Whichever way you view it, this is fundamentally another Brexit-dominated election. The choice for prime minister is between two widely disliked figures. It’s probably the most bitter UK campaign in living memory, with the ideological gulf between the two main parties greater than at any time since 1945. Nevertheless, it also seems that voters will be more likely to abandon their usual parties than in any other post-war election. Many now identify as Leavers or Remainers, rather than as habitual supporters of a particular party. As a consequence, they’ll be more susceptible to a wider range of campaign messages — even from the smaller parties.
Despite Twitter’s ban on political advertising, online dirty tricks will muddy the issues and distort the discourse in this new era of dubious campaigning techniques. It’s already known that the Conservatives have hired experts in this field. If an initial untruth bombards the social networks, it remains embedded in most minds as a fact, even when subsequent revelations disprove it. By then, we’ve moved on to a dizzying number of carefully calculated new distractions.
Just as liberal Republicans have been an extinct species on the US political landscape since the 1980s, today’s Conservative government is well on the way to extinguishing the embers of one-nation Toryism. Boris Johnson’s recent self-promotion as improbable champion of the NHS is against all the evidence of what free trade deals with the US would mean to pharmaceutical costs and much else. This — like the harder line on law and order — is a pitch to Labour’s socially conservative pro-Brexit heartlands. It seems to be paying off. Some recent polls show that the Prime Minister is now more trusted with healthcare than Jeremy Corbyn — a development that should be sending shockwaves among Labour strategists. If Labour’s signature issue has been snatched for this election, it leaves the party seriously short of ammunition on a mostly hostile media-driven battlefront. Precious few Tory voters will switch to Labour, while a considerable number of traditional Labourites look set to back the Conservatives.
Paradoxically, Brexit voters commonly express their vague dislike of the EU “telling us what to do”, while the US President’s extraordinary pronouncements on UK political figures, royal family members and diplomatic appointments go unnoticed. Brexit serves as a surrogate for a wide range of public grievances. For the Conservative Pary, it’s a vehicle for a radically deregulated neoliberal economy.
Much has been made of the changed minds of many referendum Brexit voters in the light of more information on the overall implications. Little, however, has been said about the unknown number of Remainers who now reluctantly accept leaving in order to move on, and keep faith with the Brexit majority. In significant numbers they could dent the vote for the Liberal Democrats, whose authoritarian policy of revoking Brexit without a referendum looks out of touch with present reality. While some Labour Remainers will undoubtedly switch to the Lib Dems, the centre party may also lose ground to the Greens. Jo Swinson is no Caroline Lucas.
Labour’s long-term hand-wringing has evolved into what might be seen as a principled way forward between two hardline positions, except that a great many voters have little appetite for relative complexity, and perhaps even less for another referendum. The party’s post-referendum fence-sitting has hurt its credibility. Opponents will no doubt exploit this, as well as the tensions within the party that continue to simmer.
Among the other uncertainties are to what degree wet Tories might turn towards the moderate social conscience and economic policies of the Lib Dems. How will the Brexit Party perform, given that the Conservatives have moved closer to Nigel Farage’s position, edging him to an even more hardline position? How much of an inroad into Labour’s crucial Scotland vote might the SNP make this time around?
It’s going to be a bumpy, surprise-laden ride this time. A larger than usual number of voters may claim to go along with the popular choice, while opting for something quite different in the seclusion of the voting booth.
Our chart has been compiled with reference to speeches, manifestos and, where applicable, voting records. Should significant policy changes be announced during the campaign, the chart will be updated accordingly.