People in the United Kingdom voted for their third parliament in less than four years today. The uncertainty which has gripped the country since the surprise Brexit vote in June 2016 is still haunting the political parties in the country. Though all the polls are predicting a clear victory of the Boris Johnson led Conservative Party, the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party is optimistic about its prospects.
The Brexit hangover continues
Despite attempts by the Labour Party to radicalize the discourses and shift the focus towards more substantive issues such as health, education and employment, according to all the polls, Brexit still remains the largest concern for the electorates. This seems to be helping the Conservative Party. Johnson who has long seen as the pro-Brexit leader has decided to fight the elections on single agenda of “getting Brexit done” by the end of January 2020. It is seen to be a much clearer position than Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of second referendum on the terms and conditions of withdrawal alongside the option to remain within six months after the elections.
Nevertheless, since the release of its manifesto on November 21 the Labour Party has been able to narrow the gap in popularity with Conservative. Labour’s strong positions on the public character of National Health Services (NHS) and its pro-poor, pro-youth policy promises have started getting enough traction as the voting day came nearer. The Labour party has proposed re-nationalization of core sectors of the economy and new taxes on the wealthy. It has also proposed a revision in the minimum wage to 10 pounds/hour. All of these promises will help it consolidate its core constituency and may attract the sections of the working class and youth who have been the victims of the neoliberal economic policies pursued in the last four decades.
Though there is substantial support to the leave campaign, electorates still seem to be divided. Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson has come out strongly in favor of remaining within the EU despite plunging electoral prospects. As per the latest and revised poll figures of the YouGov, Conservatives have a clear lead of over 10 percentage points over the Labour Party.
According to the polls, Conservative Party may get anything between 339 to 359 seats with around 43% of votes. Labour Party on the other hand is projected to get 34% of the popular vote and around 230 seats. Other major parties such as Liberal Democrats are expected to lose a substantive number of their votes and seats to either of the two main parties. Liberal Democrats, which had allied with the Conservative party after the last elections is expected to get just 12% of votes and 15 seats. Scottish National Party (SNP) with concentrated votes in one region will retain most of its seats despite losing a significant number of votes to Labour.
Pollsters predict a grim situation for hard core anti-EU Brexit party with less than 3% of the votes and zero seats. This is despite the fact that just a few months back the party won maximum number of seats in the elections for the European Parliament.
Margin of Error
There are 650 Parliamentary Constituencies in the UK and any party or group needs the support of at least 326 MPs to form a majority government. In the last election in 2017 with 69% voter turnout Conservatives under the leadership of Theresa May got 317 seats with more than 42% votes. Labour was just 2% behind in terms of popular votes. However, it got only 262 seats.
One important point is that most of the polls have margins of error making their predictions less reliable. 2017 election results had surprised most of the pollsters. According to the present polls as many as 17% respondents have categorically stated that their opinions are not final and they may change their vote at the last moment. In fact, this time all the polls have kept the possibility of a hung parliament within their margin of error.
These elections have also seen one of the most bitter campaigns in the UK history with the use of fake news and outright lies to malign the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have been systematically attacked and accused of being anti-Semitic and sympathetic to terrorism. After Corbyn made documents public that were related to secret talks between the US and Boris Johnson over alleged attempts to privatise NHS, a campaign was waged alleging Russian involvement in the elections.
The Labour Party has also suffered internal divisions due to opposition from the more right-wing Blairite faction which favors a more liberal stance than what Corbyn has devised so far. However, Corbyn’s platform and vision has received support from progressive social movements and political groups in the UK and internationally.