Today voters in the UK head to the polls for their third significant vote in three years. Following a surprising majority vote for David Cameron in 2015 and then the vote last year for the UK to leave the European Union Theresa May surprised many pundits by declaring the UK would have another General Election this year 3 years out from the original date.
Theresa May claimed this decision was due to the struggle of Brexit negotiations to get through the Parliament due to the legacy of David Cameron being heavily opposed to the leave campaign and May herself originally seeking for the UK to stay in the EU. Despite this opinion being offered as the reason for the early election many commentators believed that the early poll was called due to the large polling lead for the Conservatives over the Labour Party going into the election and in particular the dismal performance of Jeremy Corbyn who had faced many leadership challenges throughout the two years of leadership as well as the resignations of 31 shadow ministers.
In the face of this the first poll after the Election being called gave the Conservatives a 20 percentage point lead over the Labour Party which would have given the Conservatives a 200 plus seat lead over the Labour Party in the new Parliament. Historically this would compare with the 1997 and 2001 wins by Tony Blair and the 1983 win by Margaret Thatcher. However as the campaign has progressed the polls have significantly tightened with some polls being as close as 4 percent between the major parties although the majority of polls are still pointing towards a 10 percent gap between the major parties. This disparity has led to people questioning the accuracy of polls again particularly in the wake of the Trump win, Brexit and the 2015 Election however there are some important points as to why this is flawed. Firstly in both America and the UK voting is non compulsory and so any polling that is taken needs to recognise that not all of the people polled will end up voting, this seems particularly prevalent amongst younger voters who are highly engaged in the campaign itself but then stay home on Election Day leading to an upward skew on parties of the left polling. Also as with the current trend in news reporting people are more interested in when things are wrong and so not enough attention was paid to the recent French Election which accurately predicted both the first and second round results. Lastly, particularly in the US Election because of the large contempt for Trump people almost did not want to consider a win for him possible and so ignored the polls that pointed a close result which when added with margin of errors suggested a Trump victory was possible. Indeed Hilary Clinton won the popular vote as predicted by the polls but this was offset by Trump winning important battleground states.
The UK election itself has been fought by both major parties on familiar grounds with Labour focussing on Health, Education and social security while the Conservatives have fought the election on Economy, Brexit and National security which has become particularly important due to the recent tragic terrorist attacks. On health and social security particularly Labour has found voter support as voters tend to associate these areas with Labour strength while marking any spending reductions by the Tories down.
It is important to have a strong public system however the main difference between left and right governments in general stem from how much funding and support is given to private sector health/ education. An economists view is that the best way to have a strong public system is to have a strong private sector that can be used by some of the more well of people so that the public system is then cleared up for those less well off. The problem with this approach is that the public system will always be used in such amounts that their will be a strain on resources and so any spending reductions will place a burden on these important services. The other debate is to the role of government in running important public infrastructure and Labour in their manifesto have pledged to increase funding to public services by increased taxes for higher earners. Again this is a popular measure with general voters who don’t want to see income inequality however there is often the risk that these tax increases then get passed back down the chain. For example a tax increase on a big business might then lead to them letting go some lower end staff members which then hurts the lower end of the economy. It is this economical debate that generally leads to parties of the left spending more which has led to a generalisation that parties of the right are better Economic managers and this again seems to be a strength of the Tory party heading into the election.
On National security the terrorist attacks throughout the campaign have catapulted the issue to the top of election issues. This would normally be a strength of Conservative parties who generally spend more money on defence and indeed the reluctance of Jeremy Corbyn to favour the use of nuclear weapons in the event of an attack has led to a large drop in the Labour vote in historically strong areas, indeed the Labour Party lost the by election of Copeland in 2017 on the Trident Nuclear issue. This loss was the first electoral loss by an opposition since 1982 and the first win by the Tories in the seat since 1935. However the national security issue has become a less strong one for Theresa May in particular due to her cuts to Policing numbers in the 2010 budget when she was secretary of Home Security. These cuts were in the guise of budget repair after the Labour Party raked up a large deficit during the Financial Crisis however the words of a former police commissioner suggesting that these cuts led to a drop in the ability to pick up local activity in its planning stage has been devastating to the Conservatives claims of being strong in National Security.
Lastly Brexit continues to be an issue that divides the UK and so it has played a part in the election albeit smaller than May probably hoped when the election was first called. The division on this issue stems from the Conservative party wanting a hard exit with no conditions placed on their exit while the Labour Party want to ensure that low income workers are better off as a result of the leave and they still want to have a EU specific trade deal so that they can still play a role in the EU while being out. Meanwhile both the LDP and Scottish National Party want a second vote on being in the EU now that they believe the benefits of leaving the EU have not been realised. This has led to some uptake in LDP vote in remain areas and also some split of the Labour vote from people who aren’t happy with the Labours part in part out approach to the issue.
With the polls having now tightened the Conservatives will now be more nervous on election night but I still predict they will increase their current majority in the House of Commons, if by a smaller amount than what looked probable at the Election outset. This is due to the starting point of the Tories in Scotland where the current makeup is 56 SNP and 1 Tory, 1 Labour and 1 LDP member. Due to the issue of Brexit and also a possible second Scottish Independent vote people who are against those issues have a natural landing spot in the Conservative party and there is an expectation that the SNP will lose around 10 seats with 8 or 9 going to the Conservatives and 1 to the LDP. There is also a large expectation that the rural England areas will follow their large Brexit leave results with a large swing to the Conservatives in this election which will see a large amount of seats in play there. The closer to the major cities will probably swing to the Labour Party however the interest here will be is there a vote split between the Labour Party and the LDP who are coming off an electoral low in 2015 where they were punished for voters for doing a formal alliance with the Tory Party in 2010; The other interesting thing to watch will be how much of the UKIP vote the Tory can pick up as in a first past the post electoral system this may push their raw numbers above the Labour Party in some more marginal seats where the Labour and LDP vote will be split.
The other interesting outcome from this result will be the future of the two major parties post election. For the Conservative party the campaign has taken a chink from Theresa May’s armour and some of here Thatcheresque hardness will be tested post election as the party look to determine how they have lost 10 to 15 percent points in an election campaign. For the Labour Party the general consensus seemed to be if the Labour Party went backwards from their 30.3% vote share under Ed Miliband in 2015 then he would be in trouble, however the recent polls have shown Jeremy Corbyn will probably lead to a higher vote share than that which will make him harder to remove. This is particularly the case given his large public support in the far left of the population which has backed him overwhelmingly in leadership contests. This then leads to the question of what do you do with a leader who is more socialist than any leader the Labour Party have had since the Michael Foot years and who openly backed branch stacking to try and rid the party of more moderate candidates who opposed his leadership style. My prediction is that both leaders survive for the time being however in both cases I have legitimate questions as to whether they are strong enough leaders to be able to win the next election in 2022.