Game Over?

The elections in the United Kingdom will decide everything – or again nothing at all

 

A majority for Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not certain, but very likely. The forecasts for the Liberal Democrats are disappointing. All the signs are in favour of Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his conservative party are well on their way to securing a clear majority in the House of Commons today. They rank around 40 percent in the polls. This gives them a comfortable lead of around ten percentage points over opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party.

If Johnson’s Tories win 339 seats, as predicted by the YouGov poll institute, this would be their best result since Margaret Thatcher’s era. They could celebrate their biggest gains above all in the working class strongholds of central England, in the “red wall”, the area around Liverpool and Manchester, where people traditionally vote Labour. There many will give their vote to the Conservatives for the first time because they want one thing above all else: “Get Brexit Done” – the motto of Johnson’s campaign.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has long since stopped fighting to win a majority himself. Instead he is trying to prevent a majority of conservatives and hopes to form a coalition government with the support of the smaller parties. His party threatens to lose 30 seats. With their election promise to negotiate a new withdrawal treaty with the EU and present it to the public for voting, the Social Democrats are convincing neither Remainer nor Leaver. In addition, Corbyn is struggling with catastrophic poll scores and accusations of not clearly positioning himself against anti-Semitic incidents in his party.

 

Dark Forecasts for Liberal Democrats

The forecasts for the Liberal Democrats are gloomy. Their new party leader Jo Swinson had to watch their party’s polls drop from 20 to 12 percent within a few weeks. She can assume that her faction will have 15 seats in the House of Commons in the future – three more than in 2017 but five less than at the moment, because the LibDems have accepted several defectors from other parties.

This is a dramatic crash in so far that in summer the party leadership was still hoping to win more than 50 seats and to be able to use this weight to prevent the Brexit. But with the proclamation of the new elections at the end of October, a familiar pattern in British politics was repeated: while the poll results of the two major parties shot up, those of the smaller parties plummeted dramatically. This is a common symptom of majority voting. As soon as things get serious, voters tend to put their trust in a large party.

The disappointing starting position of the Liberal Democrats, however, is not entirely without fault. The liberal campaigners have a hard time selling their party’s new Brexit position in the doorstep election campaign. At its party conference in September, the party decided to stop campaigning for a second referendum and to directly advocate the revocation of the withdrawal motion. Cancellation of the Brexit without a new referendum – in the opinion of many observers this is an extreme position that does not fit in with the self-declared party of the centre.

 

Cautious Forecasting

However, the forecasts for election day should be treated with great caution. The difference between a clear Conservative victory and a draw without a clear majority is relatively small. Since British electoral law only covers direct mandates, everything depends on the constituencies in which conservative candidates lie head to head with their competitors. One of the most interesting of these constituencies is Esher and Walton. Domic Raab, the current foreign minister, must fear losing his seat to the liberal challenger Monica Harding. It would be a symbolic humiliation of the government, as the opposition parties long for on British election nights.

If Harding and other candidates can come up with many little surprises, they could eventually become a big one. This is confirmed by the YouGov forecast. Accordingly, a scenario without a clear majority for Johnson, a so-called hung parliament, lies within the error interval.

In Brussels, Berlin and Budapest, one looks at the upcoming election through the Brexit glasses. If Johnson wins, a timely resignation by 31 January is almost certain. If there is no majority for him, everything will be open again and the tormenting Brexit process will be extended indefinitely.

 

Not Only the Brexit Interests

Voters in London, Liverpool and Leicester are not only interested in the Brexit question. The parties have conducted an intense election campaign on issues such as internal security, education, health care and infrastructure.

The Conservatives are advertising with 20,000 additional policemen and 50,000 new nurses and want to spend three billion pounds more every year. This promise is eclipsed by Labour’s plans to spend an extra £83 billion on national health, education and the environment. Their demands also include a significant increase in the minimum wage and the gradual introduction of a four-day week.

Liberal Democrats are also appealing to the hearts and minds of austerity-suffering voters and are pinning their hopes on extra spending of £60 billion on healthcare and infrastructure. They also remain true to their long-standing demand for the introduction of proportional representation.

The outcome of tomorrow’s elections will not only depend on the extent to which these programmes catch voters. It will be important for the parties to mobilise their voters. Even if the importance of the vote for the country’s future may be special, some citizens may be tired of the number of elections and referendums in recent years. The weather forecast – constant rain – which is not untypical for December, should intensify this feeling.

Boris Johnson can be optimistic, but not sure of victory. But before he can get into the mathematical details of the new House of Commons seating arrangement, he will first have to defeat the local competition in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. The Labour candidate is right on his heels here. And as is now a tradition in British politics, he is confronted with a satirical cult figure: instead of the famous Lord Buckethead, this time the protest candidate is called Count Binface. He will be on stage together with Boris Johnson at the announcement of the result.

 

 

Sebastian Vagt

European Affairs Manager

Head of FNF Security Hub