Guest post by Adrian Beaumont, who joins us from time to time to provide commentary on elections internationally. Adrian is an honorary associate at The University of Melbourne. His work on electoral matters for The Conversation can be found here, and his own website is here.
There were seven UK national polls released last weekend. In six of these, the Conservatives held leads of ten to 13 points, while Opinium gave them a 19-point lead. The Conservative plus Brexit party vote has dropped to the mid 40’s from the high 40’s to low 50’s in most of these polls. Opinium is the outlier with a Conservative/Brexit vote of 50%. The Conservatives remain likely to win the December 12 election with a majority.
The Conservatives are being assisted by two factors. First, Brexit Party support is at just 3% in five of the seven polls. Second, the Liberal Democrats have about 15% and the Greens 3%, with Labour on 30%. In Britain’s first-past-the-post system, those who want Labour to adopt a pure Remain position are likely to deliver a Commons majority for a hard Brexit. Some Conservatives who would never vote Labour will vote for the Liberal Democrats, but most Lib Dem votes are at Labour’s expense given Labour won 40% in 2017 and the Lib Dems 7%.
The Conservative vote in six of the seven polls was 41-43%, with 47% in Opinium. With the split in the opposition, a Conservative vote below 40% is probably needed to avert a Conservative majority. The drop in the Conservative/Brexit vote has been taken partly by the Brexit party, but any further drops will impact the Conservatives directly.
On November 19, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn had their first head-to-head debate. Perhaps Labour’s campaign on the National Health Service is biting, but Corbyn reopened Remain divisions in that debate. On November 21, Labour’s manifesto was released; Labour will hope its left-wing agenda will win back some Lib Dems and Greens.
On November 22, the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party participated in BBC Question Time, with each leader getting 30 minutes to answer questions from the public. Jo Swinson of the Lib Dems was strongly criticised for her performance, and this failure could benefit Labour. There will be a three-way debate between Johnson, Corbyn and Swinson Thursday UK time, and a seven-way debate Friday.
Why are Remainers such a problem for Labour and Corbyn?
A YouGov poll gave Johnson a net -4 rating, up two points since August. Corbyn’s net rating was -42, up 17 points. Swinson’s net rating was -18. With Leave voters, Johnson had a +50 rating, while Corbyn was at -21 with Remain voters and Swinson +9. These ratings explain why the Leave vote has consolidated behind the Conservatives, while Remainers are split.
Labour’s current Brexit policy should appeal to Remainers. Labour will negotiate a soft Brexit, then put that to a referendum against Remain. It is likely Remain would win such a referendum. Labour’s problem is much more about the process of getting to the current policy. Corbyn is a known Eurosceptic who was reluctant to move from Labour’s successful pro-Brexit 2017 policy.
Ironically, the Conservatives are likely to win the election because the socialist Corbyn was centrist on a deeply polarising issue. But as I said before, an explicitly pro-Remain Labour would have been accused of disrespecting the 2016 Brexit referendum result and being an elitist party.
Was there any way for Labour to escape its Brexit predicament? I have a very cynical suggestion. Labour needed the economic crisis of a no-deal Brexit before the election, not after. If the Conservative hard right wanted a no-deal, Labour should not have got in the way. It is likely a no-deal will effectively occur after the transition period ends in December 2020.
Election updates: Israel, the US and Hong Kong
- In Israel, left-leaning Blue & White leader Benny Gantz failed to form a government by the November 20 deadline. There will be a third election in a year if nobody forms a government by December 11. On November 21, right-wing PM Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted for bribery and fraud.
- I wrote for The Conversation on November 20 that Pete Buttigieg had surged to a clear lead for the February 3 Iowa Democratic caucus.
- At Hong Kong local elections held Sunday, pro-Democracy councillors gained control of 17 of the 18 councils, to just one council held by pro-Beijing councillors.