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  • Lawrence Bailey

It was a Brexit election after all

Quite a few people have asked me if I was surprised by last week’s general election result. They haven’t quite expected my answer.

Protocol meant that I didn’t get to do my usual column last Thursday, otherwise I might well have mentioned a very significant survey

Published on 28 November, pollsters YouGov predicted a scary 68 seat majority for the Conservatives. Forecasts for how other parties would fare were equally right on the money with respective gains, losses and no-place outcomes.

For the benefit of the anoraks who like this kind of stuff, the outfit used a Multilevel Regression and Post-stratification (MRP) model. This involves questioning 100,000 people over an extended period and breaking down the demographics.

That’s a massive sample. Yet this fairly seismic projection was headline news for less than a day; later replaced by another more ‘acceptable’ prediction promising something closer.

What struck me was how the main parties who know the level of YouGov’s expertise also acted like it had never happened. Maybe that was all strategy. I mean, who the hell knows these days?

Whatever the thinking, when you look at the result, it’s hard not to conclude that Labour pretty much threw it away.

As shadow chancellor John McDonnell ably pointed out, a party with three-quarters of its members backing remain while representing constituencies where two-thirds want out, was always going to have problems

Moreover, the game rules for elections are written in stone: keep it simple, use slogans rather than concepts and go heavy on the repetition. So what you shouldn’t do therefore is come up with an inch-thick manifesto while your leader offers to take on the role of honest Brexit broker.

The announcement of neutrality was a gift to Labour’s opponents and a dampener to supporters. Whatever the motivation, it wasn’t leadership and the anyone who suggests otherwise is deluded.

The Conservatives doggedly kept to the principle that voters are rarely inclined to distinguish between action and achievement.

They rightly deduced that the battle could be won in the Leave seats, few of which could ever be described as marginal. “Get Brexit Done” resonated with electors and that was enough.

By comparison, one senior Labour figure confided to me that no-one within their ranks was going to be accused of being off-message because the message itself was so obscure.

As for the much-heralded Remain Alliance and the advent of tactical voting, it turned out the tactic largely consisted of throwing pebbles into the pond while hoping the ripples did something creative.

It’s nothing new for politicians to foster the idea of restored national greatness. In this case, Conservative mantra made sure that greatness equates to a United Kingdom independent of EU constraints.

The field is clear for Boris Johnson to translate all this into something deliverable. He is no longer in hock to the DUP or the tory right-wing at Westminster. The irksome old guard within his own house are gone, replaced by vital new recruits. The opposition is effectively neutered.

Many questions still remain of course, not least of all is which way Labour turns after this awful result. I read that former leader Tony Blair has an opinion regarding direction, which comes as no surprise.

To paraphrase one his own slogans though, I think that Labour may want to consider how it can regain supporters by being tough on Brexit, whilst acknowledging the underlying reasons for Brexit in the process. It’s just a thought.

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