The state of the race to No10
There is just over one week till polling day, but those who have opted to vote by post have already received and in many cases returned their ballot papers. At this point the Conservatives have a steady lead in the polls and appear to be on course to achieve a working majority. None of the party leaders are regarded particularly favourably by the electorate, but if Mr Johnson’s numbers are weak, Mr Corbyn’s are dreadful.
There are still a number of events in the coming days which may change things in this campaign, including Donald Trump’s visit to the UK for the NATO summit and the Corbyn/Johnson TV debate taking place on Friday, but for now Conservative strategists will be pleased about the way things have gone. The terrorist attack in London Bridge has shocked the country and dominated the news in recent days, but it is unclear whether this will have had any bearing on voting intentions. It should, however, be noted that the political response to this event has been far more partisan than might usually be the case.
The national headline share of the vote has shown a small increase in support for both the Conservative and Labour parties through the course of the campaign, at the expense of the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats, respectively. This has made the contest more of a two horse race than might have been expected just a few weeks ago. The move by Nigel Farage to stand down candidates in seats won by the Conservatives in 2017 and Jo Swinson’s decision to back revocation of article 50 combined with running a “presidential” style campaign, may look like strategic errors by the end of next week.
Party strategists do watch the national polling figures carefully and the Conservatives will be looking at whether they can keep their lead above 7%, the point at which their hoped-for majority comes into question. Yet under the UK’s “First Past the Post” election system these national figures are only ever a guide, it is the constituency by constituency results that matter. So parties examine the contest by region and look at what may be happening in seats with similar characteristics, relying on public and private polling, focus groups, demographic data and canvass returns.
In this election we expect more variation in constituency results than ever before. In order to win an overall majority, the Conservatives need to win seats currently held by Labour in the Midlands and the North, some of which have only ever returned a Labour MP. However, the indications from polling, focus groups and insight from the parties themselves are that the Conservatives may be on the verge of such a break-through by winning over sufficient numbers of Labour voters who backed Leave in 2016. That has led Labour to change its targeting strategy half-way through the campaign, moving resources from seats that it hoped to win from the Conservatives, into a more defensive play.
In London and the South East the picture is somewhat different. Early indications in the campaign suggested something of a Liberal Democrat surge with both Labour and Conservative support dropping sharply. That now seems to have receded and somewhat been reversed. The picture in this region is complex and it is unclear whether the Lib Dems will make their hoped for break-through, or as seems more likely end up with a series of strong second place performances.
The South West of England has in recent elections been a hard-fought contest between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, with the yellow team triumphing in 2010 and the blue team wiping them out in 2015. Lib Dem hopes of making a substantial return to the region appear to have all but evaporated with the Brexit Party exiting the stage.
In Scotland, it is as if a completely different election is taking place, with the SNP polling at or above 40% and poised to win the vast majority of seats north of the border. The Labour vote appears to have largely collapsed, while the Conservative vote appears to have held up better than might have been expected, given the departure of the popular Conservative Scottish leader Ruth Davidson. These seats may be important as the Conservatives seek to stitch together a majority across the UK.
In Wales, early polls pointed to a strong Conservative advance, but Labour appears to have at least partially recovered as Welsh voters’ attention swings back to domestic issues. While in Northern Ireland, the Alliance Party will hope to win a few seats from the Conservative’s supply and confidence partners in the last parliament, the DUP.
Unless the polls and accompanying data are fundamentally wrong, the likely outcomes seem to have narrowed to either a Conservative majority government or a hung parliament, probably with the Conservatives as the largest party. But this in itself is a cause for some anxiety at Conservative HQ. For they now fear that the greatest threat to winning a majority is not a Corbyn surge, but that some voters who are reluctantly backing the Conservatives may decide they no longer need to do so, should the risk of a Labour majority disappear.
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