This week, the General Election campaign has been marked by the shocking events at London Bridge, and the NATO Summit, which did not yield a campaign-shaping intervention from Donald Trump, as some feared it would. With five days until the country goes to the polls, how do we assess where the parties currently stand, and what this might mean for the first 100 days of the new Parliament?
The Conservatives have learnt from 2017 and have run a risk-averse campaign. Following a challenging start, with controversies surrounding Alun Cairns and Jacob Rees-Mogg, their campaign has remained relatively mistake-free. With Isaac Levido in charge of the campaign he has instilled a clear message discipline which has echoes of Lynton Crosby’s approach. This message, the idea of getting Brexit done, is clearly resonating.
A sizeable Conservative majority would see the Withdrawal Agreement pass. However, trade experts (and precedent) suggest finalising a trade deal by the end of 2020 is unlikely. Conversely, a larger majority would probably give Boris Johnson more political cover to avoid a cliff-edge exit in December 2020, although it would need a different name than extending the transition period. Something businesses should be prepared for is a Conservative majority built on new MPs from the North and Midlands – their priorities, which differ from those of traditional Conservatives, may lead to a more economically interventionist Government. An inconclusive result, is probably the worst outcome for corporates; the Withdrawal Agreement may get through but this unstable government would mean another election, or even a second referendum, in 2020 would be likely. Most importantly, the threat of no deal in December would increase substantially.
In contrast, Labour’s campaign has attempted to emulate their 2017 approach. After beating expectations two years ago, they were confident their policy platform would still have broad support and encouraged them to be bolder this time round. But they may have overstretched and the polls have remained stubborn. Questions have continued to persist over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and Labour have responded by increasingly throwing the kitchen sink at the campaign, such as the previously uncosted announcement compensating WASPI women. They seem to have succeeded in squeezing the Liberal Democrats but many in the party will be preparing to head back to the opposition benches or losing their seats.
A Labour-led Government would usher in a period of substantial change and would set the Brexit process back to square one, and corporates would quickly have to get used to the new normal of a Government broadly hostile toward business. The question then comes down to who Labour would have to rely on for support. While the Lib Dems could act as a moderating force, they would force a leadership change and attempt to cancel Brexit. The SNP are naturally more aligned to Labour’s radical programme, the only setback would be that the SNP would demand a second independence referendum, pointing to the chaos in Westminster politics.
Like 2017, as the campaign has gone on, the two main parties have both successfully consolidated support taken from the smaller parties. The Lib Dems will likely be asking serious questions about whether their robust stance on revoking Article 50 was a misjudgement. More broadly, they may come to regret their support for the election as a whole if there is no extension of the transition period. The SNP, whose support alongside the Lib Dems was crucial to the momentum that built behind holding an election, would look to capitalise on this upheaval to build their case for independence.
That said, the result is not a foregone conclusion. The Conservatives have always known they will have to actively gain seats from Labour in order to secure a majority. But the UK’s peculiar electoral system means that a healthy national lead does not guarantee gains – particularly in the North and Midlands. There has been a lot of talk around Labour’s red wall crumbling, although this held up better than expected in 2017 and may do so again. We will know the outcome of the election soon enough. But it is yet to be seen whether this will provide the much desired clarity over the direction of the country in 2020.