UK Election: Tory Landslide All But Certain On 8 June

A SURPRISE General Election in Britain is certain to gift victory to Theresa May’s Conservative Party, and will as reliably hand Labour its worst loss since 1935; whilst strengthening May’s hand in negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU has been given as an ostensible pretext, this election is about poleaxing an opposition led by an irrelevant radical socialist and extending the Tories’ hold on office. On both counts, it will succeed convincingly.

It’s an unexpected post from me this morning, as I try to juggle other commitments and obligations with the desire to maintain a regular flow of comment through this column, but if anything could shake a spare hour free to publish something, my favourite political hobby-horse — electoral politics in the United Kingdom — is just the thing to do it.

By now many readers will know that over the past 36 hours, an extraordinary political heist has been engineered by British PM Theresa May; after nine months in office marked by incessant refusals to call an election, and guarantees that the House of Commons would run its full term until 2020, Mrs May has — against a backdrop of 20-point leads over Labour across most reputable opinion polls, and in the face of pleas from her MPs to capitalise on the apparently sunny electoral weather the Tories currently enjoy — called an election for 8 June after a seven-week campaign.

I have held off posting for an extra day pending the result of a vote in the House of Commons, which was needed to set aside the Fixed Terms Act insisted upon by the Liberal Democrats as part of their price for installing the Tories (then led by David Cameron) in office after the inconclusive election of 2010; that ballot was carried overnight in the Commons by a 522-13 margin, removing the only hurdle Mrs May faced in calling a snap election.

Remarkably, the opposition Labour Party — facing annihilation under the pointless leadership of widely disliked radical socialist Jeremy Corbyn — voted for the motion, and frankly, there is something abjectly pathetic about the sight of lemmings lining up to leap gleefully over a cliff. More on Corbyn and Labour shortly.

But first things first: for fellow junkies of British politics, the Telegraph is publishing some excellent rolling coverage that can be accessed here; a small selection of other content can be accessed here and here — we recommend The Spectator as the best boutique source of coverage during the campaign — whilst an excellent consolidated psephological resource I’ve grown well acquainted with over the years, operated by YouGov’s Anthony Wells, is a handy reference point and can be found here, but of course there is plenty of other good material in the market (or keep an eye on my Twitter feed to see who I’m following and what I’m reading from the UK @theredandblue).

I’ve struggled a bit to think of the last time an incumbent government looked as unassailably certain to smash its opponent into a thousand little pieces as Mrs May’s does.

Margaret Thatcher’s landslide in 1983 comes to mind, as does the re-election of Ronald Reagan in 1984; closer to home, it’s hard to ascribe the same upfront inevitability to John Howard’s 2001 and 2004 triumphs, for the Coalition spent much of 2001 looking like losing, and started the 2004 campaign trailing in the polls. State governments led by Labor in Queensland in 2001 and  Victoria in 2002, and by the Liberal Party in Western Australia in 2013, are perhaps nearer the mark.

But the Conservative Party begins this election campaign, on average, nearly 20 percentage points ahead of Labour once the various individual polls are examined and aggregated; in Britain’s first past the post election system, this lead — rounded to 43 to 26 — suggests a thumping Tory victory if replicated on 8 June, and it should be observed that 43 to 26 amounts to a better position than that recorded by Mrs Thatcher in 1983, which resulted in a 144-seat majority and almost 400 seats (397 in fact) in the 650-seat Commons.

Where the polls are concerned, the Tory position ranges from 38% in yesterday’s Opinium survey (which almost identically replicates the actual result of the 2015 election) to 46% from ICM and ComRes. The Opinium poll yesterday is the only survey tabulated in the past ten weeks by any of Britain’s five major polling houses to find Conservative support below 40%, and it will be a sobering fact for anyone looking for a Labour victory to know that at every election since (and including) 1992, opinion polls have consistently overstated eventual support for Labour whilst understating the Tory vote.

So far in 2017, just five of the 36 published opinion polls on Westminster voting intention have found support for the Conservative Party below 40%, and none have found the Tory vote at levels at or below the 37% that delivered a slim majority two years ago. By contrast, just four of those 36 surveys recorded Labour travelling better than the 29% it recorded in 2015, and of those, three found the improvement to be a solitary percentage point.

In other words, Labour is set for the belting of its life: worse than 1983, and worse than anything it suffered in the 1950s; I’m looking at the Tory win of 1935 (which saw Labour emerge with 154 seats in a 615-seat House of Commons) as the benchmark for expectations, although  the 1931 election, which was even better for the Conservatives (470 seats), looks a bit silly in terms of a precedent this time. I do, however, think the Tories stand an excellent chance of recording a 400+ seat haul on 8 June.

The pretext offered by Mrs May to justify the election — that a stronger and renewed mandate would in turn strengthen Britain’s hand at upcoming negotiations over the UK’s pending exit from the European Union — is easy enough to accept, but only on the surface; the truth (as her opponents noted yesterday) is that even with their present slender majority, the Conservatives have faced no parliamentary refusal to trigger the “Brexit process,” and that EU bureaucrats are likely to be just as hostile toward the British position irrespective of whether Mrs May holds office with a majority of 15 or 150.

The real reasons for this election are more base, and not particularly difficult to divine.

Cameron must have been unable to believe his luck two years ago, when the defeated Labour Party chose as its leader a radical socialist of the far Left whose 32-year parliamentary career had thitherto been entirely spent on the backbench; the Tories must have been even more disbelieving when the new opposition leader chose, as his shadow Chancellor (the equivalent of a shadow Treasurer in Australia) another arch-Leftist with decades of experience in the political wilderness, John McDonnell. Both men are, among other things, apologists for the IRA, with little discernible connection or relevance to mainstream British society or to the majority of the people living in it.

One abortive attempt to get rid of Corbyn last year by rebellious Labour MPs had the unintended consequence of strengthening his position; another attempt has been rumoured ever since. The temptation to lock Corbyn in place with an election date has clearly proven irresistible to Mrs May and her strategists, who — unlike their Coalition counterparts in Australia last year, where Bill Shorten was concerned — will now “do” Corbyn properly in such a fashion as to kill him off as a political force altogether.

Even on this point, Labour is proving to be the gift that keeps giving; faced with a slaughter, Corbyn has made it known he plans to remain leader after the looming massacre on 8 June. That event can only be exacerbated by what is already becoming a stream of Labour MPs, flatly opposed to Corbyn’s leadership and disgusted by the direction in which he has taken their party, who are refusing to stand again in their seats — and offering free, vicious and very public character assessments of their leader on the way out the door.

May, like Cameron before her, has been the beneficiary of an economy that has proven surprisingly robust; for much of the past five years the British economy has been the fastest growing in Europe, and at one point was the fastest growing of all OECD nations (including Australia). Predictions of a sharp downturn in the aftermath of last year’s successful referendum to leave the EU have consistently failed to eventuate, although with a growing number of economists forecasting a downturn in the next 18 months (which, to be fair, would affect the rest of Europe as well), going to the polls now rather than in three years’ time makes sense: especially when there are other factors, such as the EU negotiations, which can be used to provide the veneer of legitimacy for doing so.

With the Scottish Nationalist Party’s stranglehold on Scottish seats showing little sign of being broken (apart from an outside chance of Tories picking up an extra couple of seats north of the border), Labour’s scope to make gains at all is severely limited; in a region that traditionally provided a bedrock for British Labour, it currently polls just 10% in Scotland: a situation once unthinkable.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives’ grip on the country appears so unshakeable that I’ve seen credible modelling to suggest the Tories may be on track to win a string of seats in coal mining areas in northern Wales — an outcome, if it eventuates, that was once as unthinkable as Labour being wiped out of Scotland — and if they can take seats from Labour in the Midlands and major centres outside London (Birmingham, Manchester, even Sheffield), the Tories’ victory on 8 June will be a massive one indeed.

The one potential cloud on the horizon in terms of the scale of their win — some unforeseen, colossally destructive (albeit unlikely) campaign gaffe notwithstanding — lies in the dozens of seats the Conservatives won from the Liberal Democrats in 2015; many of these sit on razor-thin margins, and a lot of them were harvested from regions (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset) that long remained good for the Lib-Dems (and the Liberals before them) when the rest of the country abandoned them. Should the Lib-Dems win a solid number of these seats back, it will obviously dull the magnitude of the Tory triumph: not enough to stop it, but perhaps just enough to deny Mrs May the invincibility enjoyed by Mrs Thatcher after 1983.

With seven weeks to go, I will aim to include comment on the British election as we go: as well as keeping an eye on what’s happening here in Australia, and on that score, I should be back within the next day or so.

But if ever there was a case of the planets aligning perfectly for a jaunty field trip to face the voters, Britain’s Conservative Party enjoys exactly that: and whilst it’s never over until the votes are counted, a huge win for Mrs May and the Tories — mirrored by defeat and humiliation for Labour — are in no way in any doubt.

If anyone wants to take a shot at me for making such an unqualified and unilateral prediction, just hold off until 9 June. I’m sure, on that day, you might have second thoughts about doing so.

 

At 53-47 To Labor, Newspoll Very Near The Mark

ANOTHER abysmal Newspoll — with the ALP ahead of the Coalition, this time by an increased 53% to 47% margin — is probably an accurate reflection of the public mood, and carries messages for both sides of Australian politics: people have turned off PM Malcolm Turnbull altogether, whilst Labor remains lumbered with an unelectable and boorish oaf at its helm. Meanwhile, minor parties continue to prosper, which favours the ALP, if only by default.

10 down, 20 to go…

Apologies to readers for the rather abrupt (and unintended) hiatus over the past fortnight; the “something” that I alluded to that popped up last time we discussed a Newspoll has in fact consumed a goodly portion of my time since that point, but with a solution now in hand with which to deal with it, here we are again (although there is something else that will interrupt me during the coming couple of weeks, albeit not quite so thoroughly as this has done).

In any case — as I forecast — the headline comment today, in light of the latest Newspoll published in The Australian, is that Malcolm Turnbull is now fully one-third the way toward replicating the benchmark he used to justify knifing predecessor Tony Abbott through the shoulder blades. Not for the first time, it warrants the observation that only a foolish politician indeed makes public pronouncements on the longevity of political leadership through the prism of opinion polls, and Turnbull only has himself to blame if the sound of sharpening scabbards can be heard emanating from some quarters within his party.

And as I suspected, this poll has shown the last one was, indeed, a rogue result; today’s 53-47 finding in Labor’s favour doesn’t fully restore the ALP’s 55-45 lead from a month ago, but it does move the political conversation back in that direction: and it does broadly cross-validate a finding recorded in the ALP’s favour during the week by Essential Research, which itself saw Labor give up a point to arrive at a 54-46 assessment.

To say the average of these two polls — a 53.5-46.5 lead to Labor, or a swing of 3.9% since the election last July — is pretty much on the money illustrates just how far from favour the Coalition has fallen in less than four years; these findings amount to a 7% swing to Labor after preferences since the thumping win posted by Tony Abbott in September 2013, and would net the ALP an extra 19 seats (for a total of 88) and government in a canter based on the July results if replicated at another election.

What should deeply disturb Coalition “strategists” is the fact that using the Turnbull camp’s yardstick of progress as a benchmark, the past fortnight has been an unmitigated triumph for the Prime Minister, with a reasonable slice of his corporate tax cuts being legislated, along with piecemeal changes to the way the Human Rights Commission is to process complaints made under S18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, and in the afterglow of his warmly received plan to expand the Snowy Mountains Scheme as a downpayment on tackling energy affordability.

A more objective assessment of the period would also note that despite scoring sporadic hits on opposition “leader” Bill Shorten, the government has been seen to lose the debate (for want of a better word) on changes to penalty rates; has proven singularly incapable of enacting structural (and sorely needed) changes to S18c; has had its company tax plan gutted, despite the partial success it booked; and is showing every sign of once again approaching a critical federal budget in five weeks’ time with no tilling of the public soils being undertaken in preparation, and no over-arching theme or narrative to bind its economic message together.

In other words, this Newspoll — like the nine before it — is something the Prime Minister’s Office can scarcely argue comes as much of a shock.

As is so often the case with these polls, today’s Newspoll charts incremental movements: on the question of a primary vote the Coalition is down a point, and the ALP up a point, to sit level-pegging at 36%.

On the question of who the “preferred PM” might be, Turnbull is down two points to 41%, and Shorten up three to 32%: thus maintaining for now the clear but not decisive lead that seems the only “bright” spot in survey findings for Malcolm — such as it is.

And where voter satisfaction with personal performance is concerned, Turnbull’s 30% figure is unchanged this time, but 59% (+2%) disapprove; by contrast — and reflecting the rather damning indictment upon Turnbull that Bill Shorten should be more popular than any other figure in Australian politics — 32% (+3%) approve of the way he is doing his job, whilst 54% (-3%) do not.

There are those (usually associated with the incumbent party and/or leader, whoever it happens to be at any given time) who argue that such modest movements are within the margin of sampling error, and that they are statistically insignificant.

Yet as we have said many times now, the trend against Turnbull — ever since Federal Police raided the home of former minister Mal Brough, after he was unwisely and rashly restored to Cabinet for supporting Malcolm in the leadership ballot against Abbott — has been so large in overall scope, and almost uninterrupted in its duration over the past 16 months, that statistical insignificance went out the window well over a year ago.

The messages from this poll — like most others doing the rounds — are fairly simple, and very clear.

One, it doesn’t really matter what Malcolm Turnbull does: rightly or wrongly, “fairly” or otherwise, the vast majority of Australians don’t like him, are fed up with him, and have stopped listening to what he says and does altogether: it’s a dangerous piece of political real estate to occupy, and the fact a few genuinely praiseworthy achievements haven’t mattered one jot in public opinion sampling is a potent signpost to the fact Turnbull is (as we have said in this column repeatedly) finished.

Two, whilst these results might appear encouraging for Labor, the hard reality is that people hate its “leader” almost as heartily as they’re sick to the stomach with Turnbull: and a change in the ALP leadership (and especially to a Plibersek/Bowen team as leader and deputy) might just be all it takes to lock Labor’s two-party lead in for at least long enough to turn a likely election victory into a certainty.

Three (and this is an old story), until the Coalition finally recruits some smarts in the areas of political strategy and tactics, mass communication and parliamentary management — and backs them with a slate of sober, mainstream conservative policies, not the lefty social whims of its leader and/or panicked pandering to the ruthlessly advancing monster that is the Left — it won’t even matter if the Liberal Party tosses Malcolm overboard. It won’t matter who the replacement is. It won’t matter how long there is until an election, and it won’t matter how “brilliant” the latest mediocre exercise in pea and thimble tricks federal budget is purported to be. Right now, opposition beckons the Coalition almost irresistibly. Like an adolescent determined to be entrusted with a dirty secret at all costs, the Coalition gives every appearance of being willingly drawn further and further toward the cliff.

And just to put the tin hat on it all, the share of the vote identified by Newspoll as belonging to minor parties and “Others” continues to hover near 30%, and whilst some Turnbull figures (who shall remain nameless) like to suggest privately that these are “parked” Coalition votes that will “come home” at election time, most of them didn’t last July — and even more of them won’t next time either, at an election that is now at most less than two years away from being called.

I’d never vote for a party led by a pinko like Tanya Plibersek, and I think Chris Bowen is a charlatan and an intellectual fraud who’d have very little to say if someone didn’t script his lines for him and wind up his power pack every morning so he could deliver them.

But out in Voterland, where people don’t think twice about politics and where visual impressions increasingly count for more nowadays than anything requiring serious thought anyway, this ticket, properly handled, could yield the ALP great electoral dividends, and anyone who thinks Labor lacks the capacity to capitalise on such a vapid but electorally potent ticket should reflect upon how close Bill Shorten went toward becoming Prime Minister nine months ago…and he’s a lying, fork-tongued soothsayer whose past handiwork as a union hack and ministerial saboteur mark him out as someone to be avoided at literally any cost.

I know I sound like a broken record when I say, not for the first time, that this poll screams at the Liberals to knuckle under and get their shit together: if Labor moves on Shorten first, it’ll all be over. It’ll be too late. Perhaps it already is.

And in two weeks’ time, provided Newspoll isn’t delayed, it’ll be a case of “11 down, 19 to go.” Bet tens on it. Malcolm will never win another election. He almost lost the last one. The time to fix things is now. The need is becoming more urgent with every day that passes.

The alternative is Tanya Plibersek as Prime Minister, and for all his faults, that’ll make Malcolm and his social ideas look, improbably enough, positively saintly. But by then of course, it really will be too late for the Liberals to do anything more than count the cost of doing nothing now.