My first immediate thoughts on hearing the Prime Minister push for an early general election related to the numerous police investigations, happening over many parts of the country, in relation to alleged overspending by the Conservative Party in several key seats. The most prominent of these seats being in South Thanet, where Nigel Farage was defeated by Conservative Craig Mackinlay; the latter of whom was recently interviewed under caution by Her Majesty’s constabulary.
Now, with a new general election on the horizon, all these allegations and accusations will disappear into the blue yonder. Not even a footnote in history. No proper recrimination.
The cynic that exists inside would suggest that this is the real reason for the snap general election, not the offered version that this is about strengthening the government ahead of the Brexit negotiations.
Whatever the reason, this general election will undoubtedly bring forth the largest landslide for 20 years, and the biggest Conservative victory over Labour since 1983. In terms of raw vote number, Theresa May may eclipse the current record of 14 million, which is what John Major amassed in 1992.
Labour will surely be decimated. They will likely end this General Election with 150-180 seats, which will be the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s inept, though sometimes entertaining, leadership. It could even be the curtain call on the Labour Party as a whole, as there appears to be no talent within the party ranks and the core vote is gradually ebbing away; though, such predictions should be entered with caution, as similar things were said about the Conservatives in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Speaking of the Tories, they will be aiming for the magic number of 400 seats and, perhaps, just further north of that. Unlike the Cameron-Miliband battle, May versus Corbyn is simply a matter of how big the majority will be, not will there be a majority. If 2015 was an exercise in tedium, then 2017 will be an exercise in formality.
I think the truly interesting story of this election is how the Liberal Democrats fare. Tim Farron is ready to embrace the hardcore Remain vote which, according to a YouGov poll, is down to 21%, versus the 69% who back Brexit. This is the summit of Farron’s ambition. 21%.
But will the hardcore Remainians (thank you, Nigel!) grasp the LibDem nettle? This is perhaps the key question of the election, once the formalities have been removed, and a true test of how organised support can be for those who still favour the UK’s membership of the European Union.
It is unlikely, I reckon, that the Liberal Democrats will ascend to higher than 15% of the vote, around 11-13% seems a realistic barometer, but they will almost certainly beat UKIP into 3rd place. How many seats the Liberal Democrats will actually win could vary quite dramatically.
And so to UKIP. I am a critic of Paul Nuttall’s far from inspirational leadership of our dear party, and I am worried that we will be fighting this general election on the narrow topic of ‘Brexit and Borders’.
Such a message will not cut through to the Casual Voter. The Casual Voter, of course, has a slender interest in politics, but will be making up most of the votes on June 8th. The Casual Voter, thinking that the Tories have Brexit and border control in hand, will not be impressed to hear of a carbon-copy message emanating from a comparatively tiny party. Methinks the Casual Voter would be more impressed to hear of UKIP’s wide-range of policies on other matters, such as tax and housing, but then: Nuttall’s focus was always narrow.
I believe a slight paradox will occur to UKIP in June: that our overall vote share will go down, to the region of 6-9% (the latest YouGov poll has us at 7%), but we will actually pick up a few seats and garner our highest ever number in the House of Commons. Mixed success, certainly.
Voter perception and greater knowledge will be the two reasons for UKIP’s better fortune in seat-winning.
Firstly, voters will be able to perceive that we are a realistic party of choice, not a wasted vote, in numerous seats such as Thurrock and South Thanet. For instance, imagine the Casual Voter was tempted to cast his vote for UKIP in Thurrock in 2015. He then looks at the results in Thurrock in 2010, the previous general election, and forms a somewhat inaccurate conclusion that UKIP have no chance, so he votes for another party instead.
Now imagine the same scenario this year. The Casual Voter in Thurrock is still captivated by the possibility of voting UKIP (he has not been put off by Nuttall’s narrowness!) and so he analyses how they did in 2015; the previous general election. This time he arrives at a different result: he thinks UKIP have a chance of capturing the Thurrock seat in 2017, and so he votes UKIP.
In other words, tactical voting in 2017 will not squeeze our party to the same punitive degree as in 2015.
Secondly, based on the 2015 results, our party will be able to conduct its campaigning in a more sensible manner. We know our strongest areas. We know where the realistic prospects lie. We are not as blind as we were in 2015.
If this plays out as I think – a decline in votes, but an increase in seats – it will be interesting to see Nuttall’s reaction to it.
In more general terms, the seven-week duration of this election campaign will stretch all the major parties to their organisational limits. It could therefore follow that UKIP’s typical weakness in terms of structure is cancelled out by the other parties not having adequate time to prepare for their own battles.
And I see the TV debates – a largely pointless charade – have risen to prominence in the news again, with the current Prime Minister set to not attend them; and why should she? May has everything to lose and precious little to gain with a 90 minute stint on ITV – even if she is up against Corbyn!
Predictions, then, for the four major parties in this unexpected and (in the public’s eye) unwelcome general election:
Conservatives – 411 seats, 46% vote share
Labour – 152 seats, 23% vote share
Liberal Democrats – 15 seats, 13% vote share
UKIP – 3 seats, 8% vote share