Will Boris Johnson live to fight another day?
The UK will hold a general election on December 12 – the UK’s third general election in five years and the first December election since 1923. Although Boris Johnson has failed to deliver on his “do or die” pledge to leave the European Union on October 31, he has succeeded to win a majority of MPs’ support for an early election. There can be no doubt that Brexit is the defining feature of this election.
The upcoming election is going to be one of the most, if not the most, unpredictable elections in British history. Recent opinion polls have put the Conservative Party ten points ahead of the Labour Party. This means that the Conservative party could gain a 58-member majority in Parliament. Looking back to 2017, then-Prime Minister Theresa May started her election campaign 16 points ahead, but Labour slashed that lead over the course of the campaign, resulting in May losing her parliamentary majority. Therefore, some observers consider Boris Johnson’s decision to call for a general election as a dangerous gamble if put into the context of Theresa May’s heavy loss.
However, considering Boris Johnson’s charisma, influence and popularity among conservative, middle-aged and even among the traditional working class, the possibilities of a repeat scenario are less likely this time around. Moreover, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity seems to have weakened considerably over the past year under the accusations of anti-Semitic, Marxist socialism, which the conservative media has kept alive. Ipsos MORI’s new Political Monitor poll reveals Jeremy Corbyn has the lowest net satisfaction ratings of any opposition leader since 1977.
On the other hand, Labour’s ambiguous and unclear policy on Brexit creates confusion in the minds of the public. The Labour party is deeply divided over whether to leave the EU or not. Corbyn’s Brexit plan to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement with the EU and then put that deal to the public in a confirmatory referendum—alongside an option to remain—does not seem to be appealing to voters. Therefore, rather than focusing on Brexit, Corbyn would prefer to focus the campaign on other policies where he is more comfortable: better working conditions, fairer taxes, and more investment into public services.
It will be fascinating to see whether Corbyn can distract the campaign from Brexit and concentrate people’s attention on the last ten years of austerity. This strategy would have worked well before Brexit, but Corbyn is a talented campaigner and will try his best to shift attention to his policies and election manifesto. However, for undecided voters irritated by the Brexit saga, Boris Johnson’s clear-cut stance on Brexit seems to be more appealing than Corbyn’s dithering Brexit strategy.
Remain supporters frustrated with Labour’s ambiguous stance may well opt for the Lib-Dems. It should also be noted that the Leave vote is mostly united behind the Tories, whereas, the Remain vote is split between Labour, Lib-Dems, SNP and the Greens. In this regard, Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party could be a game-changer. If Farage backs Boris Johnson to help the Tories secure a majority by withdrawing its general election candidates, then he can play kingmaker in favour of the Leave camp.
However, in the event Farage is not convinced with the Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit pledge, then it will not be an easy election for the Tories where they will face fierce opposition from the Brexit Party in many Tory-dominated constituencies. In the last European Elections, the Brexit Party got the most votes with 29 percent of the overall vote. While this election seems to be a nearly unpredictable election, it looks like cross-party alliances will be the main factors driving its outcome. Remain oriented parties still have a slight chance to stop Brexit from happening, but it seems it is only possible if they give up on party politics and unite against Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.