General Election 2019 – MHP Political Insider analysis
In today’s Insider, Amy Fisher, Thomas Messenger and James Gurling look at how the campaign has gone so far for the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats respectively.
THE CONSERVATIVE CAMPAIGN SO FAR
Amy is a Director in MHP’s Public Affairs team. Prior to joining MHP, she was a Special Adviser and Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.
Conservative Campaign HQ has changed its caterer and I am reliably informed that the beef lasagne this week is Jolly Good. So excellent news, what with the old adage of an army marching on its stomach and all that.
And there are other reasons the Conservatives are feeling buoyant. After a pretty shaky start to the campaign, things this week are very much looking up. The polls have Boris’ lot solidly out front still and the PM himself has been out and about doing what he does best – being Boris.
Unlike in 2017, when staffers steered Theresa May away from having a public platform unless on the occasion she absolutely had to, CCHQ this time around has recognised Boris as being the best campaigning asset they have. He might not have entirely escaped unscathed by the ire of the flood-stricken Yorkshire folk yesterday. But he most definitely is bringing his customary vim and verve to proceedings elsewhere.
There’s another big difference this time around. And that is quite how hard the Jeremy Corbyn / national security argument is playing out.
When Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015, there was an initial flurry of stories about some of his previous associations and statements. But despite CCHQ trying to push on JC’s national security credentials in the 2017 General Election campaign – like the 17 anti-terrorism laws he voted against – it just never really took off as a theme.
The Daily Mail has reached, well, peak Daily Mail today with its splash ‘FURY OVER CORBYN ISIS CHIEF GAFFE’. But the point is that this isn’t just a right-leaning tabloid one-off. It’s just the latest in a slew of stories in a similar vein over the last couple of weeks. Former ministers and former defence chiefs have expressed their concern. Former colleagues at the Home Office tell me they are worried.
None of this should of course imply any sense of complacency from CCHQ. Farage’s refusal today to withdraw all of his Brexit Party’s candidates is a real blow.
Still, there’s always tonight’s pasta bake to look forward to.
THE LABOUR CAMPAIGN SO FAR
Thomas is an Account Director in MHP’s Public Affairs team and a Labour Party activist.
The inherent risk of calling an election in the depths of winter is that events (dear boy) are far more likely to throw campaigns off course. An NHS winter crisis here, or widespread flooding there, and well-honed narratives and strategies can be made redundant overnight.
It speaks volumes that Labour’s main hope is that events – and a lacking Conservative response – lead to voters reconsidering them over the Tories, all while relying on Nigel Farage of all people to split the pro-Brexit vote in heartland Labour seats.
Labour’s campaign is best understood through the prism of 2017. There is a genuine belief among many in the upper echelons of the Party that Labour will go on a similar polling journey as during that campaign. All it takes is equal broadcasting time for Jeremy, and the voters will see that he’s not the caricature painted by the mainstream media.
However, it isn’t working out that way. There are now genuine alternatives on offer, all of whom offer more radical policies on Brexit which will appeal to an increasingly polarised electorate. Moderation hasn’t exactly been in vogue recently and Labour’s second referendum position, while far and away the most sensible policy of the main parties, risks them falling down in the middle of the Brexit divide.
It’s frustrating as, on paper, Labour has a strong message to sell. At a time when even the Government is recognising austerity has gone too far, the Labour Party is advocating widespread public investment. While Boris Johnson promises to “Get Brexit Done”, only Labour has a strategy to actually heal the wounds of the 2016 referendum among the wider public.
But the response among voters is that this isn’t enough – with Corbyn in particular continuing to be a major liability for Labour. While Labour has enjoyed an uptick in polling since the launch of their campaign, a more fundamental strategic adjustment is needed if they want to form the next government. However, with four weeks to go, a manifesto still unpublished, and the looming threat of more events on the horizon, it would be imprudent to write the Labour Party off just yet.
THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT CAMPAIGN SO FAR
James is Managing Director and Joint Head of Public Affairs at MHP. He was Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ 2017 General Election campaign.
It takes about 18 months for a party leader to become properly established in even the peripheral vision of the general electorate. It’s just over three months since Jo Swinson was elected Liberal Democrat Leader. Her introduction to the public has had to be at pace. And that’s been task number one for the Liberal Democrat election campaign. The livery for the campaign bus says it all.
So Jo Swinson’s campaign has started with vibrancy and determination, allowing the Party to present a markedly contrasting prospect of leadership to that of the Labour and Conservative parties. Daring to claim a right to be perceived as ‘candidate for Prime Minster’ has undoubtedly annoyed some, but it has inspired many others. And early legal challenges to the broadcasters’ decisions to exclude her – and the Remain argument which goes with her – from the leaders’ debates have added further to the sense that previously accepted ‘norms’ will not go unchallenged.
Disrupting the cosy consensus has to be a major objective, particularly if the Stop Brexit mantra that worked so well in the European election earlier this year is to continue to resonate throughout the campaign.
While stopping Brexit remains the core thrust of the Party’s offer, the wider policy agenda has not gone ignored. The five point Plan for Britain’s Future – launched at the start of the campaign – is founded on a £50bn ‘Remain Bonus’ to invest in public services. The pledges include generating 80% of electricity from renewable sources, investing a further £10 billion a year for schools, creating a skills wallet for adults to spend £10,000 on skills and training during their lifetime, and to transform mental health services. The fully-costed manifesto will be launched next week. It will be detail rich and message consistent: the brighter future starts when Brexit is stopped.