Labour Gains: Is This 2017 Déjà Vu?

December 6, 2019 | by Field Team

The polls narrow as we enter the final stretch of the General Election campaign.

What started out as an odd poll here or there has become a consistent trend: the Conservative lead over Labour has narrowed. A few weeks ago – around the time Nigel Farage announced the mass stand down of Brexit Party candidates – the Tory lead was at peak levels, with double digit buffers the bare minimum and many polls showing a gap of 15-20 points. That is true landslide territory. But now fortunes are moving in the other direction, and most polls are now showing the Tory lead in single digits, with the most extreme example being one from BNG which put the gap at just 6 points.

Polls can be a frustrating thing. While they are (reasonably) good at giving an indication of voting intentions, what is harder is to explain “why”, and so the reasons for this apparent shift are still open to interpretation. However, anyone with a memory longer than two years will be feeling a strange sense of déjà vu right around now. In 2017, Labour were initially set for demolition, and then crept back into the picture in the final weeks, only to deprive the Conservatives a majority come polling day. The similarities in timing for this election are more than a little striking, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Labour’s campaigning skills and resources should not be underestimated. Jeremy Corbyn’s stubborn fixation on making the same points in the same way over and over again can be his greatest strength as well as a weakness. After hammering the public over the head with his anti-establishment, anti-elite, anti-wealthy message for enough consecutive days, it does start to really seep through.

Labour’s improvement in fortunes has also partly been caused by a very effective squeezing of the Lib Dems. Jo Swinson has struggled to position herself as a genuine, realistic alternative for Britain and her declaration that she could become Prime Minister hasn’t aged well, making her seem amusingly delusional, rather than inspirational. Many remainers have come to the conclusion that the most important thing is beating the Conservatives, and most now seem to be swinging behind Labour as the most likely outfit to achieve that. The Conservatives squeezed votes from the Brexit Party and now Labour are doing the same thing to the Lib Dems.

But – and there is a big but – Labour is still behind, and remain firmly the second favourites in this race. The polls, even now, are averaging at roughly eight points between the parties, and an eight point lead at the top is still pretty significant. Yes Labour managed a miraculous finish in 2017 from a similar situation, but something remarkable happening once is not necessarily an indicator that something remarkable will happen again. This ‘well it happened before’ fallacy, is one Labour need to be wary of, including some of their own MPs who too often use 2017 as a catch-all comeback whenever someone points out that they are losing.

What was a one-horse race has become a little more interesting, but it’s still all Johnson’s to lose. If the Prime Minister does manage to blow it from here, he will go from hero to zero among Conservatives as fast as Theresa May did. For Jeremy Corbyn, his fate is even more straightforward: pull out another miraculous comeback, or his time as leader will surely be up. Into the final week we go.

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