By Campaign Agent Christopher Bowerin
With the General Election less than 26 days away and campaigning in full progress, the themes and patterns on which this election is being fought are becoming much clearer. Whilst many see this as a single-issue Brexit election, in reality, it is no such thing, as the future direction of the UK’s Economy, NHS, Education, Defence and Security are all ballot paper issues for the next 5 years. This election is, however, unlike any other election in recent history and will have wide-ranging implications for where the country is going as we enter a period of profound political challenge and uncertainty.
So far, from the early days of election campaigning and before formal manifestos have been published, it seems clear that the political parties are remaining largely true to their guiding philosophies to implement their political objectives. Let’s look at each of the party’s pitches, put simply….
1. Conservative Party
“Strong and stable leadership in the national interest”. Sound familiar? It should do. This theme is once again the central pillar of the Conservatives electoral strategy. A strategy almost identical to the one deployed for the 2015 election which secured the first Conservative majority since 1992.
With the party’s focus on strong leadership and economic credibility, the campaign is comparing the leadership styles of Theresa May with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Ministerial contenders. This approach clearly works to the Conservatives advantage, with opinion polls, indicating that they have a 19 -point lead over Labour and that May inspires far more confidence than Corbyn as a leader. Similar, to 2015, the party has focused on fear of a “coalition of chaos” between Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP. This, the Tories claim, would lead to more borrowing, higher taxes, fewer jobs, more waste and more debt. In contrast, the Tories paint themselves as the party of economic security, stability and opportunity.
Despite the recent triggering of Article 50, official Brexit talks will not begin until after the election. So, the Tories’ crucial message is that voting Conservative on June 8th means the Prime Minister’s hand will be strengthened in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. By calling an election the party argues that a new Tory government, with an increased majority, can oversee the entirety of the Brexit negotiations, strengthened by a mandate to govern until 2022. Furthermore, the Tories argue that they are the only party that has the capacity, desire and leadership to deliver upon the will of the people. Theresa May has claimed that the country needs a “bloody difficult woman” if it is to achieve the best possible deal with the EU and to make Brexit a success, whilst protecting and strengthening the Union.
While political commentators remain in little doubt that the Tories are heading for a sweeping election victory. Despite this, and regardless of delivering the best performance of a governing party in 40 years gaining over 500 councillors in the recent local elections, May continues to urge caution in this era of great political upsets, stressing that this is not a coronation. It is, however, unarguable that the party is the clear favourite, and if they play safe and continue to present themselves as the only political force capable of providing strong and stable leadership, then further electoral success may be just around the corner. With that, according to the Tories, comes an opportunity to build a “country that works for everyone”.
The central pitch of the Labour party at this election has been to fight for a stronger and fairer Britain delivering for the many and not just the few. Despite similar soundbites from the two main parties, in policy terms they couldn’t be more apart. In seeking to rebuild and transform Britain, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has introduced 10 pledges which reveal the key themes on which Labour will fight this election. Interestingly, so far, Brexit has not appeared as a top priority.
Among Labour’s 10 pledges is a desire to achieve full employment, by creating 1 million high tech jobs, and a £10 living wage to transform the economy from a low wage, low productivity structure into a high wage and high skill economy. With regards to the NHS, an area where the party commends strong public trust, Labour has promised to integrate the NHS and Social Care, and end privatisation to recreate a truly public health service. Other pledges include a secure homes guarantee, involving the creation of 1 million homes; rent controls and secure tenancies; security at work enhancing workers and trade union rights, and cutting inequality in income and wealth by building a progressive tax system where high earners pay their fair share and where the gender pay gap is reduced.
On Brexit, specifically, Labour has pledged to scrap the government’s Brexit paper, guarantee the rights of EU nationals, protect workers rights, negotiate a reformed Single Market membership, keep open the option of Customs Union membership and accept that free movement cannot continue in its current form. Furthermore, the party has pledged to fight a so-called reckless Tory Brexit by opposing any attempts to turn the UK into a low wage tax haven on the shores of Europe.
What these positions amount to is a deliberate attempt to focus on the NHS and the economy to ensure that this is not just a Brexit election. However, this is a risky strategy with Brexit being the main challenge facing the next government. This strategy also contributes to accusations that the primary legacy of the last parliament has been the failure of the Opposition to hold the Government to account. Accordingly, there is a growing consensus that Labour needs to produce a game-changer over these next four weeks. The alternative is to face electoral disaster beyond that of losing 350 councillors in the local elections, strengthening the prospect of another five or more years stuck in opposition.
Read our ‘Put Simply’ article on the leaked Labour manifesto.
3. Liberal Democrats
For the Lib Dems, this election offers the chance for it to become a major parliamentary party once again. Considering the Brexit decision and the weak state of Labour, the Lib Dems see this election as an opportunity to “Change the Direction of the Country”. Their argument so far focuses almost exclusively on Brexit by campaigning to prevent the UK pursing a so-called Hard Brexit Strategy.
In some ways, last year’s Brexit vote may have been a blessing in disguise for the party as they try to use it as an opportunity to appeal to the 48% of those who voted Remain, as they position themselves as the clear pro-European party. By performing strongly, the Lib Dems hope to alter the Government’s Brexit strategy, and maintain membership of the EU Single Market and Customs Union. They will also offer a further referendum on the eventual Brexit deal, offering a take it or leave it question to answer, thereby providing an option to remain in the EU. The party has confirmed it will campaign in this way so that Britain, in its words, can remain “Open, Tolerant and United”.
Whilst the party is unlikely to achieve its objectives, nevertheless it has a real chance to become a stronger progressive force once again pointing to evidence of a Lib Dem fightback with its share of the national vote increasing by 7% in the local elections. Whilst this will be a lengthy process, the party is no longer on the defensive, indeed it is very much on the offensive again. Free from the constraints of coalition, and able to position itself as the party of Remain, it could become a formidable opponent to the Conservatives.
By voting UKIP Party leader Paul Nuttall advocates that this will ensure a clean Brexit will take place. Nuttall argues that Brexit is still a “job half done”. As a result, the party has decided not to field candidates in seats held by strong Brexit MP’s. This, they believe, will strengthen the case for a clean Brexit and hold the Government’s feet to the fire. The party seeks to target Remain MP’s in Pro-Brexit seats, with Nuttall himself announcing his intention to stand in Boston and Skegness, the area of the UK which recorded the highest vote for Brexit. By voting UKIP, the party seeks to make sure its 6 Brexit tests are put at the heart of the UK’s Brexit agenda.
Aside from Brexit, the party will campaign for scrapping the first-past the post system, making cuts to the foreign aid budget, House of Lords reform, the introduction of an English Parliament, making sure that the NHS is not an international NHS and controversially introduce a burka ban, arguing that the wearing of the burke. represents a barrier to integration.
Despite this election being contested on UKIP’s Brexit turf, many Brexit advocates back the Prime Minister and with the resignation of Douglas Carswell, the announcement that Nigel Farage will not stand, and a horrendous performance in the local elections, it appears that momentum is no longer with UKIP. Its overall objective to leave the EU looks to be in the process of being achieved and this election may well answer the key question as to whether UKIP has a future post-Brexit.
5. Scottish National Party
The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been clear that by voting SNP the Scottish electorate will be voting to “Protect Scotland’s Interests”. However, with the SNP winning 56 out of a possible 59 Scottish seats in 2015, there’s not much the party can gain from this election, especially with some reports suggesting that they could lose ten seats to the Conservatives.
Due to the state of the Labour party in Scotland, the SNP seems all but resigned to the likelihood that Theresa May will win this election. Sturgeon, however, has kept open the possibility of forming a progressive alliance with Labour and other parties to kick the Tories out of office. Through such a coalition, the SNP hopes to end the austerity programme, prevent a hard Brexit and make sure Scotland’s voice is heard at Westminster.
Yet more importantly, through the eyes of the SNP, this election is a chance to end any questions surrounding about its mandate to hold a second independence referendum, with the First Minister, having already announced plans to request section 30 order from Westminster, with the support of the Scottish Parliament. If the SNP can repeat its 2015 election success again in 2017, then it may strengthen the prospects of a second referendum and an independent Scotland.
6. Green Party
For the Green Party, this election is a chance to close the gulf that they believe is opening between the position in society of young people and older generations. Accordingly, the Greens seek to bring about electoral reform, introduce votes for 16 & 17 year olds, oppose the economic austerity agenda and fight to strengthen environmental protection.
Additionally, by voting Green, the party states that it is also fighting against what it calls the extreme Brexit and far-right agenda of the Tories by offering a referendum on the final Brexit deal with an option to remain if the deal is rejected. However, with only one MP (Caroline Lucas), and without a progressive alliance materialising through this election, it remains highly unlikely that many of its objectives will be achieved.
7. Plaid Cymru
Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has stated that this election is about defending Wales and that every vote for her party will help deliver a “Strong Voice inside Westminster to defend Wales from the Tories”. The party indicates that it will continue to fight against austerity cuts, defend Welsh Public services from privatisation, campaign for more devolved powers and defend the Welsh Assembly from attempts to centralise powers and decision making in Westminster. Additionally, the party is seeking to capitalise on the weak state of Labour and gain target seats such as Rhondda by highlighting the ineffectiveness of Labour to stand up for Wales in Westminster.
With regards to Brexit, the party has pledged to fight for Wales to retain membership of the Single Market, stating that Wales may have to accept free movement as a part of a Norway style relationship. This is despite Wales voting for Brexit. Overall, whilst Plaid has a strong chance of increasing its representation, doing so will come with limited additional power as the prospects for a progressive alliance of centre-left parties remain weak.
- BBC Local Elections Results- http://election.news.sky.com/
- Parties’ Positions on Brexit- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39665835
Image rights: Descrier @ Flickr