Election actually: MPs vote to give the electorate an early Christmas present
It might be a season more typically associated with Richard Curtis than Professor John Curtice, but given the confusion, misunderstandings and general comedy of errors to have taken over UK politics in the last couple of years, the election was probably inevitable.
Which is not to say that the road from Brexit impasse to heading back to the polls was an easy one. In fact, like any good romantic comedy, the journey was full of twists and turns.
At first it looked unlikely Jeremy Corbyn would actually agree to back calls for a general election, with his shadow cabinet seemingly at odds over the wisdom of handing Boris Johnson the vote he had been pushing for since he lost control of the Commons.
Yet it would have been impossible for Labour to resist calls for a vote forever – not without appearing scared of the Conservatives – and in the end, Corbyn managed to stamp his authority on the party. As he told the Guardian, following a meeting with colleagues: “I just said, ‘Look, this debate is now over. We’ve done it, the party has now made its decision, and that’s it; and that’s what we’re going to campaign on’.”
“We must come together in this election and make Scotland’s voice heard
He added: “I put it to them quite clearly: I said, our objections are now gone. We are now supporting a general election – and everybody gulped. I didn’t alert anybody in advance – it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, ‘Yes, Jeremy’.”
They may have been right to gulp, given current polling. Even after nine years of Conservative government, and following the chaotic records of both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, the party is still sitting around 12 per cent higher than Labour in UK-wide polling. But then Corbyn trailed in the polls in 2017 too – by much more, in fact – and managed to win back ground from then prime minister Theresa May, even if he still fell 56 seats short of her total.
Whether Johnson will prove a more effective campaigner than his predecessor remains to be seen, but with the Conservative Party leader seemingly intent on framing the vote in terms of the people versus parliament, it is clear the campaign has the potential to get nasty.
In fact, the first day of the official campaign saw the PM use an article in the Telegraph to highlight the differences in Tory and Labour views of business, before likening his opponent’s policies to Joseph Stalin’s persecution of the Kulaks.
He wrote: “We cheer for them: because their success is our success; and the tragedy of the modern Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is that they detest the profit motive so viscerally – and would raise taxes so wantonly – that they would destroy the very basis of this country’s prosperity”.
As the super-rich have got richer, almost everyone else has got poorer so that under the Tories
“They pretend that their hatred is directed only at certain billionaires – and they point their fingers at individuals with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the Kulaks.”
The timing seemed somewhat unfortunate, given the Stalin comparison came a day after it emerged the Tories had doctored a video of Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer to make it appear he had been unable to answer a question on Labour’s Brexit position.
Actually, he had answered pretty fluently, and things took a turn for the worse with Jacob Rees-Mogg’s appearance on LBC, in which the leader of the Commons suggested the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire lacked common sense, because they followed the instructions of fire fighters.
As he put it: “I think if either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building. It just seems the common sense thing to do.”
That was then followed by Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns announcing his ministerial resignation after claims he was not honest about his knowledge of a former aide’s part in the collapse of a rape trial last year.
All of this happened before Johnson had even formally announced the beginning of the election period. And while the Tories seemed to focus their energies on insulting people who died in a fire and comparing a 50p tax rate to the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people, Corbyn’s campaign skills began to show.
His approach, of using a winter election to highlight growing inequality and the human cost of welfare cuts, has been copied in Scotland too, where Richard Leonard used his campaign launch to focus on the domestic.
Outlining Labour’s plans to invest £70bn in Scotland’s public services, with £10bn going towards building 120,000 new council and social homes, Leonard framed the vote as “the most important election in a generation”.
He said: “The appeals that we must now make and the hopes that we must now lift must be built on the real change that a Labour government would make, because make no mistake, this election is about who is the government of this country. It is not a proxy vote on constitutional arrangements, and any attempt to reduce it to that is to turn our backs on the real needs of all of those millions of working people whose standard of living has been squeezed for ten long years.
“And over those ten years, we have witnessed not just a rise in the inequalities of income in these years of austerity, we have witnessed a shocking rise in the inequalities of wealth. And as the super-rich have got richer, almost everyone else has got poorer so that under the Tories, and let’s not forget the Liberals, there has been a fundamental redistribution of wealth, but it is a fundamental redistribution that has gone in precisely the wrong direction.”
They point their fingers at individuals with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the Kulaks.
And so, with the campaign only starting last week, the battle lines are already pretty clear. The Tories will try to frame the election as a chance to ‘deliver Brexit’. The Lib Dems and Greens will frame it as a chance to stop it. Then Labour will try to shift the conversation.
Except, as ever, for viewers in Scotland, where the plot seems likely to take a different direction. Here, clearly, the campaign will take on a different dynamic, as questions of left versus right and Brexit are joined by a third dimension: independence.
And here the SNP’s strategy is more complicated, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon trying to combine plans for a second referendum next year with an attempt to reach out to remain supporters from other parties.
As she put it, in an open letter: “After the last few years I can fully understand if you feel scunnered.”
She wrote: “I believe that our best future would be as an independent country, though I understand that not everyone shares that view. But what I do know is that we can only realise our enormous potential as a nation if we escape from Brexit and decide for ourselves what kind of country we want to be.
“That’s why your vote in this election is so important. If we sit back and do nothing, our future will be decided for us by Boris Johnson and by governments we didn’t vote for.
“We must come together in this election and make Scotland’s voice heard – and the best way to do that is to vote SNP. In every seat in Scotland held by the Tories, it is the SNP who is in second place – so only the SNP can stop the Tories and deprive them of a majority.
“So my message to you is this. Don’t sit back and let the Tories decide your future for you – stand up and be counted. Vote SNP on December 12th to escape Brexit and put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.”
A substantial proportion of the Scottish electorate will support remaining in the EU while staunchly opposing Scottish independence, and it’s clear Sturgeon’s ability to convince them a vote for the SNP will not necessarily mean a break-up of the union will be key to her chances of taking her current total of 35 seats back up towards the all-time high of 56, won in 2015.
Some, of course, will question how the SNP leader will differentiate a vote to remain in the EU with a vote for a second independence referendum, and history suggests one could be interpreted as support for the other.
But given the number of marginals – there are six seats with a majority of under 200 and ten with under 300 – and with the Scottish Greens taking on the SNP on the pro-remain, pro-independence front, it’s clear every vote will count. All’s fair in love and war, after all. Politics too.