General Election 2019: Boris Johnson’s poll lead smaller than Theresa May’s in 2017 – Ian Swanson

There’s everything to play for in December’s general election – and anything could happen, says Ian Swanson.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 6:00 am
Nigel Farage's Brexit Party could play a major role in the outcome of the election (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Nigel Farage's Brexit Party could play a major role in the outcome of the election (Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

NICOLA Sturgeon says this election is the most important of our lifetimes – but it has also been described as the least predictable for a generation.

Some polls show the Conservatives with a commanding lead, though it’s not as big as Theresa May’s in 2017 and the gap now seems to be narrowing. But the complexity of the election and the very different contests in ­different parts of the country may mean national polls are a less than reliable guide to what might happen.

Whereas the last general election saw 82 per cent of voters backing one of the two main UK parties – the highest proportion since 1970 – this time, in addition to an increase in SNP MPs, the Lib Dems are expected to do well and the Brexit Party, while perhaps not winning any seats, could have a big influence on the result.

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One scenario encouraged by a simple reading of the polls is that the Get Brexit Done mantra helps Boris Johnson win a clear overall majority over all other parties, his Brexit deal goes through and the Tories remain in office for the next five years.

The SNP and the Lib Dems would be roundly attacked for precipitating an early election. And, of course, the UK could still crash out of the EU with no deal at the end of transition period if talks on our future trading relationship with Europe are unsuccessful.

Scotland’s key role

Another scenario, though not encouraged by the polls at this stage, is Labour comes out on top, not ­necessarily with an overall ­majority, but with enough seats to form a minority government with tacit ­support from the SNP – both parties have ruled out going into coalition.

Labour strategists believe that although the party is behind in the polls at the moment, the 2017 election showed Jeremy Corbyn can dramatically increase their ratings during the campaign. The party is building on its popular 2017 manifesto and hopes its radical policies will make the crucial difference.

But there is also the possibility that the election produces another hung parliament, leaving the country in the same situation as now. The faces in the Commons will change – lots of MPs are standing down and some seats inevitably change hands – but the same deadlock would prevail.

Scotland could play a key role in deciding the outcome. The SNP is predicted to do well at the expense of the Tories and Labour, though the Nationalists are not expected to reach their 2015 peak, when they took 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats.

Following the departure of Ruth Davidson, the Conservatives are likely to lose seats in Scotland. But the SNP’s decision to focus so strongly on independence could boost the Tories’ pro-Union support.

Mr Johnson knows he is on course to lose seats in Scotland to the SNP and in Remain-voting areas of England to the Lib Dems and must win Labour seats in the Midlands and the North of England to make up for that. But Nigel Farage’s threat to put up Brexit Party candidates in every seat could split the Leave vote and allow Labour to hang on.

The last few general elections have produced surprise results. The Tories were expected to win a clear majority against Gordon Brown in 2010, but ended up with a hung parliament and a coalition with the Lib Dems. In 2015, pundits predicted another inconclusive result, but David ­Cameron won a majority. And, of course, Theresa May called the 2017 election expecting to boost that majority, but lost it altogether.

So what about 2019? Unpredictable is right. Anything could happen – and probably will.