The 2019 Get Brexit Done election campaign is under way, and Johnson is suddenly up against the “condition of Britain” question.
So far, the parties have been making their pitches and it seems that both the “major parties” are busy trying to outbid each other in their spending promises. If however, you turn to look at what concerns the voters, and bear in mind that most tend not to get switched on to the fact that there’s an election on till about 2 weeks before D-day, the monthly Ipsos Mori poll of political issues is interesting. They started with Brexit being way ahead as a “very important” issue, but the NHS has now almost caught it up (55% to 54%) and this is despite Johnson trying to make the focus how he can “get Brexit done” and it’s “The People vs Parliament”. The “condition of Britain” question is right up there, and we have the now-annual NHS winter crisis in full swing. The Tories claiming they’ll throw money at it chimes oddly with the fact that this happened on their watch.
This might be Johnson’s election to lose (remember Ted Heath hit the same problem with the unions in the “Who governs?” election in 1974 and lost), and this is despite their current lead in the polls, and with that electoralcalculus.co.uk prediction last week of a hundred-odd seats majority. It should be borne in mind that small swings can make a big difference, and that we could get a hung Parliament instead. He thought he could galvanise the Leave vote base but not all Leavers are Tories, not by any means. Johnson and Cummings wanted a winter election, before Christmas of all times, just when people have their mind on “getting ready for Christmas”. My hunch is that he’ll get the wrath of voters for intruding on the annual ritual. Johnson hasn’t looked very impressive out there campaigning and he dropped a great clanger in his tardy visit to the Don Valley, right where they expect to pick up Leave votes!
Then again, Labour aren’t finding it easy either, especially with Corbyn’s huge unpopularity as leader and repeated reports of divisions. The big buzz word of the moment is the “squeeze”, how the multitude of parties are getting squeezed by the Brexit-Remain divide and the split Remain vote. Voters will have to decide which horse to back. Is it the one with a programme to address the “condition of Britain” question and a promise of Ref2? Or is it the one that has almost as its sole item to Remain? While the smaller parties are agreeing electoral alliances, Swinson and Corbyn won’t go there, which could cost them both. In fact it seems that Labour have over-estimated their so-called “success” in 2017 (psst: they lost!). Equally, the LDP face a huge uphill struggle even to get 20 more seats.
It is early days. We have a historically unprecedentedly volatile electorate, with low levels of partisanship, and minds could change fast. On the one hand Johnson might suddenly have a surge and pull ahead of the pack with “Get Brexit done”., and then off into the neoliberal sunset. On the other hand, since the polls, and yes health warnings apply, have shown a slight narrowing lately, people might decide that Brexit is a smokescreen for political failure and misgovernment at home. It is very hard to know right now. So, despite that Tory lead, Britain isn’t happy and that bulldog might suddenly let loose and bite, hard and deep. Who will get bitten?