- Oliver Barsby
The Shifting Focus of the GE19
I can’t remember a time in politics before Brexit. Since I became interested in politics, Brexit has dominated public discourse, halting all progress in other policy areas and fragmenting the two major political parties. It dominated the previous election cycle, with Theresa May promising to deliver her fabled ‘Red, White and Blue’ Brexit and is perceived to be the main talking point in 2019. However, as manifestos are launched and discussions underway, has the discourse actually shifted?
The Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party will be hoping it hasn’t. These two parties have framed themselves as the ‘Remain’ party and the ‘Leave’ party respectively and will be hoping to convince voters to turn this election into a single-issue vote. Without such a focus on Brexit, both parties would face a dismal campaign leading to a lack of representation in Parliament.
For Labour, it’s much more complicated. Whilst they have finally clarified their stance on Brexit, the differences between the positions of their MPs and core voters over the issue means it is much more uncertain as to what the best way to maximise votes is. What Labour appear to have done in the launch of their manifesto, is focus the election away from the divisive issue of Brexit and onto their policies for the NHS, climate change, and nationalisation; issues which will be backed by their loyal base, giving off an image of unity.
The word ‘Brexit’ was mentioned just 21 times in Labour’s manifesto, a small amount considering its dominance over political discourse and the lives of politics students since 2016, especially when compared to the use of the word ‘NHS’ (34 times) or ‘Green’ (37 times). The sole chapter describing their policy on Brexit is less substantial than all the other chapters, lasting only 4 pages. Clearly, Labour believes their Brexit policy is not the best way to win over voters, and they are instead relying on their other policies to prop up Corbyn’s reluctance to give a coherent plan for Brexit prior to the election.
With just over a week to go until the vote, Labour is still lagging behind the Conservatives in the polls. Corbyn will hope the launch of their ‘radical’ manifesto will reduce this deficit, as voters will be drawn to their policies on nationalisation and higher taxation. Will this work? I would suggest if Corbyn wants to get anywhere near No. 10 on the 12th December, this is his best strategy. As much as the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Brexit Party and a portion of media publications may suggest that these policies are farcical and borderline communist, they are quite popular amongst the general public.
The most ‘controversial’ of Labour’s newly announced policies is their plan to nationalise broadband in an attempt to ensure coverage to rural areas so businesses are no longer reluctant to relocate to these areas. This policy has proven to be popular amongst voters, with YouGov polls suggesting that 62% of voters are in favour of free broadband by 2030, compared to just 22% in opposition.
With the NHS overtaking Brexit as a key issue for voters in an Ipsos MORI opinion poll earlier this month, strong commitments to substantial investments in the health sector are needed in this election. If voters are to base their preferences on the performance of the NHS in recent years, Labour will look to consolidate the election around healthcare, as the Conservatives have come under severe criticism for their poor management of the NHS as well as from speculation that they plan to privatise parts of the NHS after secret meetings with American pharmaceutical companies.
However, even if Labour prove to have more popular policies than the Conservatives and manage to shift the agenda away from Brexit, there is a reason most political analysts are still not predicting a Labour resurgence - Jeremy Corbyn. Putting my own opinions aside, Corbyn’s personality and behaviour have not resonated with the general public, who still want to see a leader who looks and acts like a Prime Minister. His image and reputation now make this impossible, and if the party wants to win back the swing voters in key seats, they will think carefully about who their next leader appeals to.
Whilst I cannot see the Labour party winning the keys to 10 Downing Street in 2019, if Brexit is finally completed (or cancelled) before the next General Election, the Conservatives will have serious trouble defending their non-Brexit policies and past decisions to the public in comparison with a reinvigorated Labour Party under a new leadership. Perhaps then, without the ‘Get Brexit Done’ mantra to hide behind, the Conservatives will finally be held to account over inaction over Grenfell and cladding, poverty, affordable housing, and inequality- the most pressing issues our country faces today.