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General Election Week 4 – Where are we at?

The main parties’ election strategies have now become nakedly clear and can be summarised as follows:

Tories – They have switched from a pre-Farage ‘core vote’ strategy to a post-Farage entry to the election race ‘begging for mercy’ strategy, as evidenced by Grant Shapps’ desperate pleas in media interviews to “not give Labour a supermajority”, a concept that doesn’t exist in British politics but roughly translates as ‘please don’t kill us stone dead’.

Labour – Their approach has been defined as the ‘Ming vase strategy’, carefully tiptoeing the fragile empty vessel of their agenda through the campaign hoping no one either notices or even worse actually takes a serious look inside to see how empty it is in reality. So far the media are playing along.

Lib Dems – The plan here is to keep the photo ops coming, in the hope they at least achieve some media attention.

Reform – Their strategy is…how would Sir Humphrey put it…’very ambitious, Minister’! In essence they want to kill the Tory Party so that they can assume their ‘new natural position’ as the main party on the Right. Perhaps Noisy Nigel even actually believes this. But in all likelihood, as the media now pores over/ridicules their agenda in glorious detail after their manifesto launch, their early campaign surge might rather tail off as time rumbles on, much as Cleggmania caused a huge opinion poll spike but then somewhat subsided before polling day in 2010.

SNP – Blame the English, blame Westminster, blame the Tories. Same old, same old.

Fake numbers

We also have the usual fake economic fear mongering (aka lies). The Tories have used their ‘special calculator’ to explain that Labour would take (invent number here) pounds out of our pay packets in extra taxes. Not to be outdone, Labour have exceeded themselves by creating a fantastically unbelievable amount (literally pluck a big number out of nowhere here) that our mortgages would rise should the Tories win, both of which seem very unlikely indeed. To remind, we all played this game during Brexit: Remain’s 800k job losses that turned out to actually be 500k new jobs created, versus Leave’s £350m EU spend redirected at the NHS on every bus that hasn’t actually materialised.

Harry Kane wins

The reality is that the media agenda is now going to be swamped with Euro footie, so the election campaign might struggle for airtime all day every day. Particularly so if England get through the knockout stage and get to the final or…holds breath…actually win the dammed thing. Standby for lots of photo ops of all our politicos, England shirt on, beer in hand, pretending to be lifelong footie fans. (‘Remind me, this is the one with the round balls, right?’) For sure Ed Davey’s already got a whole range of pre-shot footie photos covering every possible outcome.

What gives?

It seems to the REC team that both main political parties are staring down the barrels of a very difficult immediate future. For the Tories, the aftermath of the shellacking they are likely to sustain on 4 July is going to be significant, if not life changing. Will the inevitable post-election leadership battle lead to the left or the right of the party holding the leadership? If it’s the right, will they make an accommodation with Reform and Noisy Nigel? And what does an ‘accommodation’ actually look like? If it’s the left in control, will the right split off and join Reform? If not, will there be room for a third centre right party, a sort of new Change UK, remember them?

Two things to remember here: the Tory Party has been very adept many times over at respawning after serious defeats; they are the past masters at this game and tend to bounce back surprisingly efficiently. The second point is one our esteemed MD makes regularly: whatever happens, UK voters are a rather conservative (small c) bunch and broadly speaking there are around 40% of votes up for grabs however the centre Right wants to organise itself.

For Labour the challenges are different but also very serious. They are likely to come to power with a significant large majority now. (If they don’t after the Tory collapse and such a solid poll lead, then this will present a surprising and unwelcome challenge of an entirely different complexion!) On the face of it, this may sound like a good scenario, but the problem is that expectations will be absolutely crazily high and completely unrealistic. Moreover, the polls will likely rise after the election, the so-called poll bounce. (Ask Rishi Sunak about this; he was not long ago the equivalent of a political Jesus when he was dolling out all that furlough money, polling as the most popular politician in the western world. Ah…good times, good times).

But after the rise comes the fall. The day after the election, all the same problems still exist: taxes and debt at historic highs, public services still performing poorly, immigration (both legal and illegal) still soaring, the NHS still demanding billions more in cash to ‘save itself’ on an annual basis, doctors’ strikes to solve, on and on the list goes. And all these problems are tough, but those expectations will remain crazily high, drunk on that election victory.

Blair had the same problem in 1997 but he had two key factors that saved him: first, he had those nice multiple year Tory tax surpluses gifted to him by Ken Clarke which meant he could hurl cash at the public sector to effect some change and pay off his tribal public sector vote. Second, he was personally popular, in that voters had switched and voted for him because they liked what he said and stood for. That is very much not the case for poor old Captain Flip Flop. Sir Keir finds himself in an awkward position. In around two weeks, he is poised to become the least popular candidate ever elected to be PM but, bizarrely, also the one with potentially the largest Parliamentary majority in history, according to the polls right now. Voters haven’t taken to him and Labour will win by default just because the electorate dislikes the Tories more.

But it get’s worse. On matters foreign policy, St Tony of Blair was able to engage with like-minded ‘third way’ progressives in Clinton, Schroeder etc. As an important and loud voice within the EU, he was able to hold sway, be taken seriously, be at the centre of things internationally. Starmer is going to be dealing with Trump (most likely right now), Meloni (the lead voice in the EU currently), von der Lyon (who has moved Right to win friends with the new hard Right parties storming EU member states’ governments), maybe even Le Pen in due course. He will (a) not be among friends and (b) no longer be a big EU voice but an outsider that many EU governments still want to keep shafting.

Starmer is going to have a much harder time than Blair. And with a volatile electorate, swinging wildly between giving Boris a landslide and then Starmer a big win all within five years, that position will quite quickly be a tough one and rapid unpopularity is not altogether unlikely.

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