View from the Street: The final straight

@AdamDShaw

This time next week, we’ll know the result of the General Election and who will govern us for the next five years. Then again, we said that two years ago but I just get this feeling – I don’t know where from – that the next government will be strong and stable, and provide leadership through Brexit and beyond.

It would be kind to say that this has been a decidedly lacklustre campaign from the Conservatives. When Theresa May called the election, her poll lead was in the realm of 20 percentage points, but a cautious, overly-controlled and sound bite driven approach, as well as misjudgements in the manifesto, have dented her appeal.

The manifesto cites “five giant challenges”: building a strong economy; strengthening the Union and the UK’s place in the world post-Brexit; tackling social division; restoring the contract between the generations; and adapting in the digital era.

However, it was the decision to reform social care funding and the replacement of the pensions triple lock with a double lock which caught the most attention. There are strong arguments to support both these policies but they have, unsurprisingly, not gone down well with older people who turn out to vote in large numbers. Further damage was done by the floundering that ensued, with the laughable denials that the changes announced just days later did not constitute a U-turn.  

In contrast, it appeared that Jeremy Corbyn was hitting his stride at just the right time. That was until three days ago when he was unable to provide a cost for one of his flagship policies during an interview on Woman’s Hour. He deflected much of the attention on that car crash by his last minute decision to appear in the BBC’s televised debate – which he had previously refused to do unless May agreed to participate too.

The Labour manifesto is certainly radical, with significant spending commitments and tax-raising measures including income tax increases for those earning above £80,000 and boosting the level of corporation tax. Corbyn has been criticised for his “delusional magic money tree” approach but Labour’s counter is that, with interest rates so low, now is the time to borrow and invest in the economy.

One major discrepancy in Labour’s manifesto is the approach to Brexit negotiations, specifically the stated desire to retain the benefits of the single market and customs union whilst placing limits on immigration - which the EU has explicitly said it will not allow.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron went all-in on capturing the pro-EU sentiment amongst the 48% who voted to remain by pledging to hold a referendum on the exit deal – significantly, with the option to stay in the EU featuring on the ballot paper. This sits alongside his other flagship policies of an extra penny on income tax to fund the NHS and improving mental health services.

However, a significant increase in membership, by-election wins, and the recruitment of a high profile cheerleader in the form of Rachel Johnson - journalist and sister of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson - do not seem to have translated into a major boost in national polling numbers.

According to YouGov, this can be explained by the fact that Remain voters are now split between “Re-Leavers” -  the 23% who voted to remain but accept the result and want the government to get on with negotiations, and “Hard Remainers” - the 22% who want to stop Brexit in its tracks. The Lib Dems, therefore, are actually fighting over a smaller pool than they had envisaged.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the SNP is looking to hold on to the 56 seats it won in 2015, albeit it now only has 54 MPs after two had the whip withdrawn for misconduct and now sit as independents – neither of whom are standing again.

The manifesto focuses heavily on the need for a strong SNP contingent at Westminster to protect Scotland’s place in the EU single market and to fight austerity.   

Due to the assumption that there will be a Conservative majority at Westminster regardless of the campaign north of the border, combined with the resurgent Scottish Tory party under Ruth Davidson, the narrative that the SNP has attempted to create is that it is a two-way battle between the SNP and Conservatives in Scotland.

Also outlined in the manifesto is the assertion that, should the SNP win a majority of Scottish seats, this would represent a “triple lock” and reinforce the democratic mandate for a second independence referendum “when the time is right and the options are clear”. Nicola Sturgeon has since clarified that this refers to after the Brexit negotiations have concluded in Spring 2019 – not before, as she previously stated.  

If we look at the poll tracker, the Conservative lead is still around 10 percentage points. It is well established, however, that polls tend to overestimate Labour support and unless May suffers some kind of catastrophe, she should still be Prime Minister come 9th June - probably with an enhanced majority. However, few are now talking about the Blair-level landslide that was mooted at the start of the campaign.

Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union and key Corbyn supporter, has already said that 200 seats would represent a successful election for the Labour party, laying the ground for Corbyn to stay on even if Labour loses.

The SNP look likely to lose around 10 of the seats they picked up in 2015, although this would still leave them by far and away the largest party in Scotland.

Tim Farron has not put a figure on what would be classed as a successful campaign for the Lib Dems, but it is generally thought that they would have to double their seats for questions not to be asked of his leadership. Whilst national polling suggests they will struggle to hit that number, strong local campaigns in specific target seats such as Edinburgh West, East Dunbartonshire and Bath may push their numbers up.

However, as the saying goes, the only poll that matters is the vote itself. With a significant number of undecided voters, there’s still much to play for.

Adam Shaw is a Senior Associate at Charlotte Street Partners. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 2013 with a degree in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, Adam moved to London and spent three years with a City-based public relations consultancy where he advised a range of clients in the financial services industry. He joined the team in September 2016. He can be contacted at adam.shaw@charlottestpartners.co.uk