The campaign, week five. Johnson holds his ground – and aims to end next week where he began. With getting Brexit done.

Source: Politico.

Lord Ashcroft’s latest General Election Dashboard, published earlier this week, found that, when it came to recent campaign events, “four in ten voters recalled nothing at all”.  Our proprietor also noted a tendency for both left and right-leaning voters to remember stories and incidents which backed up views they hold already.

This suggests that ConservativeHome’s opening position, set out when we began this series of Friday campaign summaries, has proved accurate to date: namely, that bad campaign weeks don’t usually matter in general elections – and that good and bad campaigns affect the result much less than some suppose.

Jeremy Corbyn has fought much the same operation as in 2017, doubling down and widening out on higher spending pledges, and making the centrepiece of his effort the preposterous claim that Boris Johnson plans to sell the NHS to Donald Trump.

Johnson has fought a very different campaign to that of 2017.  Admittedly, his target voters are the same as Theresa May’s were then – the “just about managings”, as they used to be called.  But his means of appealing to them have been very different.

The manifesto has been kept risk-free; the Chancellor has not been absent; TV debates have been minimised – and executed without major cock-ups (so far).  The terror attack at London Bridge didn’t derail the Prime Minister.  He seems to have got through Donald Trump’s visit without damage.

The sum of events to date is that Labour, as last time, has risen in the polls.    That is as likely to be because the party has had more media exposure than outside election time as for any other reason.  Electoral Calculus now predicts a Tory majority of 28 – well down from the 72 it recorded when we opened this series.

But the Conservatives – unlike in 2017 – have seen their ratings increase, too.  The most probable explanation is that many voters indeed believe that Britain should “get Brexit done” – and find themselves settling on that view, as polling day approaches, regardless of the day-to-day campaigning ups and downs.

If anything during the last four weeks has made a difference, it appears to have been the weakening of the third and fourth parties: the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party.  But both are still in the field and the struggle will be complex – far more so at regional and constituency level than Electoral Calculus’ headline total takes into account.

Its findings must be mediated through those local variants: in particular, the separate-but-related contests taking place in Scotland, in the Leave-backing Midlands & North, and in Remain-leaning London with its prosperous hinterland.  If Johnson can do well in all three, that majority should be higher; if does badly, it won’t be there at all.

The sum of polls suggests that the Conservatives will pull off a win.  The last five how Tory leads of ten, twelve, seven, nine and 13 points, according to Britain Elects.  As we write, there is no suggestion of Corbyn closing the gap; rather, if anything, of it opening up again.

Labour could yet close the divide for a mix of reasons: if there is large-scale tactical voting; if the vote distribution works for it; if its ground campaign is sufficiently strong; if the polls are “wrong” – and perhaps above all if there is differential turnout that favours the party.  Is all this possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.

Downing Street and CCHQ cannot afford to take the chance.  Unlike this website or other observers, they cannot afford to gamble that the campaign will end up making no demonstrable difference to anything very much.  They must claw and scrabble for every vote during the final week of this campaign.

Team Johnson that the election will be won by whoever frames the question that voters will ask themselves in the polling booth.  If it’s: “let’s get Brexit done”, then they believe that Johnson will gain his majority.  That’s where the Tory campaign began.  That’s where they want it to end.

There is a quiet sense in Number Ten that Corbyn and his team haven’t developed a framing of their own for this contest.  So expect to see the Prime Minister and company return to their theme over the weekend: break the Parliamentary logjam, get Brexit done – and then Britain can move on.

Downing Street is keen to stress what might be called the populist part of its programme for the first hundred days of a new Tory Government: more education spending, tougher sentencing, higher NHS charges for migrants.  It claims not to have tried to shape yesterday’s reporting emphasis on national insurance tax cuts.

Our nagging worry is: what about voters who may not want to get Brexit done, but are nonetheless apprehensive about Corbyn and John McDonnell’s tax plans?  Will there be nothing in the last few days to help persuade them that a Corbyn Government would plunder their wallets, risk their jobs and threaten their livelihoods?

Weeks One, Two and Three of this series saw the Conservatives doing well – so much so that in that third week we warned against unrealistic expectations.  Week Four saw Corbyn make some progress.  In this final week, Week Five, he seems to have stalled.  But there are still seven tense days to go.

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Author: Paul Goodman


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