We are where we are, in the now-ubiquitous phrase. The prime-ministerial chair once occupied by the likes of Pitt, the 1st Duke of Wellington, Gladstone, Lloyd George, Churchill, Attlee, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher etc is now occupied by a public entertainer of mixed ethnic and cultural origins, born in New York City, brought up partly in the USA and Belgium, and until recently a dual passport-holder. A rootless cosmopolitan playing out a performance as an “upper-class” “Englishman” caricature. Am-dram Churchill. Poundland Churchill.
Boris Johnson, Boris-idiot, Boris the clown. More to the immediate point, Boris without a majority, soon. As a child of eight years, Boris Johnson wanted to be “world king” and has for decades schemed and cheated and lied in order to get to the nearest position (outside the monarch’s own ambit) that England allows: the rank of Prime Minister. However, he has not become “King of the World”, but “King for a Day”, the traditional role, in the Revels, of the Jester or Fool (“…for who but a Fool would be King for a Day?”).
The Conservative Party elected Boris Johnson its leader. Conservative MPs voted to reduce the field to two. Conservative Party members, some 140,000 of them, voted and 66% of them, about 92,000, preferred Boris Johnson. It is not my purpose of this article to rail more than en passant against the absurdity that allows a prime minister to resign and for her successor to be, in effect, elected by 92,000 (mostly very elderly, mostly rather well-off financially) Conservative Party members (out of about 50 million voters generally). This article is for the purpose of examining electoral chances.
First of all, we have the Brexit chaos. I favoured Leave. I still favour Brexit. However, the whole process was criminally mishandled by the Conservative government of Theresa May.
How will Brexit affect a general election? I assume that the House of Commons will not allow a WTO or “no deal” Brexit, and so any general election that is then called will see Boris Johnson parking his tanks on the lawn of Brexit Party and trying to go all out for, effectively, the Leave vote of 2016. There are dangers for the Conservative Party in that.
Brexit is not the only issue in a general election. Some more affluent voters may vote Conservative for tax or other reasons even if they oppose Brexit. Also, many in the population will never vote Conservative even if they favour Brexit. Many despise Boris Johnson and will never vote Conservative as long as he is the leader. This is, if chess, three-dimensional chess.
However, now that the Conservatives under Johnson present themselves as the “Leave”/Brexit party, it can be assumed that a sizeable number of former Conservative voters who favour staying in the EU will migrate, at least temporarily, to the only significant Remain-supporting party, the LibDems. Where else can they go? It might be argued that many Conservative MPs favour Remain, and that those MPs will receive a special vote based on that. Don’t count on it. The label is the primary motor, and if Conservative means Leave, many Remain voters will leave…the Conservative Party.
If the next general election is called without the UK having left the EU, or having left on terms dictated by the EU (Brexit In Name Only), then Brexit Party will be waiting to snap up the hard-core Brexit vote.
Brexit Party intends, at present, to contest all 650 seats. Its mere presence ensures that dozens, maybe even beyond a hundred, Conservative MPs will lose their seats, in some cases to Brexit Party, but in more cases to the LibDems or Labour.
There has been talk of a Conservative/Brexit Party electoral pact, but that carries the danger of gifting the Brexit Party a bloc of seats. which might challenge the Conservative Party more strongly later.
Labour, though now called by msm commentators a Remain party, is more nuanced. Corbyn’s fence-sitting tactic, though much criticized, is all that he can do in a circumstance where Labour-held seats were more often (about 60%) Leave-voting, though most Labour voters voted Remain (because, as I blogged recently, Labour votes are increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer seats).
It may be, anyway, that Labour voters have concerns other than, or as well as, Brexit: low pay, the Conservative attacks on the social welfare and benefits system, the burgeoning crime and disorder problem etc.
The composition of the Boris-idiot Cabinet and government will not attract many former Labour, LibDem or floating voters.
My conclusion is that the Boris Johnson government may struggle to attract the votes of more than 30% nationwide. Recent opinion polls have put the Conservatives at anywhere between 23% and 30%. Labour has been between 18% and 28%. LibDems around 16%-20% and Brexit Party 14%-20%.
If the Conservatives continue to lean towards Brexit strongly, they risk losing many of their pro-EU voters to the LibDems, but if they try to fence-sit or move more towards Remain, many of their previous voters will vote for Brexit Party or stay at home.
There is also the Boris Factor, but we see that, even though there has been a “Boris Bounce”, its effect has been slight. The Conservatives are still polling at or below 30% (as is Labour). Indeed, it could be argued that, for many former Conservative voters, especially in marginal seats, Boris-idiot is not an attraction but a turn-off. I concede that that is a guess, but it is at least an educated one.
I have fed various recent opinion poll results into the Electoral Calculus calculator [see Notes, below], and it is quite hard to come up with a Conservative majority in the Commons. Most results show a hung Parliament with either Lab or Con as largest party. Only one showed a Conservative majority (of one vote). In several cases, both main System parties were as many as 80 MPs short of a majority.
Now we all know that the “glorious uncertainty” of the Turf is carried over to the field of battle of British elections. It is hard to predict elections in Britain and “a week is a long time in British politics”, as Harold Wilson said. Also, Electoral Calculus is a fairly rough guide. Having said that, it seems clear that, at least in the short term, the Conservatives are on the back foot here. Any gamble to increase the Conservative majority in the Commons may well backfire, as in 2017. That would mean the end of The Clown as Prime Minister, but would also mean something of a political and even Constitutional crisis.
These should be fertile days for social nationalism, but we are as yet not even in the game…
Afterthought, 29 July 2019
David Cameron-Levita as Prime Minister always made sure that the interests of pensioners were prioritized, in particular by introducing the “Triple Lock” on State pensions. Pensions have been one of several issues taking greater prominence over the years by reason of the increasing average age of the population of the UK.
There were clear practical political reasons for this policy. Support for the Labour Party at elections is fairly even across the half-dozen usual age groups, whereas support for the Conservative Party is concentrated among the old and middle-aged: just under 50% of all Conservative votes are those of persons aged over 65 years. Hardly any young people intend to vote Conservative (in the 18-24 age group, below 4%).
The loyalty of the over 65s has been reinforced by pensioner-friendly policies. There are signs now that the Conservatives intend to, in the oft-seen phrase, “throw the pensioners under a bus”. In 2017 Phillip Hammond wanted to remove part of the Triple Lock, but the DUP insisted on its retention in part-payment for DUP “confidence and supply” support in the Commons.
The Conservative Party is already getting some flak from the elderly for the BBC’s announcement that free TV licences will be withdrawn for those of 75+ years. There are rumblings about bus passes for pensioners. Overall, it is clear that the free market crazies now in the ascendant under Boris-idiot want to target the elderly as they have already done the disabled, sick, unemployed etc.
The Labour Party is now the party of the blacks and browns, those dependent on State benefits, and of the public service workers. The Conservative Party is now the party of the rich, the affluent, the buy-to-let parasites and the like, and (many of) the elderly. If the elderly who are not particularly well-off desert the Conservatives, the Conservative Party is in big trouble, because only about 10%-15% of UK voters can really be described as rich or even affluent, certainly no more than 20%. In 2017, the Conservative vote amounted to 42.4% of votes cast. If half or more of those votes suddenly disappear, the Conservative Party is quite likely to disappear with them.