Thursday, June 01, 2017

Mind the Gap

Well, it's all getting a bit exciting now, isn't it?  The election, I mean.  Obviously.  Those opinion polls showing a sharply narrowing gap between Labour and Conservatives and Theresa May's dismal performances are certainly giving the Tories and their friends in the press jitters.  It's an oft repeated truism that it isn't so much that opposition parties win elections than it is that ruling parties lose them.  And the Tories really do seem to be doing their best to lose this one, with policy U-turns, a poorly thought out manifesto and a leader who appears aloof and arrogant.  But to focus on the Tories' failings as the cause of their - apparent - decline in the polls would be to denigrate the effectiveness of Labour's campaign.  I must admit that they have surprised me: against all odds they've mounted a decent campaign.  They've been able to keep the focus on issues where they are strong: health, education and social care.  They've been helped in this by the fact that May can't really campaign on the economy and deficit reduction, as the Tories have proved so feeble in this area.  Clearly, she'd like to make the election entirely about Brexit.  But it's clear that she's misjudged the public mood badly - for most of the electorate, regardless of whether they were 'leave' or 'remain', Brexit is a battle which has already been fought and nobody particularly wants to rehash it.

All of which has forced the government to try and fight the election on issues where they are traditionally weak.  For once, Labour has seized the opportunity and done their best to push home their advantage.  I also have to say that, although I'm not a fan of Corbyn (as I've made clear here, at some length), he's had a pretty good campaign and has gone a long way to establishing himself as a reasonably credible Prime Minister-in-waiting.  Labour have sensibly played him to his strengths: sincerity and compassion.  It has provided a stark contrast to May's soulless and robotic performances.  Ironically, for someone I've always criticised for spending too much time preaching to the converted, Corbyn has done a good job of at least appearing to be spending time speaking to the wider electorate, whilst May's 'public' appearances have all been carefully orchestrated so as to avoid contact with anyone but Tory supporters.  (In reality, most of Corbyn's set-piece appearances have also been to invited and carefully vetted, but Labour have been far more astute at spinning these to the media).  Overall, Corbyn's certainly shown more leadership qualities than before and has handled the media superbly over the past couple of weeks. I'm still not a fan, but the improvement in his performance can only be good for Labour.

That said, I still don't think they have any realistic chance of winning the election.  But that recent piece of YouGov research which indicated the possibility of a hung parliament means that there is still everything to play for.  If Corbyn can prevent the Tories' from achieving an overall majority, I'll take my hat off to him.  It would be just about the most sensational electoral turnaround in living memory.  Of course, not all of the opinion polls are showing such a stark narrowing of the gap between Labour and Conservative voters as YouGov, indicating that these could be 'rogue' polls.  As, indeed, they could be.  But one also has to consider the differing methodologies being employed by te different pollsters.  It's worth bearing in mind that, after the supposed failure of the pollsters to correctly call the outcome of the 2015 election, with the allegation that they were overestimating the Labour vote, they now adjust them accordingly.  The logic is that the Labour vote is less likely to mobilise on election day - people might tell pollsters that their intent is to vote Labour but, in the event, they don't bother to vote at all.  It is entirely possible that, this time around, the pollsters are over-compensating, pushing the figure for potential Tory voters too high,  Or, it could be that YouGov have got it wrong. We won't know until the votes are cast for real, of course.

The other complicating factor is the UK's 'first-past-the-post' system of electing MPs.  The total share of the vote each party garners nationally has next to no bearing on the number of seats they win.  It is entirely possible for a party to take a majority of the popular vote yet not win enough seats to form a government.  (This has happened twice since the war, in 1951 when Labour won the popular vote but the Tories gained most seats and in the February 1974 election, where Heath's Convervatives narrowly won the popular vote, but had insufficient seats to form even a minority government).  The problem for Labour is that they might well be gaining ground in the pols, but if those votes are spread evenly across the country, it still won't be enough to win key constituencies.  It could also be that their increae in support is concentrated in constituencies they already hold which, once again, won't help them take seats from other parties.  Either way, it is entirely possible that, come he morning of 9 June, Corbyn could have polled a higher percentage share of the votes thhan his predecessor, but still end up with fewer seats than Ed Miliband.  (Another reason for Labour to get wholeheartedly behind the campaign for electoral reform in the UK).  Which would be hugely disappointing. But, as I've said, we won't know how it pans out until the end of next week.  All we can do is continue to get behind Corbyn, whether we like him or not, and actually get out there and vote next Thursday. 

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