Tactically brilliant but strategically weak?


On the looming general election – assuming Parliament as expected approves the Government’s motion to call a general election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

I had a strange sense of foreboding when I read a tweet giving advance notice of the Prime Minister making an important statement outside Downing Street. It couldn’t be anything other than a general election – otherwise it would have been announced in the House of Commons.

Out of all of the social media posts that I saw during the say, the one that stood out for me was Richard Murphy’s one.

Essentially it gives Theresa May an extra two years to manage the post-Brexit situation should there be an economic hit when the UK leaves the EU. You can read his full thoughts in this blogpost.

UK-wide opposition parties starting from weak points

Given the fortunes of Labour, the Lib Dems, and UKIP, if the polls are to be trusted (big ‘if’) then they are all in very weak positions compared to the Conservatives. The Greens, despite polling their highest number of votes ever in 2015 still only have 1 MP – Caroline Lucas. Watching Emily Thornberry’s woeful performance on Newsnight last night indicates that the decision to go to the polls was tactically spot on. When Evan Davis stated that unlike the Tories or the Lib Dems, Labour hasn’t got a strong, clear collective position on Brexit, she responded:

“We haven’t decided which side we’re on yet”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary tried to claw back, stating that as a party wanting to represent the whole country, this was a position of strength – trying to cover all bases. The problem with trying to cover all bases is that you risk end up covering none. If this is “The Brexit Election” as the media commentators are making out that it is, then there is no middle ground.

With the Lib Dems having been crushed in 2015, have they recovered enough to present enough of a threat to the Conservatives? Unlike previous general elections, the Lib Dems don’t have this huge slate of reasonably well-known politicians to appear on the TV shows. Hence lower TV coverage since the 2015 general election. That said, this election is a huge opportunity for them to repair some of the damage done that year. One big question is to what extent has the electorate that voted for them in 2010 but abandoned them in 2015 forgiven them for their record in coalition?

The Greens polled a million votes in 2015 – their highest ever, and UKIP 4 million. With the loss of Douglas Carswell MP (will he stand as an independent?) as their only MP, with Nigel gone off to pastures new – will he really want to restand given that Brexit is, as far as he is concerned, in the bag?, will many UKIP voters switch to the Tories to deliver Brexit? Or will the 2015 UKIP voters feel that Brexit is not secure yet and that UKIP need to stay in place in order to keep the pressure up on the Conservatives to deliver?

Strategically weak?

The decision to do no contingency planning meant the Conservatives already had a structural strategic weakness built in – utterly self-inflicted under Cameron but one signed off by both Theresa May as Home Secretary and her Chancellor Philip Hammond who was the Foreign Secretary. The Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee didn’t pull his punches in describing that decision as an act of gross negligence. (See the news report in The Guardian here too).

There are a host of other ‘delivery issues’ that have come up since the start of the year as it has become more clear what leaving the EU will ultimately entail – debates that we should have had long before the referendum itself. It reflects badly on Whitehall and Westminster that they did not ensure these issues were debated publicly at a high enough profile so as to engage and inform the public.

Resigned to the Conservatives winning?

It looks like it, doesn’t it?

…If the media noise is to be believed. But then at least one has gone full 1930s rabid.

For pro-Remainers, their only realistic hope is that enough candidates who back their views are returned irrespective of party. As far as England is concerned, that generally means hoping that any gains made by the Conservatives are more than matched by gains for the Liberal Democrats or Pro-EU Labour candidates. Note the Greens will be looking at Bristol West as a target for their second seat in the Commons, given they polled over 17,000 votes there in 2015.

And in/around Cambridge?

I’m going for ‘It’s too close to call’ again.

Phil Rodgers’ analysis is here. Given the two leading candidates – Daniel Zeichner of Labour (the incumbent who won by 599 votes last time) and Julian Huppert have both been very high profile pro-EU figures in the local media, it’s not nearly so straight-forward a call to assume that pro-EU voters in a strong remain-voting constituency will switch from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. Given that both have experience of being MP for Cambridge – one of the most demanding constituencies in the country as far as amount of casework combined with extremely high expectations and demands of constituents, the losing candidate won’t have lost because of lack of effort.

The Greens have got Stuart Tuckwood as their candidate this time around. A nurse at Addenbrooke’s, he stood in Market Ward at the local elections in 2016. The Conservatives and UKIP are yet to declare candidates. There is also always the chance of an independent or two putting themselves forward as happened in the previous two general elections. Puffles won’t be one of them though!

Around Cambridge in South Cambridgeshire to the west, and South East Cambridgeshire to the east of Cambridge, I expect Heidi Allen and Lucy Frazer to re-stand. Despite the strong ‘Remain’ votes in Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire district council areas, I still expect both to be re-elected, though perhaps on smaller majorities than their 50% figures from the last time around. The other complicating local factor in and around Cambridge is the Greater Cambridge City Deal – which has resulted in a number of local protest campaigns against some of the plans over the last couple of years. Will this have an impact on voting patterns not just at the general election but at the Cambridgeshire County Council elections on 04 May? To what extent will the county elections reflect what might happen for the parliamentary elections here? We shall see.


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