The Brexit Election – or is it?

On the 19th April, with an 18-point poll lead, Theresa May’s Conservatives pushed through a vote for an early general election. The rationale was simple – to bring strong and stable leadership through Brexit negotiations. May’s assessment of the political landscape was such that she felt able to win an early election, giving her an easier time in the House of Commons when returning from key negotiations.

It should be said that party activists have become increasingly grumpy, after spending most of the beginning of the year expending shoe-leather on the County Council election campaigns – to then be told that they would have another election to fight just a month later.

Behind the scenes, was Brexit the only reason for the election?

An election in 2020, just nine months after the conclusion of Brexit negotiations, would not make ideal timing for any incumbent party. The smart move would be to get this out of the way before Brexit negotiations officially started and the inevitable domestic fallout began in earnest.

A cynic would argue that with such a lead in the polls, at a personal level May wanted to capitalise and obtain her own mandate to govern. May has consistently outpolled the Conservative Party brand, by even more than her predecessor and child of the Tory modernisation project, David Cameron. The absence of the word ‘Conservative’ has been striking from the national Tory Campaign.

Furthermore, the real cynics among us may see the election as an opportunity to mitigate the ongoing chaos over the 2015 election expenses saga involving Craig Mackinlay, now standing charged under the Representation of the People Act. All other candidates appear to have been discharged, but one way to ensure that no by-elections must take place, is to hold a General Election first, so any MP in question now stands on a ‘clean ticket’. Incidentally, all three main political parties have now been fined by the Electoral Commission in the aftermath of the 2015 campaign, so May might not be the only party leader keen to get clear of this issue.

Did the strategy work?

When the election was called, the expectation of Theresa May was so high, and on Jeremy Corbyn so low, that they could only disappoint and surprise respectively, resulting in a narrowing of the polls. The national campaigns of the two main parties have been similar and yet very different at the same time, both seeking to hide one message and promote another. Never was this more prominent than on the ‘battle buses’. Eagle eyed pundits will have noticed that, keen to capitalise on May’s personal support and leave the ‘nasty party’ brand behind her, the Tory Battle bus focused on Theresa May, to the extent that the word ‘Conservative’ does not appear. By contrast, the Labour Party bus stuck with the popular national branding and left no trace of the name of their leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Conservatives main tagline ‘strong and stable’ hit the buffers after the launch of their manifesto, with their disastrous half-baked social care proposals. This forced a partial rebranding exercise to ‘standing up for Britain’, in an attempt to get back to talking about Brexit – with little success.

The Labour Party campaign began well, with the early leaking of their manifesto that resulted in increased airtime for some populist policies. Their campaign has been somewhat impaired by interviews of inadequately briefed shadow cabinet ministers, who have appeared not to know the figures. This culminated in shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, taking leave from her shadow role today for an undisclosed amount of time.

So, the national debate has shifted from Brexit, to health and social care, to the economy, but above all the campaign trail has been marred by a series of terrorist atrocities on the streets of the UK and a focus on national security and foreign policy.

While the election was framed as the ‘Brexit Election’, most people would now agree it has become about far more, not least because of the terrorist attacks in recent weeks. Expect this to play a key role in people’s decision making when deciding whom to vote for tomorrow.

Of course, we will find out in the early hours of Friday morning…

The real question after all this is, if the result is the expected Conservative win, will Jeremy Corbyn claim to have exceeded all expectations and cling on to the leadership of the Labour Party once again? The man’s clearly a fighter.

This article was written by Tristan Robinson, Account Manager at MPC.