easily lost).

For the MRP produced a majority of 68 with a starting point of a national lead of eleven. Should Labour close the gap by just a couple of points than the blue majority shrinks to under 30 real fast because of the sheer number of seats where the blue lead is currently under five per cent.

CCHQ will also be concerned that this was the high water mark for their seat haul, and indeed the MRP did show something of a shift away from the Tories in the latter half of its run.

But these are at least problems of success, whilst Labour faces the prospect of serious electoral failure. The reds had not only hoped to fight an offensive election but had planned and resourced accordingly. Target seat choices, Shadow Cabinet visits, Facebook ad spend, organiser and volunteer recruitment – all have been deployed on the basis of winning seats off the Tories, not losing seats to them. The MRP shows how far from that hope they actually are.

Labour now faces a choice: a oh-so-public volte face as it pivots to a defensive campaign or a doubling down on the hope that the 2017 miracle is just a little late this time and that the electorate will yet embrace Jeremy Corbyn.

But it’s not as easy as just sending out Labour Leave voices like Ian Lavery with more Leave-ish mood music, for the fundamental strategic problem remains: a super majority of Labour voters in all its seats are Remainers. But an important minority in some seats (that often prove to be marginals) are Leavers. Labour MPs need both to hold on. To choose one to the anger of the other is to risk all. And so round and round the Labour Brexit dilemma goes.

But even this headache pales to the sadness that the Liberal Democrats must feel when faced with the prospect of a net gain of just one seat.

Despite a political environment seemingly tailor-made for their revival (the European Parliament election triumph, voter worries about both Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson, Brexit and a new Leader) they have not landed anywhere near their initial ambitions. The yellows will now hope that anti-blue tactical voting increases dramatically in scale, allowing them to retake the offensive in targets like Kensington or South Cambridge – where the Lib Dems trail the Tories by single digits and the Labour pool is large enough to potentially power the yellows to the win.

As things stand, this election is currently about the size and nature of the Conservative majority. But as this website’s proprietor likes to note, polls are snapshots not predictions. And with 12 days to go there’s still a real chance the electoral landscape changes.

Marcus Roberts is Director of International Projects at YouGov. The YouGov MRP was drawn from a seven day sample of over 100,000 respondents and built by Ben Lauderdale and Jack Blumenau with credit also to Doug Rivers and Anthony Wells and their teams.

James Frayne

“A campaign that not only wrote such a weird manifesto but proofed it, designed it, signed it off and launched it isn’t one that looks like signing off sensible decisions.”

YouGov’s massive MRP poll suggests the Conservatives are in a strong position going into December. But ascendant campaigns need a healthy dose or paranoia. With that in mind, what might change things? Three things stand out.

Firstly, Labour could clarify their offer to English towns. As I said last week, their manifesto had some decent retail policies – but hidden in a quagmire of weird, woke activism. It’s said Labour are to promote sensible MPs from Leave-voting seats to the forefront of a revamped campaign. That’s a decent move. But if these MPs issued a simple new manifesto for these areas – framed around change – this would create a potentially powerful new campaign.

Secondly, rather than just promoting sensible MPs, they could bring in a veteran politician to act as the main spokesperson into the election. This politician could play the role of campaign chairman, like you see in US elections. Who could do this? Ideally, you’d choose someone like John Reid or David Blunkett but they’d be unlikely to prop up Corbyn. John Prescott would be a possible choice. No, he’s not massively loved across the Midlands and North but he speaks their language. (I once remember doing a group of working class voters in the Midlands where a woman said he was the only politician she could understand. Makes you think).

Thirdly, they could persuade sensible unions to act not just as donors but campaign spokespeople. Twenty years ago, most unions spoke mainly about jobs and growth, now most of them mainly speak about rights – and they’ve consequently lost relevance to working class people. But a few sensible voices remain. If they secured the campaign support of unions like the GMB, who still share the priorities of ordinary working people, the campaign’s reach into Labour heartlands would grow.

Such campaign paranoia is important. Will any of this happen though? It seems unlikely. It would necessitate the replacement and/or downgrading of out of touch ideologues with giant egos. A campaign that not only wrote such a weird manifesto but proofed it, designed it, signed it off and launched it isn’t one that looks like signing off sensible decisions. Again, as it stands now, it’s the Conservatives’ campaign to lose.

James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Salma Shah

“There is one former prime minister on the Conservative backbenches but no chancellors, no home secretaries, and only one foreign secretary. This doesn’t bode well for the long view.”

The fabled MRP poll has this week put the Tories on an unimaginable 68-seat majority. Let’s wait and see if this is borne out on polling day but assuming this is correct we will have a huge change in the complexion of the Conservative Parliamentary Party.

The vital statistics of this new grouping I will leave to this site’s veteran, in the form of Mark Wallace. It’s naturally important to understand the proportion of our new MPs who are women, from BAME backgrounds, or how many of them are lawyers vs. those who were nurses; there is no substitute for those who wish to represent than the lived experience.

But there is something more fundamental that needs to be understood not just about the Conservative’s but Parliament as a whole. We’ve had a huge churn in the occupants of the green benches in recent times. A sizeable chunk of first time MPs came to the House in 2010. A record number for the Conservatives, who like other parties’ saw many resignations in the wake of the expenses scandal.

Similarly, we have a great number standing down at this election some who only came in in 2010! The list of safe Tory seats changing hands is significant too: 52 brand-new MPs who are highly likely to be members of Parliament in a fortnight’s time. The change is more surprising because the last election, as we all know, wasn’t so long ago, so one should question the rush to get out.

As a result of these shifting sands the institution suffers: new members will lack guidance above all else, people to show them the ropes, to act as mentors. There are fewer and fewer people who stick around once they’ve had the glory of a cabinet job as well. There is one former prime minister on the Conservative backbenches but no chancellors, no home secretaries, and only one foreign secretary. This doesn’t bode well for the long view.

There is as yet no proper, professional introduction to the life as a parliamentarian either. At best, occasional pointers may be found in the whips’ office who, along with dispensing discipline, notionally do pastoral care.

To end this short-termism in our politics we should support parliamentarians properly, to make the best of the privilege of serving. We need our MPs to have depth in their decision making, and to have the security of a settled parliament. Continuity and experience will be useful to us all.

Salma Shah was a special adviser to Sajid Javid from 2014 to 2019.

Trevor Phillips

“In the unlikely event of a Labour capture of Number 10, Corbyn is already channelling the disastrous reign of Jim Callaghan.”

Old habits die hard. There is flood of compelling evidence from researchers like Matthew Goodwin and the proprietor of this website, Lord Ashcroft, that modern politics in rich countries now revolve around an axis that could loosely be termed cultural – attitudes to feminism, faith and national identity for example.

Yet every GB-wide political party other than the Brexit party is still pitching its tent on the 20th-century ground best described as retail economics – targeted fiscal offerings, pork-barrel bribes for the regions, and a wash of imaginary cash for public services.

They’re still running on “it’s the economy, stupid” when “it’s identity, you idiot” makes far more sense.

The Tories’ papier mache manifesto was clearly designed to be instantly forgettable, evanescent as a communion wafer, dissolving as soon as it hit the tongue. But the Westminster architecture has yet to adapt to the new political landscape; all the manifestos’ promises seem like Hogwarts’ Gothic fantasies. The nurses, builders, drivers, local government officers, and landscape gardeners know that not only is there no magic money tree; there are no special spells that will deliver the new hospitals, houses, roads, railways, and vast new forests with the wave of a wand.

Here in Muggleland, people need to be trained before they are let loose on hospital wards, seeds have to be planted before forests appear, and somebody has to take the day off work in order to let the builder in to insulate the cavity walls. And unless something dramatic has happened in the world of material sciences since I left the lab, concrete will only dry just so fast. Note to new MPs: the fact that you’ve passed a motion (yes, all meanings of that phrase apply) doesn’t mean that you’ve got it done.

The Tories are lucky in their opponents. No-one, it seems, likes Jo Swinson (I don’t get that, myself). Nicola Sturgeon is a great enemy to have; she consolidates the Tory votes in Scotland, scares England, and her combativeness makes the other opposition leaders look fumbling and anaemic, not least Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour leader’s inexplicable inability to deal with the simplest, most predictable questions owed less to Andrew Neil’s peerless acuity and diligence, and more to the fact that nobody seems to have explained to Corbyn that he hadn’t been booked to do his Magic Grandpa fireside chat. He seemed bemused, then furious, that anyone other than “billionaires” might question him.

It’s reasonable to wonder whether the world he lives in is the same as the place most Brits occupy; he describes a country that is sunk in poverty, chaotic, and at war with itself, and a people who are morose, a bit racist, and pre-revolutionary. Whatever their dissatisfactions, most people don’t see themselves or their families in this light. It’s a bit late now, but his handlers should have gotten him out a bit more.

I promised that I would offer some suggestions for the Prime Minister that each contender would like to emulate. In his fantasy world, Johnson wants to be Churchill, even if the historical moment doesn’t quite call for a wartime leader; my guess is that Good Boris would be a genial, presiding presence with a streak of ruthlessness Macmillan, perhaps. But a raging, isolated, resentful Heath also stands in the shadows, should things go wrong on Brexit.

Since the Hugo Chavez option isn’t really available in this game, Corbyn probably dreams of being seen as a new Attlee. But after this week’s polls, the vultures are circling. Hearing the Chief Dementor, Len McLuskey, musing on the future, will be chilling for anyone who can remember the 1979 Winter of Discontent that ushered in eighteen years of Conservative government. In the unlikely event of a Labour capture of Number 10, Corbyn is already channelling the disastrous reign of Jim Callaghan.

Trevor Phillips is Chairman of Green Park Executive Search and a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange.