Boris Johnson meeting with a top Tory election guru in Downing Street yesterday raises considerable questions.
You may remember Lynton Crosby as the man behind David Cameron’s impossible majority in 2015, or you may remember him as the man behind Theresa May’s total flop in 2017. Either way, he’s someone who remains a big deal in Tory circles, and after a waning in respect for him during the 2018–19 Brexit chaos, which ushered in the dominance of Cummings in terms of strategy, he now appears to be back as a major player with the PM’s ear.
First and foremost, the question was raised, is this planning for a snap election? Well, from the govt’s perspective that would surely be something beyond suicidal in political terms, considering they have until 2024 to pick a time, their polling is starting to slide, and they have an iron clad 80 seat majority meaning they can pass *almost* anything they want to, giving Toryism its best chance of reshaping Britain since the 1980s. Why would you risk all that with an election, while you’re unpopular as a Prime Minister and no one can discount the chances of an upset and a likely decreased majority.
I sincerely doubt we’ll see an election anytime soon, and my estimate would be that the govt will go for a snap election around spring 2023, provided we’re able to pretty well live with the virus, and we’re enjoying a wave of economic boosterism in the wake of the Corona crash; that would be ideal for the govt, going to the polls in the midst of boosterism and positivity before things start to slide and flop around 2024, with tougher choices to be made. The actual set date for the next election of May 2024 would be pretty fertile ground for the opposition parties, looking at economic forecasts, so unless something really dire happens which means 2023 would be worse for them, you can note down 2023 as our next election year; maybe even May 2022 if the govt’s ratings turn stratospheric again. In other words, they’ll go when they have their best chance of maintaining or increasing their majority in parliament, and not a moment sooner.
What is Crosby doing then? Well, according to PoliticalPics on Twitter the chatter is that he’s there to improve Johnson’s image. There is a recognition in No 10 that the PM’s approval ratings are pretty poor, with near 50% disapproving of the PM in some recent polls, and the figurehead once again becoming the weakest link of this govt, polling worse than the Tory brand nationally. This hasn’t been talked about by pundits nearly as much as the might expect, likely because the story has been Labour’s awful polling, but now we’re seeing people start to notice that the supposedly Teflon Boris J, is, well, actually pretty disliked now.
Can Crosby actually help with this? Well, unlike Cummings, who thought of himself as a disrupter, he is very much an establishment insider, which is why in 2017 his tepid neoliberal strategy floundered when faced with a left populist opposition on the offensive; no such thing is likely to come from Knight Of The Realm Sir Keir Starmer (QC), so in that sense he may be more successful. However, his strategies last really payed off here in 2015, and that was a very different Tory base; now, they’re having to be more aggressively populist on rightwing culture issues, and more social democratic on the economy. In other words, a tepid gesture based liberalism combined with neoliberalism on steroids (as was the Cameron-Clegg project) won’t fly with the Tory base now, one able to amass a vote share upwards of 46% when the govt is doing well, and no lower than 37–39% at its worst points, which is worth bearing in mind when we think the winning vote share in 2015 was only 36.9%; the Tories are on a different level now.
Whether Johnson can improve his ratings remain to be seen, but it should be bared in mind that for a midterm govt they’re holding up surprisingly well. Midterm in 2013 Labour was on 42% to 31% for the Tories, and midterm in 2018, even with the opposition under daily media attacks over anti-Semitism right through the summer, you have some polls showing Labour on 41% and the Tories on 37%. In other words, the public like to consider chucking out the incumbents midterm, with their lead often returning during an election year when it gets more real and people get nervous. Thing is, right now they’re still 2–5 points ahead, and there hasn’t been a single Labour lead since January.
In other words, the Tories are still doing worryingly well by all previous metrics.