With Tuesday’s final YouGov MRP poll showing the Conservatives retaining their lead, albeit with a projected margin of victory substantially reduced from the poll’s previous iteration, we might expect tomorrow’s election to yield anything from a hung Parliament with the Tories as the biggest party, through to a substantial majority for Johnson. With over 50 seats extremely close and many dead tied, election night just got interesting.
Yet stepping back, isn’t it a bit odd that the Tories are still ahead after a decade of deeply unpopular austerity, a stalled economy, and the raging internal strife that cost two prime ministers their positions?
There are strange parallels here with the 1992 general election. The country was in a long, deep recession, with rising unemployment, double-digit interest rates and the same Conservative government for the past 13 years. John Major’s victory therefore came as a surprise to pollsters, who had Labour slightly ahead in a neck-and-neck race, anticipating a hung Parliament with Neil Kinnock leading the largest party.
In the aftermath of the election, Labour’s reversal was widely blamed on a hubristic, presidential-style rally in Sheffield, alongside the so-called ‘War of Jennifer’s Ear’ - a controversy surrounding the leaking of the name of a child covered in a TV advertisement that recalled their plight as they waited for an operation. Kinnock resigned after the election.
However, the British election survey covering the 1992 election explored many aspects of the reversal for Labour, yielding further parallels - an unpopular leader, fear of high taxes, mistrust of their policies, demographic change, and the long-term loosening of emotional ties to the Labour Party among the working class. Little was made of the rally or the TV advert.
Should the Conservatives fail to win this Brexit election, perhaps people will look back on the superficial events of this final week in a similar way, the bizarre sight of the Prime Minister driving a Union-Jack-bedecked JCB through a polystyrene wall to make his Brexit point, and the controversy surrounding a picture of a child laying on a bundle of coats in an NHS hospital.
Just as in 1992, this would miss an underlying long-term shift in public opinion that is best seen with hindsight, and which doesn’t favour the Tories - a shift in both cases towards increased spending on the NHS, reducing poverty, renationalisation and a rejection of rampant free markets.
As a result, Labour policies that seemed radical in 1987 didn’t seem so in 1992 or 1997, when Tony Blair dealt the Tories a crushing defeat that left them in opposition for over a decade.
In 2019, with Labour Leave voters lending their support, potentially on a temporary basis, to the Conservatives and the Conservatives forced to ape Labour’s spending policies to get these new voters over the line, perhaps hindsight will show that for Labour this is an election well worth losing, leaving the Conservatives to own Brexit and its consequences with just a thin veneer of populist policies to underpin it and an economic cycle that is probably due a recession in this Parliamentary cycle.
Of course, if Labour does lose, there will be calls for Jeremy Corybn to resign. His grip on the party is strong enough to withstand another coup from the centre, though an affectionate nudge from his allies on the left might be another story.
Regardless of whether he stays or goes, Corbyn’s policies - a big state, underpinned by higher taxes and borrowing, with a stronger emphasis on workers' rights - aren’t going anywhere. He has remoulded the Labour Party in his image, around ideas that are growing in popularity, particularly among the young.
As a result, business had better get used to the idea that whoever wins this election, Corbynism, like Brexit, is far from done.
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