General Election 2019 : ‘Day One of the campaign’
Although the parties have been campaigning for several days now, today marked the start of the official General Election campaign with the dissolution of Parliament and the Prime Minister meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
The main themes of the Conservative campaign are now familiar, having been unveiled at last month’s party conference and forming the core of the Queen’s Speech: “Getting Brexit Done” and pushing a domestic agenda focussed on improving hospitals, increasing funding for schools and tackling crime. Conservative strategists see law and order as a key dividing line with the Opposition parties together with the contrasting leadership credentials of Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Although Mr Johnson’s numbers are far from stellar, they are decidedly better than those for Mr Corbyn who starts the campaign with the lowest approval ratings of any Leader of the Opposition since modern polling began.
However, it has been a distinctly difficult first few days for the Conservatives and they will be hoping for a smoother path over coming weeks. Boris Johnson knows that winning the most votes and seats is far from enough, he needs to secure a working overall majority to justify his strategy of going for an early election rather than trying to get his Brexit Bill through Parliament first. Only time will tell whether the Conservative message is sufficiently compelling to satisfy both traditional supporters and attract the new ones Boris Johnson will need to secure his majority, particularly in the Midlands, the North and indeed Wales.
While the Prime Minister has been notably absent from public view over recent days, Jeremy Corbyn has been a visible presence on the airwaves and around the country. Although this election has been described by many commentators as the Brexit election, Labour strategists want to fight the contest on the domestic policy agenda where they feel they are on surer and certainly clearer ground. Building on its 2017 manifesto and offering a decisive break from the post-1979 political consensus, Labour is putting forward a detailed radical plan for change, with Jeremy Corbyn attempting to position himself as in-tune with the lives and needs of local people and communities. He will argue that Labour will end in-work poverty, homelessness and the need for food banks, build affordable homes and address the climate emergency.
Mr Corbyn already looks more comfortable to be on the campaign trail again and he knows that Labour does not necessarily need a majority to emerge as the winner from this election. A net increase in seats could see Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, either at the head of a minority government or in coalition with the SNP. But with Mr Corbyn at its helm, Labour faces a real challenge from the Conservative and Brexit parties in its heartlands in the North and from the Lib Dems in London and other “Remain heavy” towns and cities.
The Lib Dems have a clear and distinct message. They are the party of Remain, working to attract such voters from both of the main parties. They are also the party of Jo Swinson, with strategists placing her front and centre of their campaign. This is something of a gamble. Although Ms Swinson has been a Member of Parliament since 2005, she is a relatively new player at this level. But Lib Dem strategists believe that she provides an appealing contrast to the two older men who head what have traditionally been the two main parties in this country.
No Brexit election would be complete without the presence of Mr Farage and he is the wild card. While the Brexit party is unlikely to win many, if any, seats, its potential impact on the narrative of the race by drawing support away from Conservative and Labour is a matter of some concern for both parties. Nigel Farage benefits from name recognition and his party from a clear brand identity, but support has been falling over recent weeks and his likely impact is at best unclear.
While many candidates across the country will be going into this election with real concerns about how they and their party will do, the SNP enter this contest with real confidence that they will win the vast majority of seats north of the border. Without Ruth Davidson at the helm of the Conservatives and with Labour in some disarray in Scotland, the SNP believe that they can get a result approaching that in 2015 when they almost swept the board. That would put them in a strong position in any coalition negotiations if there is a hung parliament. The price for their support is clear: indyref 2.
While the Conservatives begin this five-week contest with a comfortable polling lead, there can be no certainties in such a volatile environment, particularly with the 2016 referendum having disrupted traditional party affiliations. There have already been discussions between the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru about an electoral pact and we are likely to hear much during the campaign about the potential of tactical voting. Yet in this political climate it is not always easy to work out who is best placed to win in each individual constituency and competing groups may offer different advice, rendering the impact of such initiatives to be marginal at best.
Of more relevance is the number of votes that could still be up for grabs. The recent British Election Study highlighted that 50% of the electorate can now be said to be floating voters, an increase of 10 points over just 2 years and the continuation of a trend that has made elections increasingly difficult to predict. The campaign that is about to unfold at a national and local level; in the broadcast, print and social media, and on the doorstep, may well have a decisive impact on the final result.
For further advice and support or if you have any questions, please contact Razi Rahman, Partner and Head of Political at Maitland/AMO, on firstname.lastname@example.org