A Hung Parliament was predicted by pollsters in 1992; the Tories won with the largest share of the vote in British electoral history. A Hung Parliament was predicted in 2015; the Tories won their first outright victory since 1992; some are predicting a Hung Parliament in 2017 and…well, you can guess where I’m going. The publication of a poll yesterday that narrowed the Conservative lead over Labour to just a solitary point is undoubtedly one we have to take with the proverbial pinch of salt. Yet the fact a poll can even be published which shows the two major parties neck-and-neck is a remarkable state of affairs considering where we were when Theresa May called this snap General Election less than two months ago.
One unexpected development this campaign appears to have brought to the fragmented political table has been the resurgence of the two-party system. The selling of it as a Presidential Election – something Mrs May figured was her trump card – has probably played its part. To be fair, however, Jezza has also pursued this path, hogging the headlines and relegating his Shadow Cabinet to the periphery of the debate. The sudden withdrawal of Diane Abbott from the campaign due to ‘illness’ seems belated recognition by Labour of what a liability the Shadow Home Secretary is; at least the Tories have ensured their own liability, Boris Johnson, has been largely invisible, certainly compared to the high profile he enjoyed during the EU Referendum last year.
The chalk-and-cheese contest between May and Corbyn, a factor that seems to have intensified due to the refusal of the PM to share a stage with the Labour leader on TV, is something we haven’t seen in quite some time where British politics are concerned. Somebody quipped during the 1983 General Election that Margaret Thatcher’s greatest electoral asset was Michael Foot, and May (along with her Fleet Street allies) has attempted to apply this theory to her own opposition; but such a tactic draws comparisons that haven’t reflected well on her. The more she’s been put under the spotlight, the less flattering it has proven to be for the Prime Minister.
The old complaint that it was virtually impossible to tell the leaders, let alone their parties, apart has been blown out of the water this time round; and the surprise rise of Corbyn has grabbed a majority of headlines because the media was determined to portray him as a no-hoper from the off. The fact that this has been the first General Election for a post-Blairite Labour Party, essentially being sold to the electorate as a new party altogether, has perhaps injected a fresh zest into proceedings. It may still end in tears for Corbyn and his party, though bar a couple of awkward moments on the radio, Jezza has mostly fought a blinder of a campaign. Even the suspicious leaking of the Labour manifesto, something those within his own party figured would kill his campaign, utterly backfired; the Labour manifesto received a relatively positive reception, certainly when compared to the disastrous Tory one.
Perhaps surplus to the requirements of the Prime Minister’s Presidential approach, few members of the PM’s Cabinet (bar Amber Rudd) have been especially prominent in this campaign. They’d only have disrupted May’s Brexit express, even if that train has come close to being derailed on more than one occasion over the last few weeks. The last time a serving government experienced such a cock-up of a campaign as the Tories have in 2017 was probably Gordon Brown’s Labour in 2010. There hasn’t been an ‘ignorant woman’ moment for Theresa May, though probably only because she’s done her best to avoid members of the public at all costs; however, the humiliating U-turn on social care just days after the manifesto appeared was an unprecedented blunder that might still impact on the party’s fortunes.
If we take Scotland out of the equation, the focus on the head-to-head between Labour and Tory has been aided in part by the deterioration of support for the smaller parties. Both UKIP and the Lib Dems haven’t impacted in the way they have before, whereas Plaid Cymru and the Greens haven’t increased in notable support since 2015. All the half-arsed TV debates have relegated the rest to simply making up the numbers, and I suspect the leaders of those parties know it, despite their brave faces. In the immediate Brexit aftermath, the old party political certainties seemed to have been shattered forever; it’s remarkable how rapidly they’ve reasserted themselves at the expense of those who’ve punched above their weight in recent years.
The last 24 hours of campaigning have consisted of the images that have dominated news coverage ever since Theresa May called the Election – the PM addressing a small hall of placard-waving Tory activists, Corbyn addressing a large outdoor rally of old lefties and blue-haired student girls, and the front covers of the Mail, Express and Sun recycling the same shock-horror stories of Jezza’s ‘IRA connections’; if what the leaders of the two major parties were doing thirty years ago had any bearing on 2017, perhaps Theresa May should still be warning against ‘the dangers’ of lesbianism, as she was when trying to make her name as a Parliamentary hopeful.
Following one final push tonight, television (which is, for most of us, the source material for any political event) will enter into an Election armistice tomorrow; only when the clock strikes 10.00 and the BBC, ITV and Sky exit poll results are unveiled will the final act of the trilogy that began with the General Election of 2015 reach the end of its natural life. Where we will be five years from now, let alone Friday morning, is now in the lap of the electorate. Go forth and tick that box!
Oh, and be careful out there too…