The poll trends remain good for May and Labour. The Tory strategy to liquidise UKIP and neutralise the Lib Dems could hardly have gone better. They have an average 17 point lead over Labour in all the polls this month.
The public perception now concreted is that they will not just win but do so by a landslide. That still seems the most likely outcome. However their colossal leads have precipitated two unexpected events; a bolder than expected Tory manifesto and a small, but not insignificant, surge for Labour.
May’s decision to pull the triple lock on pensions and the tax lock was expected and factored in. Her decision to, in effect, impose a resolution to the social care costs issue is brave and it could yet backfire. But her “clean Brexit” approach provides a clue to her mindset. She could easily have committed to a social care cost review after the election and no one would have batted a eyelid, just as she could last summer have equivocated on her approach to Brexit. Two things we now know about our taciturn Prime Minister are; she is uncomfortable with ambiguity and once she makes her mind up on something she sees things through. This might cost her votes but it will also in all likelihood burnish her reputation for taking hard decisions (see this morning’s Mail front page). The Tory campaign will know this was a risk but it is a sign of their confidence that they feel able to take it.
Labour threw the kitchen sink at their manifesto. A smorgasbord of renationalising, promise of taxes on the rich to pay for popular new spending pledges, populist leftism if you like. Their media launch was shambolic, they didn’t so much as commit a penny to the cost of nationalising power, water and the railways but so far it doesn’t seem to have done them any real harm.
So to the polls.
The last few have been particularly good for Corbyn and disastrous for UKIP and the Lib Dems. Corbyn is polling a few points ahead of Brown (2010) and Miliband (2015) but it likely that they are piling up votes where he doesn’t need them and losing them where Labour are vulnerable – in seats with majorities of less than 10,000. The numbers in the West Midlands and the North East are particularly bad for Labour right now. But they haven’t imploded and Labour voters, for all their concerns about Corbyn, may well be be responding to the distinctively independent local Labour campaigns being run by incumbents and by the fear of a Tory landslide. But Corbyn is relishing this campaign and he is attracting new voters as he promised he would. However his vote remains soft compared to the Tories and his poll numbers right now are likely to be inflated by 18-24 year olds who are the most likely not to turn out on 8 June.
The Tories will for the remainder of this campaign focus on their key strengths. They have historically unprecedented leads on leadership and the economy and will, particularly in the context of Brexit, leverage them relentlessly.
The final weeks of the this campaign will mostly be about who will lead the negotiations with the EU. An indicator of how surreal and one sided the election has been is that no one has really asked Corbyn whether he would pay the divorce bill or pressed him much on his immigration policy. Expect that to change.
May has skilfully used this opportunity to jettison the fiscal and philosophical constraints of Cameron/Osborne’s 2015 manifesto, to produce some red meat policies for working class Leavers on immigration and to convey a renewed “One Nation” Toryism but this remains the Brexit election.
The easiest way of envisaging the trajectory of the next few weeks is to imagine Corbyn, not May, at the helm of our Brexit negotiations. The Tory campaign will want nobody to not have that on their minds three weeks from now.
Everything still points to a seminal Tory landslide, the return of two party politics and, once more, Labour Party summer civil war.
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