On Tuesday afternoon the European Council President urged the United Kingdom to ‘please make the best use of this time’ as it officially entered the first day of the 2019 General Election. The outcome of the upcoming election remains unpredictable at best, as the disruptive force of Brexit continues to plague British politics.
The Conservatives have been eager to call an election for months as they are threatened by the Brexit Party and fear that the longer leaving the European Union is delayed and compromised the stronger Nigel Farage’s Party will become. They are already ahead in the polls, with an 11 point lead over Labour. However, Johnson currently has no majority in the House of Commons, which means the Prime Minister will have to win seats in this highly unstable period in British Politics. The Conservative Campaign got off to a rocky start this week as the Secretary of State for Wales resigned from Cabinet, following claims that he knew of his former aide’s role in sabotaging a rape trial. Jacob Rees-Mogg was forced to apologise over comments he made on the victims of the Grenfell Fire, while the formers Commons speaker John Bercow came out as saying that Brexit was the ‘biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period’.
The Conservative Party will attempt to unite all Brexit voters by setting up a people vs. parliament election and will aim to focus on Brexit as the key campaign issue. They have written off a number of seats in Scotland and London, while they aim to win seats from traditionally Labour voting constituencies in Northern England. While many of these Northern voters are disillusioned with the Labour Party, their historic dislike of the Conservative Party remains strong, meaning that the Brexit Party have a strong chance of making gains in these areas if they launch an aggressive campaign. However, despite announcing that they will run candidates in every constituency, the Brexit Party have been notably muted over the past few weeks. The Brexit Party will likely be a disruptive force in this election, splitting the Tory vote in many constituencies.
While Labour are currently behind the Tories in the opinion polls, the 2017 General Election shows that they are strong campaigners, and their support is expected to rise. In the first week of the official campaign alone, the Conservative lead over Labour dropped two percentage points. The Labour Party’s strategy will be to speak about Brexit as little as possible, focusing instead on policies and messages that they think will resonate with the people including health care, housing and the environment. However, the party remains plagued by poor leadership, with Jeremy Corbyn the least popular opposition leader in British history. The resignation of the Deputy Head of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, on Wednesday casts further doubts on the credibility of the party.
What does all of this mean for Brexit? Calling an election was undoubtedly a huge personal and political gamble for the Prime Minister. If he loses not only will he become the shortest serving Prime Minister for a hundred years, but the whole Brexit project will be thrown into doubt. An outright victory for the Tory party remains the only way to guarantee Brexit following the election. The Conservatives will have to win an overall majority in order to continue in government as they have no natural coalition partners, particularly as they can no longer rely on DUP support.
Labour are promising a second referendum, which will include a remain option on the ballot. The Labour leave option promises to negotiate a softer Brexit, including remaining in the Customs Union. While the Labour Brexit stance has been ambiguous at best over the past two years, the key certainty that Labour can offer voters is their staunch opposition to a no-deal. The Lib Dem’s will seek to unite all remain voters, announcing an electoral pact with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party on Thursday, by which they will not field candidates against each other for Parliamentary seats across England and Wales. However, the Lib Dems have categorically ruled out propping up a Corbyn-led Labour government in the event of a hung-parliament. At the launch of their election campaign, Lib Dem Leader Jo Swinson said she was “absolutely categorically ruling out’ using the party’s votes to help the Labour Leader become Prime Minister, saying he is ‘not fit for the job’. When voting Lib Dem would most likely lead to a hung Parliament, the key questions remains whether voters would willingly vote for this uncertain outcome.
This election will be historically difficult to predict, with the Brexit question continuing to cause electoral disarray. National surveys are no longer an accurate predictor of election results since the Brexit vote, as different constituencies have swung in wildly different directions. In the 2017 General Election, the Tories gained ground in Leave areas, while slipping behind in constituencies that voted to remain. Complicating election predictions further is the UK’s first past the post system. For instance, UKIP received some 3 million votes in the 2015 General Election yet did not receive a single seat in Parliament. Brexit has guaranteed that the only certainty that can be expected in British Politics over the course of the campaign remains uncertainty.