Chris Whiteside MBE is Conservative health spokesman on Cumbria County Council and Deputy Chairman (Political & Campaigning) of North-West Region. He was Conservative parliamentary candidate for Copeland in 2005 and 2010.
As the election race heads into the final days, remember the curse of self-defeating expectations.
Like millions of people, I have already voted, putting my postal ballot into the box at the council HQ at the start of this week.
In the UK’s first December general election for nearly a hundred years, it is likely that postal votes will be even more important than usual – and since a lot of them will already have been cast, Labour would have to make a quite remarkable turnaround to win an outright majority in the last five days of the campaign.
That doesn’t mean the election is in the bag for the Conservatives.
Ironically, one of the things which could produce another hung parliament would be if everyone thought it was certain the Conservatives will win.
For 30 years an increasingly large cohort of the British public has been more and more disillusioned with politicians of all parties. This isn’t new, but those feelings of disillusionment and indeed betrayal have been boosted in the past three years. Although readers of Conservative Home might offer contrasting ideas about why the voters have good reason for this, it is unlikely that many people reading this will disagree with the view that voters have good reason to be distrustful of politicians.
Indeed, most of those who approve of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage, or did so at the height or their respective popularity, saw them as anti-politicians.
My perspective on this election may be influenced by the fact that most of the campaigning I have been doing has been in Leave-voting areas of northern England, often areas which used to be solidly Labour. We are finding a certain proportion of the electorate has a positive view of Boris Johnson. What is much more striking, however, is the extent to which many former Labour voters are extremely hostile to Jeremy Corbyn.
This is likely to be an election in which many voters cast a ballot against what they don’t want rather than a positive vote for something they do. That is when the issue of self-defeating expectations comes into play.
If you are a voter who doesn’t like any of the main parties much, and are minded to vote for the party you think will be least disastrous, there may be a temptation not to cast a vote which would give them a huge majority. If there was an option on the ballot paper along the lines of “I want Boris Johnson to get a big enough majority that he can get Brexit done but not big enough to do absolutely anything he likes.” I suspect there would be an awful lot of votes in that box. But, of course, no such option is possible.
Some of the shock election results over the last few decades which have often been blamed on poor polling may have been at least partly due to voters having a late change of mind against the party they thought was going to win. From Neil Kinnock in 1992 to Theresa May in 2017, voters didn’t want the party they thought was heading for victory to get a big majority and voted to “clip their wings,” sometimes with the result that they didn’t win at all.
Marcus Roberts made a very good point on the ConHome Election Panel article, when he suggested that CCHQ might see the YouGov MRP survey as “the worst of both worlds” as it suggested a large enough Conservative majority to create the risk of complacency and make people think that there is no danger of a Corbyn government, yet that projected majority comprised a host of narrow and fragile projected leads in individual constituencies.
Perhaps the best argument we can use on the doorstep with any voter who doesn’t want any party to get a big majority is that the paralysed parliament Britain had from 2017 to 2019 and the last two and a half years of chaos is exactly what casting your vote against giving anyone a majority is most likely to produce.
I have been told that “senior figures” in the Conservative campaign think that a hung parliament is the most likely outcome of the election. There may be a degree of expectations management there, but I certainly think that a hung parliament with Labour and the SNP able to form a government is still a very real danger.
Meanwhile, the Labour party campaign seems to consist of an escalating series of ever more desperate and extremely expensive bribes which they are no longer even trying to pretend they have adequately costed or have any idea how to pay for. If this was coming from a normal political party we could assume they had lost any hope of forming a government and were making promises they didn’t expect to have to deliver. The Corbyn cult, however, is quite capable of believing their own fantasies. And, unfortunately, so is a proportion of the electorate.
But I want to end on a positive note. The nightmare of a hung parliament run by Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP is still a real possibility. But so is a Conservative majority. We have absolutely everything to play for.