We knew this campaign would be about identity but as we get ever closer to the finish line that is becoming truer than many of us realised. It will present a challenge for the next government – whoever emerges victorious.
There are just two weeks to go in this Brexit election and, with the manifestos now out, the die is well and truly cast – but that doesn’t mean it’s over. This marked the first week of the election that was based on the parties’ campaign pledges, but these quickly fell to the wayside amidst accusations of racism, polling that scared everyone, and a ruckus over interviews.
On Sunday we finally saw the Conservatives launch their manifesto. To be clear, this was a manifesto to underpin a campaign that can be characterised by organised blandness. Where Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour launched a manifesto seeking to reshape British politics, Johnson seems content with a targeted shopping list of pre-announced policies. An historic document it is not, and the spending commitments amount to £1 for every £28 that Labour announced last week.
And yet, the undercurrent of this election is emotional. On paper, the Liberal Democrats offer the most progressive set of policies (theirs would see the most spending go to the poorest, and the least to the richest) yet their poll ratings have collapsed. The LibDems also offer the clearest anti-Brexit position, it has availed them naught. Labour offer a list of manifesto commitments that has been called the most radical in recent decades and lag 11 points behind. Why?
Well, it may be that “the economy, stupid” as James Carville so eloquently summarised, isn’t the be all and end all of this election. Nor is it racism, as the laziest analysis of the shock Brexit referendum result claimed. This election is about the identity of towns, of villages, of individuals, in a world that is increasingly global. It’s about those who feel left behind or feel that they cannot keep up with the way their personal worlds are changing. Just as people are starting to ask whether capitalism needs reform, political parties in Britain need to ask whether their offer reflects the real emotional concerns of voters.
The Conservatives understand this the best and are offering a clear form of conservatism that has managed to connect with voters despite, on the face of it, being worse for many of them economically. Where in 2017 Theresa May sought to reshape what Conservatism represented in the UK with the hope that a huge majority would allow her to drive reform, Boris Johnson is seeking to win first and then maybe reform later. Detail was never his strong suit.
Labour do recognise the issue, but their shift towards the ideas of the 1940’s, when nationalisation protected individuals from markets, and workers rights were driving the agenda, hasn’t quite connected with voters. These populist policies are aimed at the same audience that Johnson is targeting but aren’t yet achieving the same cut through. They are conservative in the sense that they harken back to same idea of individualism and that, in this election particularly, is clearly important.
More broadly, the Conservatives continue to dodge interviews to avoid mistakes and Labour are trying to force the agenda onto the issues they know they are strongest on. Avoiding scrutiny is not a trait many people want in their Prime Minister, but what we (and by “we” I mean people interested enough in the minutia of politics to click through to this blog) need to realise is that outside of Westminster no one is paying Johnson’s evasion any notice. Many won’t have heard about it. Elections are emotive, and while policy addicts hang on every precisely delivered line, the electorate at large do not.
There are two weeks left for the other parties to refocus their efforts on breaking through this emotional barrier but, with so little time left, it may prove a challenge they will need to consider in opposition.