Boris Johnson’s Path to a Majority

Hope drives all sorts of things – belief in God, belief that tomorrow will be better than today, belief that there is a technological or policy solution to humanity’s existential problems. It makes you see yourself at a far off future dinner party, telling your eager friends how you got that amazing job you always wanted. It makes you imagine yourself playing that videogame that’s coming out next year every time you drift off while you’re on the loo. It makes you put two things in your calendar back to back when deep down you know you can’t make it to both.

Hope also has a dark side. When it is disturbed it can pull your heart down. It can exhaust you. It can make you paralysed. Or it can be vengeful. It can get your blood boiling. It can have you gritting your teeth and sharpening your metaphorical claws.

At some point between reading that title up there and reaching the final full stop at the bottom of this article, you may feel hope’s dark side. Hope likes to make promises it can’t keep. The promise that Brexit will be stopped. The promise that the welfare state will be restored. The promise that you will get what you want without working towards it.

When it doesn’t get its way, hope drives you mad.

Boris Johnson could soon call an election. And win it. The strategy is simple – promise Brexit in whatever form and win votes from the Brexit Party, UKIP and some labour. On the economy and other issues he simply needs to promise three or four popular things that his MPs can then repeat over and over and the media machine will hopefully do their thing.

Being in favour of remain, or another referendum is not available for the party, because their membership are mostly in favour of Brexit at whatever cost. And even if it were a viable possibility, it is not the strategy that Johnson has chosen.

Why does he need to call an election? Because he lacks the parliamentary numbers to do anything meaningful, and he needs numbers to force himself through the constitutional roadblock that is Brexit.

Labour on the other hand, can try to use a remain position to win over remainer voters in the Liberal Democrat, SNP and Conservative Parties, but their leader is committed to not being committed to remain. They could endorse Brexit and follow through on the result of the referendum, but the MPs, institutions and membership are opposed to this. As a result they have a confused policy the public do not understand, and alienate voters on both sides of the Brexit divide.

But that was all true in 2015, and the Tories still lost. So what makes this election different to 2017?

There are three things that make this different. First, it is not the same choice as in 2017. We are close to the Brexit deadline, and voters now realise that Brexit is not a done thing. Tensions are higher, and voters are much more motivated by Brexit – this is the last chance both to make it happen and to stop it. This means it will be harder for Corbyn to make this election about the economy, where he had an advantage. It will also be easier for a party with a more coherent Brexit position – likely to be the Conservatives – to make progress.

Second, Johnson himself. Theresa May turned out to be a uniquely bad campaigner, lacking in any kind of positive, coherent vision for the UK. Hers was the worst Conservative Party campaign since the second world war, and possibly before then. Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be a good campaigner – his public appearances he often comes across as uninterested and unmotivated. He is loved by a large minority but not widely liked. But he crucially he is not a control freak. He has brought in Dominic Cummings who crafted a persuasive Brexit message based on what persuaded real voters in focus groups. And Johnson, like Trump, has the ability to jump on what is popular and follow the tide of public opinion. Johnson is not the trendsetter his supporters make him out to be, but he is clever enough to follow through on the opportunities fate makes for him. See, for example, his decision to join in with the leave campaign in the first place.

Third is the wild card of the Lib Dems. They will certainly not return to their pre-2015 levels of votes or seats. But they are an organisation for angry remainers and liberals to put their votes into. They are in a better position than they were in 2017, having a leader who is not at odds with their voters’ and members’ liberal values, and being more renowned now for their Brexit stance. They could win remainer-leaning seats from the Tories, or cause some crucial Labour-Tory marginals to go Tory by winning votes from Labour.

So a majority for Johnson is a distinct possibility. Not guaranteed. But enough to make me worried about my fragile feelings of hope.

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