by Frank Schnittger
Wed Oct 30th, 2019 at 11:29:11 AM EST
And so the turkeys have finally voted for Christmas. The House of Commons has overwhelmingly voted for an election on Boris Johnson's preferred date of 12th. December.
The vote gave Boris Johnson the date he was looking for and there were no amendments to expand the franchise to include EU nationals or 16- and 17-year-olds. But the prime minister is facing the voters with Brexit still not delivered and his pledge to leave the EU by October 31st in shreds.
Some Conservative MPs fear their constituents will punish them for spending five weeks campaigning rather than scrutinising and passing the withdrawal agreement Bill. And all Conservatives are conscious of the electoral mountain they must climb to return to power.
More than 30 seats short of a working majority of 320 as they go into the campaign, the Conservatives expect to lose seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland and to the Liberal Democrats in the southeast and southwest of England. At odds with the DUP over the Brexit deal and with no other potential coalition parties, the Conservatives will need to win a majority if they are to form the next government.
Labour is on 25 per cent in an average of opinion polls, 11 points behind the Conservatives and just 7 per cent ahead of the Liberal Democrats. Labour started the 2017 election campaign polling 25 per cent too, but more than 20 points behind Theresa May's Conservatives.
Corbyn's allies draw comfort from the outcome in 2017, which saw Labour draw almost level with the Conservatives with 40 per cent of the vote. And Labour has more coalition options than the Conservatives, so it does not need a majority or even to emerge as the biggest party to have a chance of forming the government.
On the other hand Corbyn is by far the most unpopular of the party leaders and the Conservatives are targeting Labour-held seats that voted Leave in 2016, particularly in the midlands and northeast England, and in Wales.
Quite why the House of Commons should have given Boris precisely what he was looking for without any strings attached is difficult to fathom. The date suits the Tories as many students will have left college by then and be unable to vote. The SNP will be relieved that the vote takes place before their former leader, Alex Salmond, stands trial on charges of sexual assault and attempted rape early next year.
Most independent MPs - Tory dissidents who have lost the whip, ChangeUK, and even Jo Swinson, leader of the Lib Dems - will have an uphill task to retain their seats given the FPTP electoral system.
Overall the SNP and the Lib Dems can expect to make some gains but Labour faces major losses unless Corbyn can achieve a similar turn-around in the polls during the election campaign, as he did against Theresa May in 2017.
But Boris Johnson is an altogether more formidable campaigner than Theresa May and he has a coherent narrative that may appeal to a plurality of the electorate: he is the man who is trying to "get Brexit done" against the combined opposition of the House of Commons who can agree on little else but to procrastinate and delay.
The opposition did not even try to propose an amendment mandating the government to organise a second referendum before Boris could have his precious general election. As such they have effectively taken themselves out of the game: a relatively united Leave vote should give Boris the 30-35% of the vote he needs to gain a majority against a hopelessly divided Remain vote. So much easier to do than gain the 50% required to win a referendum.
The only hope now for the Remain parties is to hope that Farage will divide the Leave vote sufficiently to prevent an overall Boris victory. Recent polls put the Brexit party at 10-12% of the vote - not enough to make a decisive impact. But the Boris Withdrawal Agreement deal is wide open to criticism from both a Leave and a Remain perspective and perhaps alternative narratives will take hold as the campaign progresses.
Overall it is very difficult to have any sympathy for the UK political classes. They have pfaffed around for three and a half years unable to decide what they actually want or come up with a coherent process for making a decision on it. They have allowed the buffoons and charlatans to take over the circus and veered onto the edge of fascism. It is not too late for the British people to change their minds, but I wouldn't be holding my breath. The depth of ignorance which the Brexit campaign has revealed of the workings of the EU, international diplomacy, global and domestic economics, and the UK political system itself has been breathtaking to observe.
You reap what you sow...
Perhaps Corbyn can still pull off a shock victory, but it will be just that, a shock. You would think that in any normal polity the Conservatives would be punished for three years of unmitigated division and disaster for the country, but then the UK is no longer a normal polity. Old conventions need not apply, and I wouldn't place too much trust in the opinion polling just now.
Meanwhile, back in N. Ireland, the DUP will be facing an electorate seriously discombobulated by the economic uncertainty Brexit has unleashed and now the political instability created by Boris Johnson's effective betrayal of the DUP and the Union. I doubt their electorate will thank them too much, and yet the hardline unionist response to any crisis has always been to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.
Loyalist and Unionist voters don't have too many options as to who to vote for even if they feel the DUP has made a right hash of things. Nationalist voters are similarly somewhat disillusioned by Sinn Fein's failure to have any influence on the process through their policy of abstentionism in Westminster and failure to influence either the media narratives or the Varadker government in Dublin.
So the vote in Northern Ireland will probably once again degenerate into a tribal headcount with the Alliance Party perhaps making some marginal gains with voters disillusioned with both tribal narratives. But it is the DUP themselves who needlessly put the union with Britain in play, and it will be interesting to see how their voting base reacts.