What will stop a Conservative Victory?
With one poll published yesterday by YouGov showing a 14 point lead for the Conservative Party some may assume the Conservative’s lead is insurmountable (Coates 2019). However, with high levels of electoral volatility if the government has weaknesses, and these weaknesses are exploited effectively, then Labour could come back, as they did in 2017. This article uses the British Election Study from the summer of 2019 to briefly analyse and summarise the potential weakness the government may be facing going into the campaign. It then states how likely Labour can exploit such weakness and if it likely will be able to do this.
One weakness the Government had going into the campaign is large frustration over how well the government has performed since the last election. This is understandable as the government has not been dealing with day to day domestic issues for around a year as time for day to day policy making has been consumed by the Brexit process. As a result, a high proportion of voters are not satisfied with the overall performance of the government. Over two thirds of voters are not happy with the government’s performance, therefore giving opportunity for opposition parties to make a case they are a better option than the present government. However, in our analysis released earlier this week we showed that a lot of voters do not rate the Labour party as being competent enough to handle tasks the next UK government will have to face. Consequently, the current government may get away with their historical low ratings as there is no obvious immediate alternative seen to be more competent. This means voters may revert to the status quo and the government may win due to a lack of effective opposition. Alternatively, if Labour manages to convince voters during the election they can be trusted with managing Brexit, and then the day to day government business post-Brexit Labour could rapidly start to close the gap on the government as the electorate is very volatile.
The EU Deal.
The next threat to the government’s position is their ability to convince the public that this re-negotiated deal is good for the UK. During the summer, before the Conservatives managed to renegotiate the current EU deal, a majority of voters stated that PM May’s deal was not a good outcome for the country. Therefore, Labour’s appeal to the public to elect them to renegotiate a new and better deal might have some traction and pose a threat the government’s lead. However, as stated in the last article I published few voters trust Labour to deliver a better EU deal if they had a chance to lead the UK negotiations. Therefore, again the government’s weaknesses may not be able to be effectively exploited by their main opposition, consequently leading people to play it safe and revert back to electing a Conservative government. Moreover, if the new Conservative Party leader, Boris Johnson, manages to convince the public that his renegotiated deal is considerably better than May’s deal the Conservative Party may be less exposed on the Brexit issue than they were in the last election. This means the government might be more likely to have an overall majority this elections as they are simply exposed less to opposition criticisms.
Another weakness for the government on the EU position could be voters’ feelings that the government simply may not be able to get any Brexit deal agreed by the Conservative Party MPs and pass it through the House of Commons. In the summer of 2019 it was recorded that a majority of voters felt the Conservative Party was responsible for Brexit being accomplished by the October deadline, therefore making it likely the party would share part of the blame for not delivering Brexit. Therefore, if Labour could convince the public that they have a better chance of delivering Brexit after the election than the Conservatives do, or at least ending the process with some sort of conclusive outcome, they might make gains. However, again the analysis of how Labour might perform on this issue showed little people thinking Labour could achieve this outcomes, and on top of this a third of the electorate held the Labour Party responsible for the failure to settle Brexit. Moreover, the New Prime Minister has deliberately focused on messages of Labour being responsible for “dither and delay”. If this message sinks in with those traditional Labour Leave voters then these voters might switch parties this election and this may stop Labour being able to beat the government this election.
Trust over immigration
The Conservatives also may not be seen as able to lower immigration levels, of which a majority of voters agree with. This can be seen that the BES has recorded a majority of voters stating the Conservatives could not deal with the immigration issue and be expected to lower migration numbers. Within the last couple of elections immigration has been cited as an important issue, and therefore if Labour could be trusted to deliver on this issue it could exploit this weakness the government has and close the gap. However, on further analysis of Labour’s perceived ability to handle immigration we can see that the opposition performs worse of the immigration question as less than five percent of voters think Labour can reduce immigration to levels they will be happier with. Therefore, again the government may have serious weaknesses and be exposed, but they may not be punished as the opposition is not seen as more credible on the option, limiting incentives for voters to change.
Public Services – A large barrier:
focus campaigning around public services. Labour’s campaign will inevitably focus around spending more money on public services, and they will particularly focus on outbidding the Conservative Party in key service areas, like the NHS (Buchan 2019). If the public trust Labour more than the Conservatives in looking after key public services then Labour might start to pick up votes and close the gap on the government. Moreover, more members of the public are becoming concerned on perceived rising crime rates. As a result, as in 2017, if Labour can come up with well received policies in tackling crime than Labour might be able to become more trusted than the government on important issues, and from this close the gap on the government. This might be why the current Prime Minister’s election campaign focusing on highlighting public spending pledges, tackling crime with higher police numbers and attacking Labour’s spending plans (Kuenssberg 2019). If Labours spending plans are seen to be unrealistic then this may limit their ability to exploit the weaknesses the government has surrounding the public service debate. However, If Labour’s spending plans are trusted and resonate with the public during the winter election campaign then Labour might be able to close the large lead the government has, just like they did in 2017.
Cost of living and the economy.
Finally, a weakness the government may have is on the economy. The argument the Conservative Party has been using for a few elections now is that in order for the country to able to afford better public services there must be a strong economy to do so (Nesrine 2018). However, it must be noted that an increasing amount of voters are starting to feel that the cost of living is getting too high and that the general economic situation is not improving. For example, now over 50% of voters now feel the economy is not improving. As a result, if another party can convince the electorate the economy is not improving, and that they would do a better job in managing the economy, this party could hurt the government’s lead position. However, as stated in the article summarising the challenges Labour faces the main opposition party currently is not doing this. This means that voters may stick with the status quo as they trust this option more on the economy as it is seen to be the least worst option.
Overall, there are some surprising serious weaknesses the government are facing going into this campaign. These weaknesses concerns of dysfunctional government within the last electoral cycle, a lack of belief that the Conservative Party can deliver Brexit, concerns around past management of public services and concerns of past performance in tackling immigration, crime and the economy. Usually, such a deadly combination of concerns would create a likely loss for the government, however we are living in unpredictable and weird political times and the opposition appears to be equally distrusted. As a result, if the Conservatives do have a lead in the polls as things stand the Conservatives are likely to win the election. Despite their weaknesses they have they are not being as effectively exploited as they were in the last election, consequently things are not likely to change. However, we are living in volatile political times with great uncertainty. If Labour’s spending pledges resonate and they are trusted to manage spending, the economy, Brexit, tackling crime and public services then like the last election they might close the gap. If the Conservative Party managed to convince voters they should be more trusted than their main opposition on these issues, and they mostly are currently, then the Conservative Party likely will easily win the General Election. This is because much academic research has shown trust and perceived competence key issues has decided past election outcomes (Clarke 2009).
With A month left this leaves a lot of time for change, but the polls will need to shift soon for change to come in time to produce another shock election result like in 2017.
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Clarke, H.D. ed. (2009). Performance Politics and the British Voter. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Coates, S. (2019). General Election: Conservatives Enjoy 14-Point Lead over Labour - Poll | Politics News | Sky News [Online]. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/general-election-conservatives-enjoy-14-point-lead-over-labour-poll-11860021 [Accessed: 13 November 2019].
Kuenssberg, L. (2019). Tories in fresh attack on Labour spending plans. BBC News [Online]. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/election-2019-50383018 [Accessed: 13 November 2019].
Nesrine, M. (2018). Why Are the Tories Still Seen as Strong on the Economy? | Nesrine Malik | Opinion | The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/17/tories-strong-economy-brexit-austerity-theresa-may-corbyn [Accessed: 13 November 2019].
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