As the end of week Two’s campaigning approaches, we repeat what we wrote at the end of Week One’s. Which party has a good or a bad campaign, let alone a good or a bad week, doesn’t usually seem to make much difference to the result.
The Conservative Manifesto and campaigning calamity in 2017 is a striking exception to this rule, and in an election that follows a hung Parliament, and may itself produce one, small developments could admittedly make a big difference.
The largest one this week has undoubtedly been Nigel Farage’s decision to withdraw Brexit Party candidates from constituencies that the Tories won in 2017. One take is that it won’t make much impact on the result, because that party will still contest Labour-held marginals, where it is likely to take more votes from the Conservatives.
That view may make plausible psephology, but it is very poor psychology. By deploring the possibility of a hung Parliament, placing his faith in Boris Johnson’s latest commitment on transition, and standing down a mass of candidates, Farage has signalled that it is acceptable for pro-Brexit voters to support the Tories.
If that logic applies in “safe” Conservative constituencies, it also does so in marginal Labour ones – and for all his criticism of the Tories yesterday, the Brexit Party leader has not renounced his decision. Its candidates in Canterbury and Dudley North, two prominent marginal seats, have taken the point and stood down. Anyone following the election closely will have noticed.
Of course, it may be that campaign disaster lightning will strike the Tories twice; or that the polls are nowhere near what the election result will be, or that the distribution of the vote will be unfavourable to the Conservatives – who, as last time round, will pile up votes in seats they already hold.
All that said, Labour has not led in a single UK-wide poll since late July – when Boris Johnson was elected Tory leader. (And it has been found ahead in only one survey since: on November 4 by YouGov in Wales by a single statistically insignificant point.)
Politico’s tracker finds the Conservatives ten points ahead. Lord Ashcroft’s new dashboard finds a blue triple slam: Johnson beats Jeremy Corbyn as best Prime Minister; forced to choose between the two main parties, voters plump for the Tories; Johnson and Sajid Javid are more trusted on the economy than their Labour counterparts.
Punch those figures into Electoral Calculus’s calculator, and you will get a Conservative majority of 110. Of course, that’s a very crude measure, which doesn’t take seat distribution into account. And the polls may be wide of where we end up. And lightning really could strike twice.
None the less, the likelihood is that all that polling is meaningful; that the Farage intervention has been net helpful to Johnson, and that everything else this week – the seperate-but-linked Scottish campaign, all policy announcements, flooding, and even Javid’s attack on Labour’s spending plans, let alone the relative trivia of candidate selections, stunts and gaffes, have made no difference to anything meaningful.
If so, it will suit Johnson to keep it that way through the manifesto launch, beyond into the leaders’ TV debates, and onward until polling day – with the exception of a Wobbly Wednesday or Tremulous Tuesday or Meltdown Monday in that last week, in order to downplay expections and thus frighten Tory voters into turning out. The Prime Minister is a bracing campaigner but it is in his interest for this to be a snoozeathon campaign.
Claud Cockburn and his Times colleagues once ran a regular competition to get the dullest possible headline they could imagine into the paper. (Journalists are fond of these subsersive practices.) According to legend, Cockburn only ever won once – his entry being “Small Earthquake in Chile, Not many dead”. There are not many electoral dead after this small earthquake of a campaigning week.