Brexit: Johnson’s General Election Busted Flush?

It is way too early to make any calls on the UK’s December 12 snap elections. And even in the much simpler-to-assess Brexit referendum, not only were the polls wrong, but some expert commentators were privately calling it for Remain by 6 to 7 points the evening before the vote. So while these snapshots, the first from the Evening Standard, give a picture of overall dynamic, the election fight has just started.

Based on national polls, there appears to be way too much tacit acceptance in the press of the fond hope of the Tories, that the general election will result in the Conservatives getting a majority that will enable them to vote through Brexit legislation and then Johnson’s deal by January 31. Let us stress that the many tactical/electoral map issues are way way beyond our grasp, and we hope that readers will chime in with further observations.

However, as much as Labour now looks set to take losses at the hustings, that does not necessarily imply a Tory success. For instance, Theresa May seemed poised to strike a fatal blow to Labour when she called her snap election with a 22 point lead, wider than Johnson’s with his recent uptick. All major parties and all major candidates (save perhaps Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, which wasn’t included in a recent YouGov poll) show significant net disapproval ratings, with Jeremy Corbyn looking the most damaged of the party leaders. That plus the timing of the vote for December looks like a prescription for lower-than-normal turnout, with voters with strong views more likely to participate. But how does that shake out on a district by district level?

This YouGov poll highlights one wild card, the preference of the young for Labour and the LibDems over the Tories, as voter registration has upticked among 25 to 34 year old and under 25 year old voters:

Two recent articles argue that the Johnson snap election gamble is far more perilous than it seems. The first, by Glen O’Hara, Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Oxford Brookes University, points out that the last two general elections called by Tories in the winter, by Stanley Baldwin in December 1923 and Ted Heath in February 1974, ushered in minority Labour governments. His take:

Johnson has taken a huge gamble….net scores of -18 and -67 are the worst on record for a new leader and government at this stage. After nearly a decade of public sector austerity and stagnant wages, Johnson is asking the people to give the Conservatives another go. He is asking for a lot.

There are several other reasons to question the prevailing wisdom that he will make it back to No. 10 with a majority big enough to carry his Brexit deal through without further alarm. The first thing to make clear is that the electorate for a General Election is not the same as the Brexit electorate: June 2016’s Leave vote relied to some extent on very marginal voters who may well not make it back to the polls again (or, if they do, will vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party). If Remain voters decide again to coalesce around Labour as their least-worst option – and there is a lot of evidence that they did just that in 2017 – the Government will be in trouble.

The Conservatives are faced with a three-pronged pincer movement that may see Leave cornered by the reinvigorated ranks of Remainers. They will almost certainly lose seats to the Scottish National Party in Scotland, and they are very likely indeed to lose wealthy, culturally liberal and very pro-Remain seats in the South of England to the resurgent Liberal Democrats. Let’s assume, very roughly but credibly, that they lose seven or eight of their Scottish MPs. And then another thirteen or so fall to the Liberal Democrats. That’s twenty – or a few more – losses before the Conservatives have even made a start.

If he is to reach a bare absolute majority Johnson then has to make up all of those, and then win ten more seats, from Labour. Granted, Labour are wallowing low in the polls at the moment, but this seems like a huge ask. It means winning a seat such as Reading East – a constituency that Labour won from the Conservatives last time, is experiencing rapid demographic change as younger and more liberal voters move out from London to take advantage of its rapid train link into the capital, and one where it’s estimated that more than 60% of the electors voted Remain in 2016.

Yes, there are lots of Labour seats containing many more Leave voters, and some of them – Dudley North, Barrow and Furness, Ashfield – might well fall to the Conservative advance in poorer, more blue-collar and traditionally Labour parts of the country. But are there enough of them, when Labour waverers will be coming home to the party, as very old and deep ties to the culture and idea of Labourism will stir, and as Labour and its more than 400,000 members begin to assert themselves on the electoral battlefield? That is a much more open question.

Although first days do not dictate the course of an election, Corbyn appeared in good form today, seeking to make the election about broader economic issues, depicting the Tories as representing the “privileged few” and touting Labour policies like free prescriptions and eliminating university tuition fees. Per the Guardian, Corbyn is depicting Brexit as a sellout:

And when he promised Labour would not open up the NHS to US corporations as part of a free trade deal with Donald Trump’s White House, his audience repeatedly chanted: “Not for sale! Not for sale!”

Amusingly, Trump indirectly confirmed Corbyn’s talking points and gave him a boost by trash-talking him and praising Johnson in a chat with Nigel Farage:

Mind you, Corbyn is also selling his own Brexit unicorn, that he’d get things sorted out with the EU in six months, including a new deal and a confirmatory referendum.

As Richard North sourly noted:

The message is unmissable – Brexit is to be side-lined with the agenda turned to the schools ‘n’ hospitals and all the dog whistle issues that make up standard election fare.

And even some Labour fans are tearing their hair over the party’s continued Brexit waffling:

On the Brexit party side, readers speculated earlier that in a general election scenario, Farage and Johnson might do a deal, with the Tories standing aside in some constituencies to let the Brexit party have a shot (or perhaps more accurately, assure that they didn’t divide Leave voters and produce a Labour or LibDem winner). In the Trump interview, the president urged the Tories and the Brexit Party to “get together.” But the Brexit Party’s selling points include that they are the hardest-core Leavers, and that Johnson didn’t live up to his “die in a ditch” promise for delivering an October 31 Brexit.

The Guardian depicts Brexit Party leadership as not having settled its campaign strategy:

The Brexit party chair, Richard Tice, has said the party has vetted 600 candidates so far and hopes to run in up to 650 seats.

Farage is said to be in the middle on the strategy in terms of numbers. Others are urging for caution and suggest working on a much-reduced list of target seats in case they split the Brexit vote and threaten the chance of Britain leaving the EU.

Keeping the threat of fielding a big roster alive may be a way to induce the Tories to make an offer.

Craig Murray believes that the Tories will lose the upcoming election. He starts by describing how the BBC made Farage famous because his message that inequality was due to immigrants, not billionaire looting. And it’s now going to be difficult to make him go away:

The Brexit Party is a fundamental threat to Boris Johnson’s strategy of moving the Tory Party decisively to the hard right and attempting to win seats on the back of working class anti-immigrant votes in the Midlands and North of England. More liberal Scottish, London and South Western Tory voters have been deliberately abandoned, and consituencies sacrificed, in order to chase hard racist votes. Those indoctrinated to hate their fellow man if he has a Polish accent, are now required by the elite to vote Tory, not to vote for the Brexit Party.

The remarkable result of this is that, at precisely the point where Farage’s influence will be most crucial in determining the future of politics in the UK, he has been dropped by the media…

I am happy to state with confidence that this election will backfire on the Tories. The strong evidence from both the 2017 election and the Scottish referendum campaign, is that once broadcasting rules on equal time come into play, the impact on voters is profound of hearing direct from normally derided people and their normally ridiculed arguments.

The Johnson/Cummings electoral strategy is catastrophically bad. First past the post rewards regional voter concentration. Cummings plan is to sacrifice votes in traditional Tory areas in order to pile them up in traditionally hostile areas. The result will be to even out their vote, lose regional concentration and lose the election. They can pile on two million racist votes in traditional Labour constituencies without gaining more than a dozen seats. That will merely cancel out losses in Scotland. That people en masse are going to forget the devastation of their communities by Thatcher or the generations of fight for a decent living is far from probable. The antipathy to the Tories in parts of the UK is not “tribal”, it is the result of generations of hard experience.

The Brexit Party may have more appeal than the Tories in traditional Labour consituencies, but neither they nor the Tories will win any significant number of them. It is in the marginals of the Midlands and Lancashire where the Brexit Party may damage the Tories’ chances, not in Sunderland and Hartlepool which will stay Labour. The SNP is going to sweep Scotland, the Liberal Democrats make substantive gains in London and the South West and the Labour Party will do much better in London and the North than anybody now expects. The Midlands, both East and West, are hard to predict and the key battleground, but the number of possible Tory gains is not enough to compensate for their losses elsewhere. The Tories could end up with the largest share of the vote, perhaps 36%, but less seats than the Labour Party. That is what I expect to happen.

If this conclusion is correct, and Labour wins up leading a coalition government, what happens next depends a lot on where the coalition partners decide to flex their muscles. For instance, the LibDems are pretty conservative economically, and so would constrain Labour’s ambitious plans. As for Brexit, it’s hard to know what Corbyn, who is leery of the EU, would do if the election shook out so as to look to back Remain. Or, as Murray suggests, the Tories actually win a majority of votes, meaning Brexit is still what voters presumably want, but fail to win the Parliament.

In other words, the next six weeks may be a wilder ride than anticipated. Stay tuned.

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  1. Clive

    It’s certainly been a fun-filled first day, with a plot line so far which seems to be basing itself on Jayne Eyre — Brexit has been cast as Bertha Mason, the mad and crazed woman who some of the protagonists are trying to keep locked in an attic room in the tower.

    The Liberal (but really wanting to rule the place with a rod of iron and restraining ropes) mainstream media, typecast you might feel, are Grace Poole. A slightly unsettling and menacing presence, who have been brought in to nurse Brexit but all the while keeping her restrained, quiet and hopefully permanently hidden out of sight. Unfortunately Grace is often prone to succumbing to drink, and is an unreliable custodian of Brexit, letting her escape from confinement at especially inopportune moments.

    We even had a cameo (voice over only, alas) appearance, like the guest celebrity callers who used to have a scene at the start of each episode of Frasier, from Donald Trump, from what I could tell, he was cast as Blanche Ingram, courting a chance to marry upwards and swooning over the lead character.

    Johnson was of course Mr. Rochester, brooding and tragic on occasions, then by turn melancholic and plagued by guilt, occasionally thinking he sees some hope, though from where it might come, he knows not.

    Yes, for now, Bertha, or Brexit to her friends, is safely locked away in her tower attic. Of course, we’re all just sitting here wondering when, if, and if so, how, she’ll make an appearance.

    And it’s only day one!

    1. petal

      Clive, that was glorious. I wish I could buy you a beer or three. Jane Eyre is my favourite book and now I’ll never look at it or Brexit the same way again! Cheers!

  2. The Rev Kev

    OK then. The Johnson/Cummings electoral strategy is to send out two million dog-whistling, racist votes in traditional Labour constituencies to grab a few seats while sacrificing votes in traditional Tory areas. I am not sure myself if that is such a crash hot idea. Some guy named Abraham something-or-other gave a warning about the hazards of deliberately dividing your house against itself and making it being unable to stand as a result.

  3. vlade

    Point 1: Do not tell believe anyone who tells you how the elections will end
    Point 2: it will be a hung parliament again.

    More seriousely, really, point 1 stays.

    Re point 2, it’d be really lessons from the previous elections:
    – the polling methodology that they used before broke badly in the last elections. I believe most polsters tried to fix it, but I’m not sure it fundemantally is with just tweaks
    – it’s possible for a large swings to happen. This doesn’t mean just Labour though! It’s entirely possible that Farage’s party would get a large swing to it for example.
    – I’d expect increase in postal votes, but we’ll see how large that will be
    – Tories bet too much on Johnson who’s not really as charismatic when pressed, and can easily come across as Sulk (hat tim John Crace)
    – Labour bets too much on repeat of 2017. History doesn’t repeat (but it may rhyme).
    – LD bets too much on Remainers going out and voting
    – Tactical voting will matter a lot. But people who are willing to vote tactically may be in a minority. Still, lots of seats can be decided by a minority. Out of all things here, I’d be willing to bet that if there’s only one coalition (Tories + BP or L+LD+…), it would win a majority.

    On the result, ask me on Dec 13.

    1. Clive

      Agree totally — no-one, no-one with any sense, anyway — can call this one. For the reasons you spell out. There’s simply too many variables, too much in play and singular factors which haven’t precedent so can’t be predicted from past events.

      Of course, as I’ve no sense at all, so am totally happy to blunder into a prediction: Johnson win, 40-50 majority.

      1. vlade

        Do you think if Johnson wins by this much, SNP sweeps Scotland and LD gets say 25 seats but over 20% of popular vote (all quite possible), Corbyn will step down? And will Labour survive then?

        1. Clive

          Yes, if it does pan out that way, I can’t see Corbyn surviving. Then whatever happens to Labour really is anyone’s guess.

          1. John A

            And if Corbyn goes? Who’s next cab off the rank – Corbyn lite or Blair 2.0? The latter would then be kind of Hillary retread of Bill, I think.

        2. paul

          I wouldn’t put any money on a clean sweep for the SNP, there’s a lot of fairly narrow majorities there, the unionists hate them far more than each other,the Alex Salmond trial is due 3rd week of november and they are as timid as ever.
          I think they’re being deliberately high balled, gains less than predicted seen as a failure, losses as a collapse of nationalist feeling.

          1. vlade

            I do think SNP can have less than a clean sweep, but at the same time clean sweep (or at least a non-trivial seat gain) is way more likely IMO than Labour making any inroads in Scotland.

            And Labour cannot afford to lose large cities to LD and Scotland to SNP at the same time. In fact, I had argued in the past that short of massive swing in England (which is historically unlikely), Labour will not be able to have a majority government as long as SNP has a pretty good lock on Scotland.

      2. vlade

        One thing, I’d really really like to see in this election is DUP getting fewer seats than SF, preferably going to Alliance or someone like that.

        They would get apoplectic over that, and then I’d like someone telling them “you did know greed and pride are both mortal sins?”

        1. PlutoniumKun

          There is a very good chance of this, although Sinn Fein will struggle to hold on to their own seats. Although I suspect they will do so, mostly due to the self-immolation of the hard left parties in Northern Ireland (who made the very stupid mistake of supporting Lexit).

          My guess is that the DUP will lose about 3 to end up on 7, with Sinn Fein on 6 or 7. If Sinn Fein win more than the DUP that will be a game changer for NI politics. DUP supporters will crucify Arlene Foster if that happens.

    2. Adam1

      I’m assuming there are lots of similarities in the UK as with the US when it comes to polling and data collection… having worked in market research going on 20 years now I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to do general population data collection that’s truly representative sampling. Effectively the non-response bias (the difference in outcomes of those who respond to the survey vs. those who don’t) has exploded in the past 10-20 years. What I suspect has also happened is that there have been significant electoral pattern changes as 40+ years of crushing the working class are leading to non-voters turning into angry voters (the first step before turning into angry rioters). But because of the massive surge in non-response bias no one has effectively figured out how to adapt their political polling models.

      I look at the DNC data on Sanders donors and scratch my head as to how primary polls show him in 3rd place. Granted donors don’t make up the entire electorate, but the sheer volume of Sanders small dollar donors does not even directionally align with polls. I’m suspecting there will be a February surprise coming for the DNC (and the political polling consultants) when the votes start rolling in.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        There are some similarities, but in general polling in the UK is significantly easier and cheaper and has usually been far more accurate. But you are right to say that the splintering of political identities has left pollsters somewhat baffled. I was struck by an article I read yesterday on the Guardian that suggested that Labour activists on the ground simply don’t know who is voting for them anymore.

        1. Cian

          I think you have to take any article in the Guardian with a massive pinch of salt. Corbyn derangement syndrome has destroyed their ability to report accurately on British politics. Most of their ‘reporting’ on Labour is gossip from people in the party (a minority) who hate Corbyn.

          It’s an odd thing about the Guardian – but they’re way to the right of their readership.

        2. fajensen

          I would love seeing Corbin pull a surprise victory.

          Just for the spectacle of those liberal media pundits having seizures, thrashing about while speaking in tongues and vomiting live frogs and snakes right on live TV!

  4. PlutoniumKun

    The only real question is whether the BP will deprive the Tories of more seats than the Lib Dem’s will Labour. There is every chance that the three main parties will end up on roughly equal vote shares, but that’s more or less irrelevant as far as final seat tallies end up. The only real certainties are that the SNP and Lib Dem’s will win more seats, and that’s almost entirely down to Labours games on Brexit. There are innumerable permutations at the local level that owe as much to luck as to any great electoral strategies. That’s the nature of FPTP.

    I find it very hard to believe that Farage will want to play spoiler entirely for the Tories – the BP can’t be so stupid not to realise that they could lose Brexit if they hurt the Tories too much. But maybe they really are that demented. Or maybe Farage really wants Brexit to fail so he doesn’t lose his meal ticket. Without Brexit, he is nothing but a bar room bore.

    I’m not sure the Tories are deluded enough to focus too much on working class northern voters. They may see a few possibilities, but they will also know they have to keep their suburban voters happy too – they have enough resource to do a lot of ground work in key constituencies. I doubt if those doing the real election work pay too much attention to Dom.

    The key factor I think will be a continuation in a slow reduction in the overall vote for the main parties. This makes another hung parliament all the more likely, even if the Tories do get close to what those polls suggest.

      1. Noel Nospamington

        With the Conservatives and Brexit party being pro-Brexit, I can see many Labour remainer supporters holding their nose and voting for the Liberal Democrats as the only non-regional party which is pro-remain.

        Many of these Labour remaining supporters would simply calculate that any type of Brexit would cause far more permanent damage then a right-wing LD government would do temporarily in a single term. Especially since while Britian is a member of the EU, it is forced to abide by EU rules and regulations which will prevent many of the extreme policies of the LD.

        Labour fence sitting on Brexit has really undermine the left.

        1. dla

          Many of these Labour remaining supporters would simply calculate that any type of Brexit would cause far more permanent damage then a right-wing LD government would do temporarily in a single term.

          Except, of course, the LD’s really don’t stand any chance of forming a government. (No matter what misinformation campaigns like “Best for Britain” claim.) If the LDs end up splitting the vote in LAB/CON marginals, they, and not Labour, will end up being the cause of Brexit.

          My prediction: as the reality of the choice in many constituencies — that voting Labour is the only realistic pathway to stopping Brexit sinks in, the LD surge in the polls will dissipate.

          1. vlade

            I think it’s unlikely, as a number of people who would consider Labour over LD are really really fed up with Corbyn’s stance on Brexit.

            For a lot of them, it’s getting to the point of less “Stop Brexit” (as they don’t really think it will happen) than “slap Corbyn”. They are the people who voted for Labour last time, and feel betrayed by its vacciliations on Brexit.

            That’s also the answer to the LD “amnesia” – it’s not really an amnesia, it’s that what they consider Corbyn’s betrayal is fresher past than LD’s (and LDs changed leaders few times since, so psychologically it’s easier to swallow).

            That doesn’t mean there won’t be people voting tactically Labour. But there’s a non-trivial number of voters who feel as betrayed by Corbyn as leavers felt by May, and will never vote Labour with Corbyn.

            Irrational? Sure. But the fact is that a lot of people vote now on hearts, not brains.

            1. avoidhotdogs

              I live in the (Labour) seat that is the “top marginal” on the Conservative hit-list in the East Midlands. In 2017 my “real data” were backed up by anecdotal experience: my particular suburb within the overall seat was always solid Tory even back in 1997. We never had canvassers from anyone. Suddenly we had Labour ones. I interrogated one. It was clear that not only were Labour unafraid of losing the seat, they felt emboldened enough to send canvassers into our Tory bit of the constituency.

              I shall be very interested to see who, if anyone, canvasses us this time. Labour have legitimate reason to fear a Brexit haemorrhage leading to the Conservatives winning back the seat (which they held until 1997). The ward here voted strongly leave regarding Brexit but the current Labour MP is generally liked.

            2. Tom Piperson

              I agree that many ‘remainers’ who would traditionally vote Labour are going to have a very difficult decision to make, given Corbyn’s non-stance on Brexit. In constituencies where Lib Dems have a solid base, switching to them for just one election to be sure of killing Brexit off, will be tempting. Likewise Tory voters who are remainers.

              Of course the ‘solid base’ giving the Lib Dems a chance of taking the seat can only be ascertained by polls, so that where the polls indicate a Lib Dem ‘base’ they are more likely to switch to it, thereby strengthening the ‘base’ in future polls, creating a momentum. Hence in more than a few seats I suspect the outcome of the election, and perhaps Brexit itself, will be determined by the pollsters.

              A reason, perhaps, for banning polling in an election period.

      2. avoidhotdogs

        Indeed this is a supremely unpredictable election but that’s largely because the current model used by pollsters and bookies is mis-spsecified. We’ve gone from linear models into multiplicative models (vote=xy where x is an attitude on something like Europe and y is a traditional party strength/left-right position). You also should really add in there a measure of the individual voter’s uncertainty – if you don’t in a discrete outcome model (like voting) you bias your estimate. Although YouGov was not exactly transparent in how it did its “alternative” model using attitudes last time round, in 2017, I did note that it was the only one not to strongly over-estimate the number of Conservative seats won and its inclusion of attitudes, even though done in a pretty hamfisted way, was a big step forward over the “normal” models used by all the pollsters.

        If you play with the electoral calculus website and put the Conservative/Labour/LD overall voting percentages much closer together as PlutoniumKun suggests, and use the “tactical voting” option to makes Labour/LDs do it a lot more than Brexit Party people (as well as add in appropriate Tory losses in Scotland), you can approximate the nonlinear model. Of course this is an entirely theoretical exercise and who knows if real voters will “do this”. But if they do then Boris is in trouble for reasons stated by various people here – loss of Scotland, vulnerability to the LDs in the South and insufficiently strong performance in the North and Midlands. He can’t get a majority, even if the BP gets some seats to boost his tally. Indeed the only “remotely logical” coalition that gets a majority is Labour+LD+SNP. I’d guess such a coalition would invite in PC and the Alliance in NI if they do well, to make it look like a truly “national” government.

        Of course this is all hand-waving at this stage, but I did make money at the bookie in 2017 on 20/1 odds that May would lose her overall majority….

      3. PlutoniumKun

        It’s not so much the target seats that should worry Labour, as the LibDems potential as a spoiler in many marginal Labour constituencies. I think a substantial move of Remain Labour voters to the LibDems could open the door to Tory or other candidates in many urban constituencies.

        There is some evidence that British voters are particularly bad at tactical voting – in other words, they vote ‘tactically’ in entirely the wrong direction – presumably aided by poor local reporting and misdirection by the parties themselves. A lot of people could well vote LibDem in constituencies thinking they are voting anti-Tory, but instead making it easier for a Tory to slip in between Labour and the LibDems.

        I have little sympathy for Labour on this – they’ve had repeated opportunities to come up with informal electoral pacts with the SNP and the LibDems and Greens, but have always refused. In an election like this I’m convinced it will cost them many seats.

        1. Cian

          I think the LibDems own vacillation on Brexit (they were supporting Boris’ deal last week), and their shameless lies on tactical voting, may undermine them here.

          Labour’s position on Brexit is actually pretty sane. The idea that you can somehow reverse Brexit without another referendum is typical Remainer insanity. I suppose you could do it, but it would poison British politics for a generation.

    1. Jabbawocky

      I think this is the important question. And it highlights the importance of the Benn Act, which basically forced Johnson to beg the EU for a deal for make his do or die pledge come true. Johnson is now wedded to a deal, which is the scenario where Farage makes hay. And Farage with a pitchfork is curtains for Johnson.

      And it’s very difficult for Johnson to argue that his own deal should be rubbished. And very difficult for Farage to back down and support a deal. This makes a pact between the Tories and the Brexit party very challenging.

      This means that the Tories have to fight for their southern seats as you say. Their resources will be stretched.

      1. Anonymous 2

        And I see Trump reportedly has waded in in a way which is unhelpful to Johnson, saying his deal with the EU causes problems for a US/UK deal. Is Trump now clearly senile or is the plan to make the UK completely ungovernable? Will he be made to walk back his comments?

        IMO insanity reigns in the UK.

        1. Pinhead

          Trump is not senile. He is seriously uninformed and too lazy to dig into the complexities of trade deals. What he said about the Johnson/EU deal is highly misleading. Even fairly minor trade deals between much smaller countries require all kinds of adjustments to existing laws. That is one reason – and not the most important one – why it takes many years for any trade deal to be ratified.

          A major trade deal between a Brexited UK and the USA faces obstacles that would take years to sort out. Trump’s time in the White House will have ended long before. And while American Presidents can negotiate trade deals (or not), only Congress can approve them.

  5. David

    I was struck by the very tendentious vocabulary used in the articles cited, with the use of phrases like ‘´indoctrinated to hate’ and a specious distinction between ‘liberals’ and ‘racists ‘ as though that was the basic dynamic of British politics today. That suggests that the liberal media are as far away as ever from understanding what the current crisis is about, and will be pole axed by the result, whatever it is.
    The main point to bear in mind at this stage is that the party lines on which the election is going to be fought no longer correspond to the real divisions in the country, not just over Brexit, but other issues as well. Whatever the formal outcome, then, there’s no possibility of this election settling anything.

    1. Clive

      Yes, this is the biggest impediment to anyone trying to get a good understanding of the forces in play — the right-leaning media is a known quantity (you read the Telegraph for example and you know what you’ll expect to get and, indeed you get it) but the centrist and left-in-name-only outlets are deranged. I can understand their objections to Johnson, goodness knows there’s enough of these to pick, but their inability to differentiate their projections of how things are for their wishes for how things could (or should) be has me worrying for their collective state of mind.

      Whatever the result is, the non-rightwing press and media will misinterpret it. That I don’t see being solved by the election. I’m not really sure what the resolution is, if there is even one.

  6. David

    I have a comment in moderation for some reason, but I’d just add that the breathless horserace style coverage of the election so far completely obscures what’s going on here. The outcome in December may not, in fact, be very important compared to what follows . The two-party system is effectively dead, killed by the Blairite decision to take the politics out of politics, but the political configuration of the country isn’t capable of substituting anything meaningful for it. Brexit has destroyed much of the procedure and structure that used to organize British politics without replacing it with anything.
    My personal hope, in fact, is that Johnson ‘wins’ but has no overall majority, and that the next few months, and perhaps a year, see the slow terminal crucifixion of the Tory Party, thus permitting some kind of renovation of the political system to take place later.

    1. vlade

      A no-deal brexit with is consequences would certinly change the landscape.
      I’m not sure whether faffing around will, on any reasonable timescale.

      The funny thing now is that Brexit Party is calling for the constitutional change, including PR (even if they have stuff like “we want PR” and “we want to recall MPs”, which are sort of mutually exclusive).
      I’d assume that LD and Greens would like PR too, so that would give you probably close to 40% of electorate voting for parties that want PR.

      IMO, it will become very very hard for Labour to keep pretending that FPTP is fit for purpose, if it wants to be able to say it’s a popular, pro-people, as “your vote doesn’t matter, and the big parties like it so” is a very powerfull call. I can see how Farage could make his next meal ticket.

    2. Cian

      I’m skeptical about this for a few reasons.
      1) I don’t think the LibDems are going to do that well. They have a terrible leader and lack consistency. They’re also now trying to bring in a bunch of hard right Tories. I think their manifesto and election will be a mess.
      2) Labour are undermined by an extremely hostile media environment (including the Guardian and BBC). They do a lot better when Purdah rules kick in.
      3) Labour are very good at campaigning. They did a good job last time despite being hampered by an internal civil war, and the party machinery doing its best to sabotage the election. The Tories suck at it. Have you see the recent Tory campaign ads?
      4) Labour have policies that are not Brexit. I think commentators and people whose hobby is politics underestimate that people generally care far more about education, NHS, jobs, etc.

      I think one of the big problems people have with understanding political environment in UK at the moment is that the mainstream media is incapable of covering it in an impartial analytic fashion.

      1. shtove

        I largely agree with that. In fact, I think the NHS will prove the most important element in people’s choices.

        The Lib Dems will be interesting in the south-west, but otherwise I don’t expect them to make an impact. And Swinson’s seat in Scotland at risk?

  7. Ezequiel

    Here is a view from Tufnell Park, Islington:

    Most people here went to the Remain… er… Vote Of The People demos. They all talk of the Lib Dems as The Remain Party. They will do great in London and big cities. Big problem: high %age of non-british! (including me!)

    Corbyn is my MP, but he is old-style Labour. Unions like protectionism. That may actually play well with the “I don’t like Polish plumbers, but I like my NHS!” crowd. So his Brexit ambiguity, although personally disgusting, may help kill the Tory party. I can live with that.

    Kids coming out from UK schools are very, very, very green, diversity, multiculti indoctrinated (which I think is great). No way Tories can get them. Clearly shown on graph above.

    Trump is widely despised around here. Anything good he says of Boris is a bear hug.

    1. Redlife2017

      Should we have a TPT (Tufnell Park Tavern) meet-up for NC readers?

      And this: “Trump is widely despised around here. Anything good he says of Boris is a bear hug.”
      I wonder if the USians understand that Trump will only help Corbyn by mucking in. The Brits in general really don’t like that sort of thing. They are contrarian enough that something like that grates. And will generally turn off all the voters who aren’t true believers.

      1. vlade

        Maybe Labour should run an add of picture of Johnson and Trump saying “Tory government, as recommended by Trump!” (with some nice background pictues of NHS and public services..)

        It may not bring Labour voters, but it will take some Tory votes.

      2. Wyoming

        It depends on who you are referring to when you say “USians”. The American public is almost completely unaware that Brexit is even happening to be honest. If you are speaking of the business class then I am pretty sure the overall consensus is that if Brexit occurs the US will gain so all is good. If you mean the political class then you may have missed that they are overwhelmed with Trump and his fallout to an extent that Brexit is so far down the rabbit hole as to be not worth paying attention to. If you mean the Borg or Deep State then I am pretty sure that they are, mostly, in the same position as the political class. If you meant Trump then you are asking for the impossible as ‘understanding’ anything is not one of his strong points – he is basically insane and has no idea what he is doing at any point in time. As to the Brits not liking others to mess in their politics well I can sympathize, but I imagine that you do know that no one in the US cares what they think. Anymore than when the UK was dominant they cared a whit for what the countries they pushed around thought. Of those here who are somewhat witting of what is going on in the UK they are significantly made up of those of Irish, Scot and dissident English descent and are thus not likely to be overly friendly.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you.

      Although born in Gooner and Corbyn country, I was raised and still live in Buckinghamshire.

      The Catholic school I attended forty years ago was more diverse than my (current) City workplace. For all that diversity in rural Buckinghamshire and migration, not just from overseas (e.g. to staff hospitals), but the exodus from expensive London and unemployment in the regions, Buckinghamshire remains true blue. David Lidington is my MP.

      Many immigrants and children of immigrants vote Tory and, to a lesser extent, are in favour of Brexit. Lifelong socialists like my family don’t bother voting.

      1. avoidhotdogs

        Thank you. One thing that profoundly annoys me is the claim of “fair votes” by the LDs and others who could “re-enfranchise” you. Arrow proved there are no “fair votes”. However we CAN do better with FAIRER votes. I won’t muddy the waters with stuff I’ve been peripherally attached to (but I stress never explicitly worked on myself) but suffice to say, for those Brits who dislike forms of PR used across Europe for Westminster, there are TRIVIAL changes that could be made (even less than the ranking system rejected in the referendum) that could really make a huge difference.

        Such methods are not untested – the Baltic states have used them.

      2. Cian

        I think that might just be a comment on people who move to rural Buckinghamshire – rather than immigrant voting patterns generally.

        1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

          From the Ashcroft report :

          ” White voters voted to leave the EU by 53% to 47%. Two thirds (67%) of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain, as did three quarters (73%) of black voters. Nearly six in ten (58%) of those describing themselves as Christian voted to leave; seven in ten Muslims voted to remain “.

          One almost match for both Remain & Brexit supporters was 79% – 80 % n favour of Capitalism.

    3. Maff

      “Kids coming out from UK schools are very, very, very green, diversity, multiculti indoctrinated (which I think is great). ”

      Well, you would do, wouldn’t you! How would you feel if they were all coming out right wing nationalists and singing “Land of hope and glory”. Not so much fun, eh?

      The democratically unaccountable political indoctrination of our youth is the true scandal of our age.

      1. Tony Wright

        @Maff. No. The youth are increasingly realising that radical change is necessary if the planet is to remain habitable by the time they reach mature age. In stark and reassuring contrast to the epidemic myopia and profound ecological ignorance shown by most current political leaders.

  8. Mirdif

    I get the impression Alex is trying to lose and hand the poisoned chalice to Corbyn. It always seemed to me that May was also trying to lose in 2017.

    I had expected him to go all out and campaign for a mandate to deliver the deal and claim that would be the end of the Brexit nonsense and then he would deal with all the other issues. Of course, that’s a lie but when did that ever bother him.

    Maybe he will move to campaign on that basis as it’s still early days yet.

  9. John A

    I have just had the libdem campaign leaflet pushed through my door. It is all about Jo Swinson ‘Our Next Prime Minister’. Shades of David Steele and ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’. As Swinson has consistently voted for wars, austerity measures, student loans etc., she is very much Tory Lite.
    As I now live in a very safe Tory seat, for years I voted LibDem in the vain hope of not splitting the vote. Sadly, since they enabled the Cameron austerity government, I cannot, hand on heart, go down that route again.

    1. Clive

      A good explanation of one of the many nuances which there is to contend with. You only get one vote and can only cast it for one party. So, picking a hypothetical example of a Remain Spartan in a Tory/Conservative marginal, you might think they’d vote Liberal Democrat without much hesitation. But that presumption is based on that hypothetical voter having medium-term amnesia and forgetting all about that bit of earlier unpleasantness which was the ConDemNation coalition. Perhaps they will. But perhaps they won’t. Certainly there’s enough coming from Swinson to cause nasty flashbacks.

      Students (or graduates) might be in the same boat. But reading the Liberal press, you’d think they’d forgotten all about the Liberal Democrat Student Loans u-turn when they got into office. Despite the payroll deductions and the recurring snotty letters from the Student Loans Company. Again, maybe they have, maybe they haven’t. Much will turn on this.

      1. efschumacher

        Let’s suppose Tories are largest party, but way short of a governable majority – a plausible scenario. NOBODY is going to want to prop them up, not even the DUP this time round, and LibDems will certainly NOT make the same mistake, of supporting the ‘largest party’ .Labour won;’t want to be in a coalition with LibDems, so with the first order of business being sorting Brexit, a set of confidence and supply arrangements among Labour, SNP, Lib Dem will be more likely. After that, they will get rid of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act as an early priority. Then one hopes they will double down on Climate amelioration measures.

        If the Tories get an absolute majority, the Climate issues become toast. I can only see the rural English voting for tories in gadarene herds, and fervently wish that won’t be enough for them.

        1. efschumacher

          BTW I am in York Outer, a 55% Remain constituency, with a hard Brexit Tory incumbent on a smallish majority. The only sensible way to vote here is Lib Dem.

          1. Cian

            Well only if the LibDems are the next biggest party.

            You can’t trust the LibDems on tactical voting. They’ve claimed they could win seats where last time they got 10%, or less, or the vote. Of all the parties, they tend to play dirtiest in elections unfortunately.

      2. thene

        You have to either have amnesia for the ConDemNation coalition or for the Iraq war, pick one!

        I am fortunate in that I really like my current MP and will vote for her again without hesitation (Dr Rupa Huq MP, LAB – I’m an emigrant registered to vote in Acton). She’s very Remain and so is the constituency. I voted Lib Dem in the European election earlier this year.

  10. Redlife2017


    I will take issue with the notion of Labour selling a Brexit unicorn. I am going to out myself considerably here, but needs must. Reading the MSM which a) doesn’t understand the EU and b) hates Corbyn doesn’t help understanding what Labour is really doing.

    I was at a small meeting with John McDonnell and Keir Starmer on Wednesday evening. They will be able to set the date for May for the referendum in the first week or two of a Labour government. And before any commenter says that it takes six months to set up – they know that. They already have a deal with the EU ready. I am not kidding. Corbyn and Starmer have been going over quite a lot since January (Col. Smithers knows as I tell him occasionally about Corbyn’s trips to Brussels, so can back me on this) and Starmer has been side-negotiating. Barnier himself has said they will not even need more than a month to get everything finalised. This is ready.

    And to cap it off – Starmer understands the difference between a Customs Union and the Single Market. He was VERY eloquent about that. This has been horrifically misreported again and again. The deal that Labour has ready is structured to not destroy the economy.

    1. avoidhotdogs

      Of course I can’t personally verify any of this but I do follow Starmer on Twitter. I have had a weird feeling for a while that “like/loathe him, he isn’t dumb and he knows something” – I said nothing because it sounds loony. Plus (thanks to NC etc) I am fairly well up on the logistics of getting a referendum through Parliament so knew the “it can be done quickly” argument is suspect. Maybe there is a plan behind the scenes if there is a Labour coalition. I stick to my point above that I can’t see a path to a Labour majority – but a coalition would really force Corbyn to start playing ball properly.

    2. vlade

      The way how Labour presented its Brexit deal in public – and that’s what matters – was unicornish. There’s no way the six tests Labour set were achievable.

      Test 2 “Does it deliver the exact same benefits as we currently have as members of the single market and customs union” is impossible for the EU to deliver – w/o the UK comitting to at least the level fo responsibilities that the EU members have.

      You cannot leave the club to have more benefits from the club than the members, it would kill it. The EU is not feeling (openly) suicidal.

      I can imagine a situation where the EU would give the UK some sort of membership that would not be called an EU membership, but would have exactly the same rights and responsibilities as if the UK stayed in the EU. But then saying it’s a Brexit deal is a lie – because it’s really renegotiation (=renaming) of the UK’s membership.

      This is not misreporting, unless Labour’s own documents are misreporting, as the wording of test 2 is taken from the Labour document linked.

      1. vlade

        And if Labour has a superb Brexit deal where it outnegotiated the EU, keeping it under wraps is not going to help either.

        A deal that could demonstrably meet test 2 while being “reasonably” Brexity, and having at least a polite “it would be a very good starting point” from the EU once published, would have been, year or two ago, very likely able to unite the country. Even now it may get over enough of soft-remainers to be viable.

        Because the no-dealers will never vote for Labour (well, almost never), it’s a religion.

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Redlife and Vlade.

          Unfortunately, it’s not just no dealers, apparently “well informed” colleagues I work with, Blairites mainly and the odd Cameroon, think Corbyn is a reincarnation of Hitler and MacDonnell is the new Karl Marx. None can understand why the secret services have not dealt with them.

          If one read the Grauniad yesterday, there were half a dozen stories spinning against Labour. One can imagine that rag and its sister paper endorsing Swinson, who fraternises with Stella Creasy near her Spitalfields home, nearer election day. Corbyn is a bigger threat to them than Brexit.

          Often, Brexit seems a feud between residents of Notting Hill, Primrose Hill and Chipping Norton. Either way, us peasants are stuck with neo liberals and neo cons.

    3. Cian

      Yeah Barnier has pretty strongly hinted that there’s a deal in the waiting that’s he fine with on more than one occasion.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      The Labour unicorn is six months to their incoherent and impossible deal AND the completion of a confirmatory referendum. The referendum bit alone takes more than six months, as we have explained ad nauseum.

      This is a unicorn. Come to grips with that.

      1. disillusionized

        The labour deal as proposed isn’t really a unicorn anymore, they want friction-less trade, and are willing to have FoM for it. The six months thing might be pushing it, but that’s about it.

  11. ptb

    Any good polls that have something to say about the geographic breaks? (UK like US lacks proportional representation, blah blah blah)

  12. timbers

    My take is, Brexit like RussiaRussia has prevented any conversation that would benefit Labor which IMO with Corbyn was the future until pre-empted by endless Brexit. It’s worked so well you’d almost think it was a fairy tale and it – Brexit – really isn’t happening at all, it’s just a collective delusion cooked up by the Britain’s version of The Blob for the purpose of neutralizing Corbyn.

    Full disclosure: I think Britain should Brexit because sooner or later the Euro will impose neo-liberalism upon Britain from which it will have no escape. I understand Britain has imposed neo-liberalism on itself, but IMO it is easier in the long run to change polices in Britain that originate in Britain than it is to change polices in Britain that originated in Euro.

    I also think suggestions that Johnson faces peril just like May did in calling an election, may not be correct. I think Johnson will benefit – unlike May – in advocating Brexit (finally), because I think that is what the majority of voters supports. If I recall correctly, May didn’t really run on that like I expect Johnson will.

    Finally, I fully accept I could be 100% wrong.

    1. OKnotKO

      Just a thought though. Aligning ourselves with the USA will bring in a far greater Neo-liberal outlook than with the EU?

    2. vlade

      You have it the wrong way around. The neo-liberalism was imported into the EU by the UK. If you think that escaping the EU to cover with the US will get you less neoliberalism, well. I have this large iron tower, you know? It’s really tons and tons of good cast iron, would fetch great price, and I’m sure no-one wants it now..

      1. Cian

        Not really. The Germans brought in ordo-liberalism. Which is their version of neoliberalism.

        You could have a non neoliberal EU – though not sure you’d you get there from here.

        1. vlade

          ordo liberalism is pretty different from neo-liberalism. And, TBH, even German ordo-liberalism would be a plus over the UK’s neoliberalism.

          The larger problem of the EU is corporatism in general, but at the same time, in a lot of cases there’s some give and take.

          The EU customer/worker protections are far from perfect, but I’d like you to show me a non-EU country with a stronger ones.

          The point here is that for a lot of Brexit backers, Brexit is a way to get rid of all those pesky EU regulation, to be even more neoliberarl than the EU is now.

            1. vlade

              I don’t buy his argument because I think he moves too liberally between institutions, regulations and the law. Those ain’t the same.

              Of course the neo-libs need law. Almost everyone agrees on needing a law (even most branches of anarchism agree on need for some rules) . Almost everyone agrees (internally, amongs themeselves) on needing at least some instutions too (again, even including most branches of anarchism).

              Saying “neo-libs don’t want law, instutions or regulations” was never correct. Everyone does – just their version of it, to support their goals _over time_. The long term is important.

              That said, neo-libs require way fewer regulations, laws and instutions than others.

              To an extent, you can see the “contract is everything”, which is more of an anglo-saxon construct (becasue there, the contract is just a basis of negotiation for any dispute). In the continental tradition, contract is what is, and there’s little to no negotiation. That means, amongst others, way more rules.

              The first is much closer to the unbound nature of neo-liberalism (you do know that neo-liberalism in 1950s meant social markets? Mises was considered classical libertarian, and Hayek free-markter, both ways away from neo-libs of 1950s, as we see neo-lib now is actually from 1970s Chicago boys).

              1. Bert Schtliz

                Yeah,but Hayek learned under Friedman as well. They are all “liberals” in generally as they wanted the national monarchies replaced with markets states run by the owners of capital.

              2. witters

                That said, neo-libs require way fewer regulations, laws and instutions than others.

                Nope. The regulations endlessly proliferate, the control deepens. Widen your view.

                1. orange cats

                  “Nope. The regulations endlessly proliferate, the control deepens.”

                  Bingo. It’s not fewer rules, it’s who gets to make them:

                  “… neoliberalism required rules defining property, but also rules defining credit, debt, and bankruptcy; rules defining patents, trademarks, and copyrights; rules defining terms of labor; and so on… deregulation requires rules. In Polanyi’s words, “laissez-faire was planned.”
                  (Robert Kuttner)

  13. Harry

    I think a reasonable person might argue that Corbyn will be in a coalition government even if he wins the election. Relations between the leadership and the PLP are not entirely cordial.

  14. Kasia

    Flooding a nation with low-wage immigrants is one of the most effective class warfare weapons in the Billionaire looting arsenal. Importing poverty, a docile workforce, culturally challenging groups, all lessen social cohesion and heighten cultural tension which grooms a population for further Billionaire looting. A large group of immigrants in a nation is proof positive the Billionaires are looting that nation.

    1. Bert Schlitz

      More like a sign of capital flows. A 75% reduction in “British” GDP would solve that problem quickly. Banking has been spoiling European monarchies with debt since the 15th century. Eventually, your going to get some “side effects” from the spoiling as more and more debt is needed to keep the pyramid building.

    1. katiebird

      No kidding! I have really struggled with the ins and outs of Brexit. I read all I can but it is such a multidimensional issue, my brain struggles to retain it all.

      This is an excellent post and comment thread! Thanks to everyone

    2. Martin Davis

      Agreed. Compare it with the comments in the FT: so much dross, trolling, attention seeking, etc..

  15. Fíréan

    And what of the policies offered by each political party vying for government in this forthcoming election ?
    This is not a horse race with a bet on who wins and that’s that. There are consequences. The outcome of the election decides how a a few countries ( more than one in the UK.) will be run for a designated time into the future. Not just the next four years yet, due to the Brexit element , for a long unforseeable time .

    A reminder that the Brexit agreement presently up for debate (WA) is of how the UK leaves the EU., a the Withrawal Agreement, not how business and law will continue after the Transition period.. That is to be debated, decided and agreed upon within the Transition Period .

    I would not be surprised if Johnson, and his more extreme than Thatcher associates, has a trade agreement prepared for businesss with the USA , post EU., based heavily upon the old TTIP.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, the notion that the UK has a trade deal for the US is a delusion. You’ve been reading too much UK press.

      The US dictates terms in bilateral trade deals. That is why the US is able to get trade deals done (note trade deals ONLY, deals with services components take longer) in less than 2 years. The only negotiation is at the margin for optics.

      Any trade deal that is actually negotiated is five years at the bare minimum. The CETA (Canada-EU) trade deal, which didn’t have a lot of contentious issues, took seven years to negotiate and one year to conditional approval.

    1. avoidhotdogs

      On the other hand Nottingham’s bloody-mindedness making it generally impossible to predict using Easy Midlands swings (let alone national ones) might be tempered: a bunch of our MPs are standing down/cannon fodder. Anna Soubry (aka that gobby woman but who is hugely respected – by rights she should have lost her then Tory seat in 2017 but clung on after a recount) has fight of her life in Broxtowe for Change UK.

      Ken Clarke (alumnus of my school and University College) and reputedly the first senior Secretary of State to tell Margaret Thatcher he was about to publicly ditch her, precipitating her defenestration, arch Remainer (indeed only die-in-the-Ditch Remainer) is retiring. I believe Ashfield will now be in play for the Conservatives to get/consolidate. There’s a Change UK ex-Labour dimwit in one of the Nottingham City seats – though his majority is so huge that an “official” new Labour candidate can stand against him and still win without splitting the vote – all the students live in that constituency. The new Mansfield (as of 2017) Tory hasn’t covered himself in glory….

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