First Brexit, then Trump, then….
The latest opinion polls from Britain make unnerving reading.
Labour has slashed the Conservatives’ lead in the polls to just five points, the latest YouGov/Times results show. The party has made consistent gains in recent weeks as leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his message was finally getting through to voters.
The results show a four point change since last week when the Tories were leading by nine percentage points – the first time Labour had narrowed the gap to single figures since Theresa May called the snap election on 18 April.
The latest poll comes after the Prime Minister made an unprecedented U-turn over her “dementia tax” plans, just four days after making them the centrepiece of her election manifesto.
A separate poll, conducted after the Tory manifesto launch, found 28 per cent of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package [the dementia tax, which I wrote about on this Corner here, here and here was part of that package].
There was plenty that was wrong about the dementia tax (it wasn’t actually a tax, but the shorthand will do, and for a few days at least, it did for the Tories) as a matter of policy. But as a matter of politics it seemed almost suicidal, threatening as it did the over-65s, voters who turn out in large numbers and who, at the time the election was called, heavily favored the Conservatives.
It was also a ‘tax’ almost tailor-made to revive old fears about the Tories as the ‘nasty party’ (a phrase, ironically, coined by Mrs. May many years ago in a somewhat broader context) not fit to be trusted with managing the nation’s healthcare.
It’s easy enough to put together an argument that those fears are unfair. That the Conservatives should even have to contemplate making it is a sign that their campaign is on the back foot. Making matters worse, it ought to have been obvious—to anyone paying attention— that proposing this ‘tax’ would have just this effect. May has not been well-served by the handful of advisers with which she has long surrounded herself.
To be fair, the polling gap between the two parties had been narrowing for a while. Politics is tribal. When the moment of decision comes people tend to revert to their tribe, something that may have been made easier for some in the Labour Party this time by the thought that they could cast a vote for their side without any danger that the far-left (too kind a description, really, for his extremism) Corbyn would actually, you know, win.
And returning to Labour would have been made easier by the dreadful campaign the Tories have fought so far. That manifesto, which managed to blend moments of green eyeshade brutality with fatuous sermons against the free market was perhaps the low point, but what preceded it wasn’t so great either.
Writing in The Spectator Rod Liddle notes (my emphasis added):
Jeremy Corbyn is not notably less popular in the Midlands and north of the country than [previous Labour leader] Ed Miliband…And he has had a good election so far. The Labour vote remains buoyant and is growing. Don’t forget that the populist revolution we have seen here and in the US and in Europe does not come exclusively from the right. Corbyn presents an anti-establishment populist left-wing agenda, much as did Syriza and Five Star (and the SNP, come to that) and he offers it to an electorate which has a certain appetite for such radicalism. If he changed his tune on immigration he could conceivably win.
May herself has presence, but does not shine on the stump. There has also been more presumption than precision about the Conservative campaign. Confident of what they have assumed would be an overwhelming victory, they have come across as complacent and more than a touch arrogant.
The electoral math may also not be quite as helpful to the Tories as has sometimes been assumed.
The Ukip vote will migrate to the Tories en masse — but in the south, where they don’t need it. Far less so in the north and Midlands, where they do need it. There, many will remain with Ukip, especially if [UKIP leader] Paul Nuttall ramps up the anti-Islam rhetoric in the wake of the Manchester atrocity. Of the rest, a fair few will go back to the habitual berth of the Labour party….
I had not expected the Lib Dem vote to disappear. But given that it does seem to be disappearing, it won’t turn up in the pockets of Conservative candidates. Almost anyone but — and most likely Labour.
My best guess (full disclosure: my best guesses are frequently wrong) remains that the Tories will win, although by rather less than once was assumed (with possibly interesting implications for the next chapter of Brexit). Some of the latest polling dates from before the mass-murder in Manchester, and Corbyn’s response (due today) reportedly linking the bombing to British foreign policy may infuriate voters and once again revive the many legitimate fears about his suitability for the top job.
Above all, I have to assume that these polling data will (1) persuade some voters sympathetic to Labour that a vote for Corbyn is a gesture too risky to make; and (2) scare the Tories into raising their game.
June 8 (election day) is still some way away.