It’s not so long since it seemed that Britain’s two party system might collapse. In the 2010 general election, the two main parties gained 55 per cent of the vote between them. In 2015, that rose to 67 per cent. Two years ago, it reached 82 per cent.
What seems to have happened is that the UK has bucked the post-crash trend that has savaged traditional parties of the left and right elsewhere. First past the post has helped to ensure that populist change has takes place within the two main parties rather than gathering pace outside them.
The Conservatives have moved left economically since 2015, and Brexit is in part a populist cause. Labour has moved in the same direction in almost every sense since that year: the replacement of Ed Miliband by Jeremy Corbyn was the irruption of a Syriza or Podemos-style force into British politics.
It makes sense to see what is happening in this general election campaign against that background. More media coverage, however dire, plus the imminence of the poll (postal votes have gone out) appear to be doing to Labour’s support this time round what they did in 2017. Labour’s poll share has been steadily rising since campaigning got serious at the end of last month.
At the same time, the Liberal Democrat share has declined. Ironically, the one policy area in which division now counts for less is Brexit: the effect of Boris Johnson agreeing a new Withdrawal Agreement with the EU has made the LibDem revoke policy look outdated.
The party seems to have no fallback offer to pitch to voters, which has helped to ensure that the gamble of presenting Jo Swinson as an alternative Prime Minister hasn’t come off. Labour squeezing the LibDems in consequence. A hard left socialist party versus a One Nation Brexit one is leaving little room for anything else.
These long-term social trends provide a surer guide to this election than this week’s shorter-term events. The Conservatives continue to run an effective campaign – it survived last weekend’s manifesto launch without difficulty – while Labour continues to run an ineffective one (see Jeremy Corbyn’s excrutiating interview with Andrew Neil).
None of this has stopped a steady uptick in Labour’s poll ratings. Remember: there are a mass of voters out there willing to believe that the Conservatives really do want to privatise the NHS, or who believe that Corbyn’s economic prospectus would succeed this time round as it did not during the run-up to Jim Callaghan and then Thatcherism. What is different this time round is that the Tory ratings have not fallen simultaneously.
Corbyn has two weeks to prove that his poll-of-polls total of 31 per cent isn’t a ceiling. To up it substantially, he must either take votes off the Conservatives, squeeze the LibDems further, get tactical voting to work for him or triumph on differential turnout. All that looks a tall order.
None the less, the YouGov MRP poll, which at first glance represents unalloyed good news for the Conservatives, apparently records a smaller Tory majority now (68) than it did last weekend (when it was finding one of over 100). No wonder Dominic Cummings has revived his blog to warn of the Conservatives falling short.
YouGov’s Marcus Roberts will have more to say about all that when he writes again for our panel later today. But for all Labour’s push upwards, Boris Johnson is pushing upwards too. His twelve point poll of polls lead last week is an eleven point one this week. He remains on course to return to Number Ten.