Tories lead the polls but Labour setting the agenda
As the second week of campaigning draws to a close, Lexington's Mike Craven takes a look back at the campaign trail
Labour brought a quiet second week of the election campaign to life by announcing plans to nationalise BT Openreach and deliver free, ultra-fast broadband to the entire population, paid for in part by a tax on multinational tech giants. It came as a surprise because Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had previously ruled out nationalising BT ("there are no tricks up my sleeve") and there had been no hint of the policy in recent discussions of Labour’s approach to public ownership, including at the September Conference.
The significance of the announcement is not so much the policy itself – the chances of a majority Labour government are close to zero and even a Corbyn-led minority administration would likely have other priorities – as what it reveals about Labour’s strategy for fighting this election. It seems highly likely that this will not be the last radical, populist policy pledge that the party makes in the coming weeks.
The Conservatives have had a marginally better week than last but it has still been poor. The Prime Minister has been wrong-footed over the floods, undermining his campaign to project the Conservatives as friends of the Brexit north. Corbyn’s comment that, had the floods been in Surrey a national emergency would have been declared, hit home with the northern media and perhaps with many northern voters.
Elsewhere the news that the Government had missed all of its hospital admission targets by significant margins also weakened the Tory extra NHS spending message. Indeed, Tory announcements have felt lacklustre, failing to generate momentum. More generally there is a sense that the campaign has yet to cut through to the public.
The polls have barely moved. The Tory lead over Labour is quite stable and the party’s current 38-40% range looks settled and unlikely to rise. Labour has ticked up slightly from its low 20s number a few weeks ago, but the party faces a huge challenge to generate the spectacular surge it managed to achieve in 2017. It has been beset by local controversies over candidate selection and anti-Semitism, which may continue to develop, and exhibits weakness in some former strongholds. YouGov had particularly worrying news for Labour with a regional breakdown showing the party vote share collapsing from 55% in 2017 to just 32% in the traditional heartland of the north east. In the north west, which contains a number of marginal seats, the fall was even more dramatic – down by 25% to just 30% share of the vote.
Liberal Democrat progress has been limited. Their best chance of winning seats is likely to be in heavily Remain-voting London where their votes share has gone from 9% in 2017 to 19% in the YouGov poll. But they will be looking to do significantly better than the national swing in particular constituencies such as Richmond, where Zach Goldsmith looks unlikely to survive, and in the Two Cities where Chuka Ummuna will be looking to win the seat from the Conservatives. The real challenge is whether they can take make gains in the south west.
Next week sees the first TV debate with ITV’s Julie Etchingham umpiring the head to head between Johnson and Corbyn. The evidence of the last election is that the Labour Leader is a confident performer. Johnson is largely untested in this format, though he appeared uncomfortable in TV debates during the Tory leadership race, and some senior Conservatives worry his blustering style may be a weakness against Corbyn’s lower key approach.