Richard North, 01/12/2019  
 


In a development that probably has Conservative Party strategists cheering, the Sunday Times publishes a YouGov poll which shows the Tory lead shrinking to nine points, as Labour pile on two points to reach 34 percent, as against a static 43 percent for the Tories.

All the other recent polls show Tory leads of varying size, from 15 points (Opinium) to BMG on a mere six points, although there are clear signs that Labour is beginning to narrow the gap, with just 12 days to go before the vote.

Thus, as long as Labour does not gain further ground, this is just enough to dispel any sense of complacency amongst the Tory faithful, making it easier (in theory) to get the vote out on the day.

And, with the BBC caving in to allow Johnson on the Marr show, to talk about the latest terrorist outrage, the prime minister in office will doubtless extract all the political capital he can. He has already indulged in high-flown rhetoric, pledging to "lock terrorists up and throw away the key" and we can expect more of this today and in the days to come.

Broadly, such incidents tend to favour the incumbent and Johnson is well-placed to exploit public concerns, especially when contrasted with Corbyn who has been plagued by accusations that he endorses terrorists.

Nevertheless, even the fanboys in The Sunday Telegraph concede that Johnson has also had his own problems to deal with recently. He has faced hostility in the two television debates last week over his trustworthiness and ability to tell the truth, while additionally has had to field questions regarding Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and comments on race and faith he has made in the past.

Given the identity of the slain terrorist, though, Johnson may find that an Islamophobic tinge may prove to be to his advantage, as voters are able to put two and two together and point fingers in directions that the politicians don't dare to go.

Nevertheless, Brexit is likely to remain the key issue and, if my local constituency of Bradford South is any guide, Labour is vacating the field. Incumbent Judith Cummings (no relation), in her election address, barely mentions the subject.

She does, however, make the remarkable claim that, "Over the past two years I've held the Tory government to account for their Brexit failures, resisted a damaging 'no-deal' Brexit, and argued for a good deal that protects our economy, workers' rights and security". But, of future intentions, there is no word.

This ambiguity on Brexit is almost certainly harming the Labour Party and, according to the Mail on Sunday is reflected in what it describes as a "civil war" breaking out in the party, with pro-Remain MPs being blamed for the loss of Brexit-backing voters.

The MoS has commissioned its own poll, this one from Deltapoll, which gives the Tories a 13-point lead. And the failure of Corbyn to repeat the "surge" of 2017, is said to have "unleashed a battle between the hard-Left and moderate wings of the party" over who should replace him as leader if Labour crashes to defeat on 12 December.

But just how mixed up Labour strategy has become is indicated by a "senior Labour figure" defending a Northern seat. He says that he and his colleagues in the Northern heartlands have "told the party leadership time and time again that this 'Made In Islington', North London pro-Remain policy would cost us dear in the North".

Warming to his theme, he complains that, "we've had what looks like an anti-Brexit strategy cooked up in London where the main enemy is the Liberal Democrats, when here in the North it's the Tories. It's been absolutely pathetic leadership from the top".

One could even entertain hopes that the inept handling of Brexit could turn the tide in seats such as Bradford South where, for the past two elections, Labour has maintained a majority in excess of six thousand.

Drilling down into the figures, though, in 2015, both Conservatives and Ukip polled in excess of nine thousand votes each, the combined total well in excess of the Labour showing of 16,328. If the Ukip votes had gone to the Tories, the seat would have changed hands for the first time since 1924.

Interestingly, in 2017, when the Ukip vote collapsed, dropping to 1,758 - the Tory vote shot up to 15,664 suggesting that many former Ukip voters had gravitated to the Tories. Unfortunately, with an increased turnout, the Labour vote increased as well, keeping the seat out of range of the Tory challenger.

This time round, we have a Brexit candidate and Ukip isn't standing. But both the Brexit Party and the Tories have inexplicably parachuted Sikh candidates into a constituency characterised as a "white enclave" which is predominantly working class. In 2010, it delivered 2,651 votes to the BNP, despite a popular, long-standing Labour MP.

Bradford, in any event, is increasingly a Moslem city, dominated by Kashmiris – where tensions are high after recent Indian action in Kashmir. Even the ethnic population of Bradford South is unlikely to opt for Sikh candidates, with the added handicap that the Conservative candidate is from a wealthy family running a property development business. A more inappropriate candidate for the area it would be hard to imagine.

Incidentally, with the campaign running into its final stages, the only leaflets we've had have been from Labour and, without the media input, you would hardly know that there was an election campaign in progress.

This local experience perhaps indicates quite how out of touch the parties are, and how little effort is going into seats which are not considered primary targets. As voters, we are ignored locally and left to rot with a Labour candidate who can't even address Brexit issues honestly.

This political indifference, replicated elsewhere in more marginal seats, could well produce shock results that go against the grain, with "big beast" Tories such as Dominic Raab supposedly at risk. But given the disdain with which voters are treated in non-target seats, it wouldn't surprise me to see some Labour upsets as well.

Oddly enough, in the Observer today, we see a long article by Aeron Davis, professor of political communication at Goldsmiths, University of London and author of Reckless Opportunists: Elites at the End of the Establishment.

It does worry me when the only sensible comment on UK politics seems to be coming from this source, but it is hard to argue with his theme that "Boris 'Teflon' Johnson's rise shows how our ruling classes are not fit for purpose".

Davis argues that Johnson blustered his way to the top with lies and bravado. But the decline of expertise and knowledge in politics, he avers, stretches much further.

In his view, institutionalised lying, obfuscation and dirty tricks are the new normal, brought to us initially with New Labour, where its spin machine was notorious for its elasticity with the truth – taking us into the Iraq war on the basis of a transparently "dodgy dossier". Lying in politics by no means started with Johnson and is not confined to him.

For the voting public looking on, says Davis, all this means that the political classes in general are no longer seen as credible. Nor are government institutions, business leaders or journalists. British electorates are as volatile and unaligned to parties as they have ever been. Trust in even respectable news content has reached new lows. Social media fabrications, PR spin and lying authority figures – against the backdrop of an industry struggling financially – makes the task of reporting even harder.

Thus, he concludes, in a world where politicians bluster, where experts are proved to be wrong, where lies and deception are commonplace, where neither politicians nor commentators are trusted, why not pick Johnson?

And that rather puts the thing in perspective. In a land of charlatans, you might as well pick your favourite liar and be done with it. If all politicians are liars, lying can no longer be an issue.

But therein is the debasement of politics which has the majority of the voting public cast as impotent spectators, in constituencies where parties can't be bothered to fight for our votes and have no interests outside the marginal battlefields.

I might have said this before, but we deserve better.






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