I have fought four General Elections as a Conservative candidate and have developed a healthy level of scepticism in overly obsessing about opinion polls. That said, the big picture trend is always instructive. If the key question is ‘who will win the most seats’ then the polls at the start of the election are usually right.
At the start of this 2019 campaign, the indication is that the Conservatives under Boris Johnson will end up the largest party on 13th December. The key question is whether it will be a working majority. This will have a significant implication on what comes next.
If Johnson does get a working majority then he will have a party of MPs less immediately troublesome than in the parliament just gone. Prime Ministers that win majorities are at the height of their powers and have more ability to dispense patronage. Some of the most difficult MPs have also left the parliamentary party. Some are running as independents. Some have joined the Lib Dems. Some – present company included – are pursuing new opportunities. Independent thought is also being carefully screened out of new candidates being selected. Even with a small majority a Boris Johnson parliamentary party is likely to be a more malleable one.
In this dynamic, we can expect the Withdrawal Agreement to go through – although in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives’ former erstwhile allies, the DUP.
The exact scale of the Conservative majority will determine how problematic future relationship negotiations are for the Prime Minister, and whether he has the capacity to extend the transition period or not.
However, if the Conservatives are returned as the largest party but with no overall majority then I think it is possible they will go into Opposition. The leaderships of the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are unlikely to co-operate with PM Johnson to pass his Withdrawal Agreement and will pull every parliamentary procedure going to block it. This is unlikely to end well for the Conservatives given the promises that will have been made in this election campaign. There is a strong political case for going to Opposition, watching the other parties attempt to form a government and legislate for a second referendum – and then campaigning for ‘getting Brexit done’ shorn of the limitations imposed by government.
I would expect the Lib Dems to agree confidence and supply for a Labour-led Government – provided that someone other than Jeremy Corbyn is Prime Minister. His willingness to do this will depend on how well Labour have done versus the Lib Dems. If the Conservative loss of a majority is down to a significant increase in Lib Dem seats in London and the South then Jo Swinson’s hands in these negotiations will be strengthened. Remember also that Corbyn is tired of being leader and wants to hand the baton to someone else – and many Labour MPs are looking for a reason to remove him currently.
Measurement and evaluation