Parliament has been dissolved and the election period has begun, politicians are making wild promises and refusing to answer simple questions. This week, the Tories’ campaign launch was overshadowed by controversy and Labour’s Deputy Leader resigned.
Tory Campaign Chaos
Johnson launched his campaign with a promise to get Brexit done so domestic issues could be dealt with, leading with his slogan “Get Brexit Done. Unleash Britain’s Potential”. However, even before he had officially launched his campaign, the Tories were already embroiled in multiple scandals in a chaotic start to their election campaign.
Following the release of the report into the Grenfell Tower fire, a tragedy where 72 people died during a fire in a tower block in London, Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared on LBC radio. He said, “If either of us were in a fire, whatever the fire brigade said, we would leave the burning building… [it is] the common sense thing to do”. The outrage that followed was compounded by the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen whose comments on Radio four implied Rees-Mogg was more intelligent than the Grenfell Victims. Both MPs were later forced to apologise for their comments.
In August 2018 Ross England, an ex-Tory Welsh Assembly Candidate, collapsed a rape trial, the judge said: “You [Ross England] have managed to single-handed, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial”. On Wednesday, Tory Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns was forced to resign following an email obtained by the BBC which showed Cairns knew about the incident before Ross England’s selection as a candidate.
The government has refused to release a report into Russian interference in the electoral process by the Common’s Intelligence and Security Committee despite the Committee Chair Dominic Grief, ex-tory attorney general, saying there was no reason not to. As the Tories say, when they remove our civil liberties, ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’, so the question remains what does Johnson have to hide?
This week it transpired that Michael Gove, the Minister in charge of no deal, probably hasn’t read the withdrawal agreement. During a BBC interview, he claimed that the transition arrangements couldn’t be extended despite the withdrawal agreement explicitly stating an extension could be granted, demonstrating an extraordinary level of incompetence and ignorance of an agreement he so emphatically supports.
It’s been a terrible week for Johnson. Rees-Mogg’s comments reinforce the opposition’s narrative that the Tories are the ‘nasty party’, elites who don’t care about the ordinary voter, a party whose views are out of touch with reality.
The Welsh Secretary was supposed to lead the campaign in Wales, but his resignation leaves the Welsh campaign in limbo. This poses a significant issue for the Tories, as they need to gain ground in Wales if they are to win the election. Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding his resignation don’t bode well, allowing their critics to point out their failure to support rape victims and the lack of female representation in the Welsh Conservatives.
Johnson’s aim this week was to launch his vision for a post-Brexit Britain, but his plans have been overshadowed by a week of controversy and scandal, making his fight even harder. This week will serve as a reminder to politicians that campaigns can easily spin out of control, Theresa May knows that all too well.
Election Advert Controversy
Politicians aren’t exactly world-renowned for their honesty and transparency. However, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal showed, the rapid increase in social media hasn’t been met with the necessary legislation allowing inaccurate and misleading information to be supplied to voters. Already in this election, several parties have landed in hot water due to their ads.
The Tories were criticized for doctoring a video of Keith Stammer, Shadow Brexit Secretary. Stammer was asked on Good Morning Britain about Labour’s Brexit plan, he responded immediately. However, the Tories edited the video to imply he couldn’t answer the question, adding the caption “Labour has no plan for Brexit” and posted it on their official twitter.
On the 29th October, the day the commons voted for an election, the government launched the MyTown Campaign. As part of the campaign, the government used public money to post Facebook ads targeted at certain towns saying the government was investing “up to £25 million” in their local area.
The adverts were run in some Labour-Conservative marginals including Wakefield, Milton Keynes, Lincoln and Newcastle-under-Lyme, leading to criticisms that Johnson was using public money to run his political campaign. Some of the adverts were pulled by Facebook for failing to comply with their guidelines regarding the labelling of advertising involving social issues, elections or politics.
The Tories weren’t the only ones to manipulate the truth this week, the Liberal Democrats have been at it as well. The Liberal Democrats have been criticised for publishing inaccurate leaflets in the seat of Putsey. These leaflets said a YouGov poll showed that Lib Dems were tied with the Tories, adding labour couldn’t win there. However, YouGov confirmed no polling took place and the small print revealed it was only a projection of YouGov national polls by the unregistered polling company Flavible.
The Conservatives use of doctored footage and public funds for advertising demonstrates a sense of desperation and although they assumed it would guide them to victory, it backfired and demonstrated to the electorate that Johnson can’t be trusted to tell the truth.
The misuse of data and political advertising by all parties this week is a reminder that both government and companies must take decisive action to regulate political advertising especially, social media. However, in the interim voters must remain vigilant and the press must hold politicians to account for the nonsense, lies and hypocrisy they all spout in person, in print and online.
Nigel Farage’s Ultimatum
Nigel Farage launched the Brexit Party Campaign by attacking Johnson for failing to deliver Brexit and gave him an ultimatum: either drop his deal or face Brexit Party candidates in every constituency across Britain. Johnson quickly refused, saying a vote for the Brexit party would put Corbyn in No. 10, so Farage will now run candidates in every constituency.
So, what effect will the Brexit Party have on the new House of Commons?
The Tories face the prospect of a split leave vote in marginal seats, which could allow Labour to win key marginals. However, Labour could also suffer. Some Labour leave voters who would never vote Tory may feel comfortable backing the Brexit Party which, could give the Tories an advantage in key marginals.
The 2019 Peterborough by-election demonstrates how the Brexit Party may affect Tory-Labour marginals. In 2017, Labour had a majority of just 607 votes. In 2019, the combined Brexit Vote had over 17,000 votes but as it was split between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives, Labour won with just over 10,000 votes.
A replication of these results across the country could cause trouble for Johnson. However, these results only represent one part of the country and so different Brexit/Remain vote splits in marginals may benefit the Tories. Currently, it remains uncertain whom the Brexit Party will most disadvantage.
Labour Launch Campaign
Corbyn launched his campaign, promising a ‘radical’ plan for Britain, focused on investing in public services, ending austerity and giving the people a final say on Brexit with the slogan “It’s Time for Real Change”. They have promised investment for a green new deal, a shift in power towards the North and the reverse of NHS privatisation. However, the first few days of their campaign hasn’t all been plain sailing.
Labour’s National Executive Committee, the governing body for the Labour Party, banned four labour candidates from running and are considering banning a fifth. Those banned include: Corbyn’s ally Chris Williamson due to his alleged antisemitic comments, Stephen Hepburn due to allegations of sexual harassment, Rodger Godsiff for his opposition to LGBT equality lessons and Sally Gimson who was selected just two weeks earlier. A decision on Keith Vas who was suspended by the Commons last week for attempting to buy Class-A drugs and paid-for-sex hasn’t been made yet.
On Wednesday evening, Deputy Leader Tom Watson upstaged Johnson big speech by announcing his resignation. He said his decision was ‘personal not political’ and thanked Corbyn for the “decency and courtesy… even in difficult times”, saying he would ‘never stop fighting for [Labour]’.
Labour’s first week of campaigning was relatively strong compared to their Tory counterparts. Corbyn believes that a similar campaign to 2017 holds the key to downing street and so they launched their ‘radical’ plan for Britain, in an attempt to mobilise the youth vote and capitalise on the public’s distaste for a decade of austerity.
The tug of war over candidate selection probably won’t harm labour, the ruling on Chris Williamson will ease concerns of the party’s inaction on anti-Semitism. Although the failure to take action against Keith Vas may cause Labour problems in that seat considering the scathing commons report against him.
The case against Sally Gimson is a bit more peculiar because despite having the support of her local constituency party, the NEC has stepped in to deselect her for reasons which are currently unknown.
Tom Watson’s resignation is surprising. Although he made it clear it was personal, not political, it is no secret that Watson and Corbyn have been in significant conflict over policy recently, culminating in an attempt to oust him at the party’s conference by Corbyn’s supporters. In the long-term, this may benefit Corbyn as a key critic leaves the front bench. However, in the short-term it will lead to speculation about policies differences and cause some to concern that Labour’s shift to the left has damaged the moderate wing of the party.
Although Labour faced some problems this week, their campaign launch is a step in the right direction, they have largely remained in control of the narrative, promoting their vision for a new Britain, something their opponents haven’t managed to do.
Liberal Democrats Launch Campaign
Jo Swinson launched the Liberal Democrats’ campaign with their key pledge to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit, saying the so-called ‘remain bonus’ would deliver an extra £50bn over the next parliament for public services. She claimed that she was the best possible Prime Minister claiming both Johnson and Corbyn were unfit to be Prime Minister.
So, what is Jo Swinson’s plan? It’s non-sensical and irrational, she launched her campaign to become Prime Minister but that just isn’t going to happen, based on their constituency vote share and current polling, Swinson becoming PM is impossible.
Swinson’s main aim is to stop Brexit, most likely through a 2nd Referendum. Her best hope for that is Jeremy Corbyn in Downing Street as there is no way Johnson would back a referendum. However, she has categorically stated the Lib Dems won’t vote to allow Corbyn to become PM. Swinson has no endgame and after the election, she will either have to back Corbyn or fall on her sword.
New Speaker Elected
On Monday, the Labour MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle was elected as the new Speaker following John Bercow’s retirement. Hoyle promised to be “transparent” and “neutral” and like his fellow candidates, pledged to be a quieter and less prominent speaker than Bercow. Whether this calmer speakership will allow Bercow’s legacy of executive accountability to continue, only time will tell.
With five weeks to go until polling day, almost anything could happen. This week, Labour gained momentum whilst the Tories struggled through controversy. However, five weeks is a long time in politics, who knows what will happen next.