General Election: Three messaging conundrums that define the remainder of the campaign
Our Public Affairs team review Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson’s manifesto, highlighting the weaknesses in their policies leading up to the general election.
Last week saw all three major UK parties – the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats – launch their manifestos. With hundreds of pledges made, we now have a (slightly) clearer view on the priorities and direction of any new government.
But big dilemmas remain for each party, which could define the final two weeks of their election campaigns. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
The Conservatives – A Brexit manifesto, but what about the next five years?
At just 59 pages, the Conservative manifesto is short – very short. With a substantial poll lead at the time of launch, and burned by its experience in 2017, it appears that the Party has taken a low risk approach to this policy programme. Brexit dominates, but, according to their own timetable, one way or another, Brexit will be ‘completed’ by December 2020. After which, a Conservative government would need to focus on implementing a domestic agenda that could potentially last for the next five years. And yet, the number of concrete pledges made would struggle to fill a Budget or Queen’s Speech, let alone a full programme for government.
Boris Johnson is entitled to ask the public to give him a mandate to deliver Brexit. But likewise, the public are entitled to ask, once Brexit is delivered, what comes next? And that will be the question that the Conservatives will hope to avoid having to answer over the next two weeks.
Labour – Does the public really want a more radical agenda than 2017?
Labour’s 2017 manifesto was the most radical we had seen for a generation. It was also one that failed to convince the public to hand the party a majority. The manifesto launched last week was even more radical than its predecessor, most notably promising to take rail, water, postal and energy into public ownership. It also pledged to nationalise parts of BT in order to offer free broadband to every house in the country, and levy a ‘wind-fall tax’ on oil companies.
Looking back over the last half century, the Labour Party has had electoral successful when it has occupied the centre ground of British politics. Harold Wilson self-identified as a member of the Party’s ‘Soft Left’ and Tony Blair clearly held views to the right of the Party’s traditional core. They are the only two Labour leaders to win a general election since Clement Atlee.
Jeremy Corbyn has chosen to curate a policy platform that is a radical shift to the left. Rather than bring the public with him in increments, he has asked them to hold their breath and jump in the deep end. Current polling would suggest the electorate is not prepared to take that leap of faith.
The Liberal Democrats – Stick or twist on current messaging?
The Liberal Democrats election strategy can be captured in two words – anti-Brexit and Swinson. The Party has unequivocally positioned itself as the party of revocation of Article 50, moving away from its original, more moderate calls for a second referendum. It has also banked on its newly elected leader, Jo Swinson, as a vote winner. Unfortunately for the Lib Dems, neither strategy appears to be working, with opinion polls continuing to reveal a squeeze in their support.
The Lib Dems are faced with a dilemma. Stick to the plan that appears to be faltering, or risk a late pivot to focusing on a domestic agenda announced this week. After all, given the likelihood of a hung parliament, these policies could potentially exert significant influence over the direction of the UK throughout the next Parliament.
These are just three of the questions and challenges hanging over the major parties as they enter the home straight of the campaign. Their response, or lack of, will help determine the shape of our new government in the years to come.