This time 2 months ago, the ‘will she, won’t she’ questions over whether or not Theresa May would call a snap general election seemed to be finally answered. Most journalists were in agreement that if the Prime Minister was really intending to cash in on the huge Tory lead in the polls, she would have done so before the triggering of Article 50. Well, it turns out that everyone was wrong!
With Britain going to the polls from 7am tomorrow morning, I’ve put together some of my final thoughts on the 6-week campaign and what to expect when the polls close in around 24 hours time.
When May stood on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street on the 18th April, she said she’d come to a ‘reluctant conclusion’ that an early election was needed. The Conservatives had a working majority of just 10 seats, and a larger one was needed to ensure that the party could get through the legislation that it wanted during the 2 year Brexit process.
6 weeks ago, there was surely no doubt in her mind that she would be able to deliver a landslide election victory for the Tories. Now, though, the Prime Minister may not be so certain. While Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party have fought a very good campaign which saw their support increase, May’s campaign has been extremely bad. Perhaps there was too much complacency, but either way the Conservatives have seen their lead in the polls fall from over 20 points to under 10.
Corbyn attempted to get the public on side by unveiling a very radical manifesto which included policies such as scrapping tuition fees, hiring another 10,000 police officers and free school meals for all children in primary schools. Although this made him vulnerable to criticism that Labour thought there was a ‘magic money tree’, the manifesto proved popular, and this was likely a significant reason for Corbyn’s surge in the polls.
Meanwhile, May’s manifesto launch was a bit of a shambles. Her policies weren’t as popular and she came under fire for her so-called ‘Dementia tax’. However, this was made much worse when the Tory leader backtracked over whether or not she would introduce a cap on how much people would have to pay in these social care plans. Originally, May said that there wouldn’t be a cap, however, just 4 days later the Prime Minister changed her mind following widespread criticism. This was just the start of where it all began to go wrong for the Conservatives.
Despite focusing much of her campaign on Brexit and attempting to pitch herself as a more ‘strong and stable’ candidate than her Labour counterpart, the leader refused to turn up to any TV debates whereas Corbyn did. Then there were tragic attacks in both Manchester and London, and inevitably May was criticised for cuts to police budgets throughout her tenure as Home Secretary.
Predictions for tomorrow
Despite all this, it would still be extremely surprising if the Tories did not increase their majority. Although their lead is now a reasonably narrow one, all the polls continue to show the Tories ahead of Labour in the polls. In addition, bar one pollster, every model which gives estimates for how many seats each party will win shows the Tories increasing their majority.
Having looked at the polls myself and checked out the trends for the last few elections, I estimated on my Twitter page yesterday that the Tories would gain around 20-30 seats (a couple of which in Scotland) to have a working majority of 40-50 and that Labour would lose roughly the same number. I can’t see the Greens gaining any more MPs, UKIP winning any seats, or the Lib Dems gaining more the 5 or 6. In Scotland, I think the SNP will lose control of about 5 or 6 constituencies.
In terms of turnout, although the Corbyn effect should boost the amount of younger people who vote, I think that a combination of voter fatigue, dissatisfaction at both candidates, and bad weather will lead to a turnout of around 63-4%, marginally down on 2015’s figure.
In terms of where and why the parties will gain and lose seats, I expect the Tories to gain a handful in the north of England due to voters’ dislike of Corbyn and UKIP voters lending their support to May, and a few in Scotland due to Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s popularity and the SNP being exploited over a second independence referendum. The Lib Dems should gain a few seats in the south-east of England where they were squeezed by the Conservatives two years ago.
A few things to note: First, although the result should be clear by early Friday morning, the best indication that we’ll get before then of whether or not May will be remaining at Number 10 will be the Exit Poll which is released at 10pm and announced on BBC1, ITV, Channel 4 or any outlet covering the election. Second, there are a variety of possible scenarios if the election returns a hung Parliament with no party winning an overall majority…
If the Tories are only a couple of seats away from the magic number of 325 (which would guarantee a majority in the Commons) they could go into a coalition, with one or both of the 2 Unionist Northern Irish parties the DUP or the UUP. However, if they are 20 or more seats away, Labour would likely unite with the SNP, which could propel Corbyn to Downing Street. Both of these scenarios are unlikely, and considering the fact that Theresa May called an early election of her own free will she would realistically have to resign as Conservative leader if the party does not increase its total number of seats.
And so, this leads me on to…
Maybe this is a little premature, but it’s always interesting to speculate about what will happen after the election.
As I said before, May has to increase the number of seats her party wins if she wants to stay on as Prime Minister and Tory leader. However, Jeremy Corbyn is, arguably, under less pressure. Considering the fact that he has gained over 15 points in the polls, losing just a handful of seats could be considered a good result for his party. It won’t be enough for many and unless Corbyn increases the number of seats that his party wins he will also face calls (again) to resign.
Whether or not he will do so is a different matter, and depends on the situation.
If Corbyn gains seats but falls short of an overall majority and doesn’t end up Prime Minister, I can see the Labour leader wanting to stay on in this role. However, he will likely face another vote of no confidence in his leadership, and have to go to the party members to attempt to stay on.
However, if the party loses seats, even if only a few, I think that he will have to go. The left-wing Corbyn experiment will have failed for Labour. Possible contenders to succeed him will likely include more Blairite or less left-wing members such as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis.
As for May, I can see her having a cabinet reshuffle if she wins. Philip Hammond is seen by many within the party as dull (but also competent) and could be moved from his post as Chancellor if the Prime Minister is still angry over the National Insurance U-turn that she had to make, and if so, Home Secretary Amber Rudd could be in line for a promotion. However, due to his competency he could be asked to stay to oversee Brexit and the possible fallout that it will cause.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt could be another Conservative at risk of sacking from the Cabinet due to his unpopularity, as could Justice Secretary Liz Truss for her treatment of the judiciary and the ongoing prison crisis.
Phew… that was a long one. If there’s anything you should take from this post, it’s that the Tories are the favourites to win the election and that it will be a big upset if they don’t. The main questions are by how much will they win, and what will happen afterwards? Those questions aren’t so easy to answer…
You can follow me on Twitter @GuideToPolitics for the biggest stories as the results come in and my thoughts on the outcome throughout election night and beyond.