In many ways the big moment of the week passed by without much fanfare. As of 4pm on Thursday 14 November, every candidate standing has now been confirmed.
We learned two main things as a result:
First, the Brexit Party has given way to the Conservatives. Nigel Farage’s party will only stand 300 candidates, pulling out of currently held Conservative seats. While that might help incumbent Conservative MPs, it could also restrict the Tories ability to gain new seats from Labour. For his part, Farage also reportedly declined an eleventh-hour offer from the Conservatives, which proposed the latter would stand “paper candidates” in Labour seats, in exchange for the Brexit Party only targeting 40 seats.
This matters. If the Conservatives are to win a majority (the sole reason they called an election) then the Tories desperately need to break what’s being dubbed the “Red Wall” – 50 Labour seats spanning from the Vale of Clwyd to Great Grimsby that pollsters reckon could go Tory.
Second, many former Tories that were kicked out for voting against a no-deal Brexit are not taking their expulsion lying down. David Gauke (cue howls of “uncork the Gauke”) announced he would stand again, this week, warning about the prospects of his old party winning the election. He’s not alone, with other like Dominic Grieve and Anne Milton running against their former colleagues too.
In short, this week has shown a doubling down on the unpredictability of this election:
- We cannot rely on uniform swing calculations as traditional voter loyalties are being stretched by Brexit.
- A combination of blue on blue and red on red infighting, alongside differences between political parties and their voters over Brexit, means they cannot take even safe seats for granted.
- Smaller parties campaigning on, effectively, the single issue of Brexit could take seats from the larger parties, or at least take enough votes to change the outcome.
Yet against this backdrop, parties want to secure a majority. This is no small task; even for the Conservatives, given they have managed to command a majority in the House of Commons for only two out of the last twenty-two years, and that was a very small majority.
Odd then that the polling is showing some peculiar trends – for the last two weeks show the big two parties gaining at the expense of the smaller ones.
Perhaps there is an obvious reason for this. General elections are about more than just the single issue of Brexit. They are about fundamental questions: like how the economy should work or how do we fund education and healthcare? Labour’s striking announcements, like today’s on nationalising broadband, serve an important purpose in this regard. The more we’re talking about issues other than Brexit, the more we’ll focus on the traditional two parties.
Expect to hear more about these issues in the coming weeks.