Election notebook #4: A first prediction; Blair’s contortions; challenging Bercow; precedent Macron; & LibDems hit 100k

by Stephen Tall on April 24, 2017

Just how bad can it get for Labour? We’ve seen polls in the past few days suggesting Labour could lose its last remaining seat in Scotland and be pushed into second place even in Wales. Combine that with the Tory absorption of the Ukip vote across England and there’s a gathering, perfect storm.

Just as opinion polls are perfect filler for newspapers, so are speculative predictions the handy stand-by of the political blogger.

I fed what I considered a plausible end-of-campaign set of figures into the ElectoralCalculus website. It produces a Conservative majority of 154, Labour losing 69 MPs, and the Lib Dems gaining only 5 MPs: Con 402, Lab 163, SNP 49, LibDem 13, Others 23. What a prospect.

Tony Blair has long been, and still remains, this country’s greatest political communicator so it’s fascinating to see the rhetorical contortions he’s performed recently to avoid saying, officially, that he supports anti-Tory tactical voting. Urging the public to back candidates who are prepared to keep an open mind on Theresa May’s Brexit deal (or no deal), he was asked if this might mean backing the Lib Dems: “What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment.”

Corbynites have been expelled from Labour for lesser statements than that. Realising his words may have been correctly interpreted, Mr Blair has now sought to obscure his meaning in an article for The Guardian: ‘… for the avoidance of doubt, I have not urged tactical voting. It is up to each voter to make up their mind on how they will vote. I only want people to make an informed choice. Of course, I hope people will vote Labour, as I will.’

Bet he wouldn’t if he lived in Vauxhall, though.

But he puts his finger on the key election-winning argument the Tories are making: ‘Essentially, the Tories – who no doubt have done their own polling – have hit on a way of getting votes by presenting the election as about “strengthening the prime minister’s hand in the Brexit negotiation”, ie, they have turned a partisan Tory vote into an act of national interest.’ He’s surely right, which is why (as I pointed out last week) the Tories’ claims of a ‘coalition of chaos’ are cleverer than they’ve been treated by some commentators.

His counter-strategy is intellectually sound — ‘my strong advice would be to make a virtue of saying: let’s make up our minds when we see what deal Theresa May gets’ — though I’m more doubtful than Mr Blair that “let’s keep an open mind” is the slogan to blow away the Tories’ “give us the tools to finish the Brexit job”.

John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, will face a challenge from the Lib Dems in his Buckingham constituency. This goes against protocol, as the Speaker’s not meant to sully herself with party politics and so is usually given a free ride by the main parties. However, he has previously pledged to stand down in 2018, which, if he keeps to his word, would mean that for 80 per cent of the next parliament he will serve as in the Conservative ranks. So it seems only fair and proper his constituents gets a chance to have their say on whether they want that.

As someone who’s sympathetic to a new centre-left party forming out of the ashes of the Labour party, you might think I’d be pushing the easy hot-take that newcomer Emmanuel Macron’s first round victory in the French presidential election proves it can be done. But not quite:

And finally, kudos to my team, the Lib Dems, on hitting the 100,000 members mark, a doubling of the ranks since the 23 June referendum. Bad news isn’t only good for newspaper sales, it seems. And if the election result is anything like as gloomy as my prediction that suggests another growth spurt beginning on 9th June.