There will be no rerun of 2017 – the Tories are heading for a majority
In the General Election of 2017, a late swing to Labour denied the Tories a majority. Jeremy Corbyn was largely credited for this because of his appeal to the younger vote.
Despite polling poorly over the last six months Labour supporters have always pinned their hopes on a similar late surge sweeping Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.
However, there is little evidence to show that the same is going to happen in this election. In fact, despite starting from a lower level the Tory lead over Labour has been moving in the opposite direction – up – as support for the Brexit Party has eroded.
This means that Johnson’s path to a majority at Westminster is almost unassailable. Even the polling guru, John Curtice, who correctly predicted the outcome of the last four elections, said that the chances of a Labour majority are almost zero.
Those who think that Labour’s late surge of 2017 could happen again should remember that the circumstances are now very different. Unlike 2017, this is, whether we like it or not, the Brexit election. It was invoked for this very reason.
After three and a half years of endless negotiation, voters on both sides are suffering from Brexit fatigue, as it is known. Johnson understands this and constantly pumps out his simple mantra of “Get Brexit Done”. This is a misleading claim given that we have endless negotiations still to come after leaving the EU, but even those who did not want Brexit may well be tempted by this slogan.
Labour meanwhile have wanted this election to be about everything apart from Brexit. But they don’t seem to be succeeding in that goal – even after announcing a radical manifesto full of big, eye-catching and popular policies, the poll dials are mostly moving the other way.
Corbyn has always had a problem with resolving Brexit. This is no surprise to many because he has never shown any enthusiasm for the EU – voting against the 1975 referendum, against the creation of the EU, against the Maastricht Treaty, and so on.
Yet, he leads a party where most of his MPs are Remainers. He has managed to get by during the last three years by formulating convoluted, ambivalent, policies on Brexit. But that position became untenable after Labour’s abysmal EU election results earlier this year.
Those election results clearly had many members of the Shadow Cabinet concerned to the point where even the vast majority of them have now become passionate Remainers. The failures to get the Withdrawal Agreement through the UK Parliament has concentrated minds to the point where they know the only way forward is to campaign for Remain in a second referendum.
This has left Corbyn looking more isolated than ever because he reluctantly agreed to a second referendum but, unlike most of his Shadow Cabinet colleagues, not to campaign for Remain. Even John McDonnell and Dianne Abbot, both close associates of Corbyn, supposedly appealed to him to “come off the fence”. They made an allotment pact – so-called because it was made in his allotment – to back Remain.
But he did not follow the agreement through. Some say that he wants to appease both sides but his reasons may be more complicated than that. Whatever the case, it seems to annoy many voters who want leadership and clarity.
The polls have consistently shown a gradual decline in Labour’s vote share. Corbyn’s popularity with the electorate has also nosedived – recording record low levels of support.
On a recent TV leaders debate, he declared neutrality on any future Brexit referendum if Labour is elected. This could well turn out to be a turning point in this election, because it will be seen by many voters as prolonging uncertainly over an issue which requires urgent settlement.
Claiming to be a neutral bystander, aside from the abdication of responsibility of leadership, will also fail to convince voters, because his record shows that he always had strong views on the EU before becoming leader. He claims that he wants to be neutral to bring both sides of the country together. This makes little sense, because, ultimately either we stay or go, and that means half the UK will be dissatisfied whatever he does.
Some of Corbyn’s apologists say that his stance is similar to Harold Wilson’s on the referendum in the 1970. But this is untrue. Wilson clearly stated that his preference was to remain in what was then known as the Common Market. Wilson did, however, offer other Cabinet colleagues the freedom to vote as they choose.
Wilson was not neutral at all – even though it suits Corbyn to claim that he was. I suspect Corbyn would gain more credence from doing the same as Wilson did and stating his own preference – even if that means endorsing Brexit.
Mark Drakeford, to his credit, has now committed Welsh Labour to campaign for Remain in a second referendum. He recently stated that no form of Brexit is better than Remain.
This is very different to the views he held when he won the Welsh Labour leadership election almost a year ago. For at that time, he appeared to echo the Corbyn line sounding ambivalent on Brexit. However, his tribal loyalty to Corbyn has changed since the EU elections earlier this year when Labour finished third in Wales for the first time ever. These abysmal results were followed by a series of polls that saw Labour’s vote share in the Assembly collapsing.
However, unlike his predecessor Carwyn Jones who fought a higher-profile campaign for Welsh Labour in 2017, Welsh Labour have been very quiet during this campaign to date.
Who are Remain-supporting voters in Wales going to be listening to – a muted Mark Drakeford, or Jeremy Corbyn?
Adam Price and Plaid Cymru meanwhile deserve much praise for having the courage to say that we will all lose out in Wales if we implement any form of Brexit. He made a strong case advocating Remain in a second referendum.
He told angry Brexiters in a recent TV Welsh leader Question Time that he is not prepared to tell them what they wanted to hear when he knows that its consequences for Wales will be very harmful.
But for all this good work and the way that Plaid, the Greens, and the Liberal Democrats have tried to work together to prevent a Tory Brexit majority, I fear a Tory majority with the Johnson deal is now inevitable.
If Corbyn had done what most of his party wanted and taken a clear stance, one way or the other, perhaps the polls would be telling a very different story now.