General Election Update 22nd November 2019

By December 7, 2019 Brexit Updates

Top 3 Developments

  • Party leaders unveiled business pledges at the Confederation of British Industry Conference.
  • Labour and Conservative leaders appeared for first live TV debate.
  • Labour and the Liberal Democrats published their election manifestos.

General Election Update

The Hateful Debate

On Tuesday evening ITV hosted the first election debate between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Lib Dem and SNP legal challenge to include Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon failed shortly before the debate. The debate centred on Brexit, the NHS, austerity and political integrity.

Jeremy Corbyn was strong on the NHS. He told an emotionally compelling story about a friend who had recently died and effectively used it as a launchpad to attack the Conservatives’ record on the NHS over the past decade. With pledges to spend almost double on the NHS than the Tories, and with Boris Johnson having a series of embarrassing statistics to defend (such as the worst NHS waiting times since records began), Labour will be more than happy for the campaign to be focused on this issue. Corbyn’s main area of weakness was on Brexit, where he refused to answer how he would campaign in a second referendum and drew laughter from the audience when he said that the Labour policy was ‘clear’. But, his responses to the quickfire questions were arguably better than Johnson’s, and considering he was up against a candidate touted as a master at debating, Corbyn had night that may be considered better than expected.

Johnson was very good in his message discipline, repeatedly emphasising his party’s core focuses and doing well in tracking every question back to these main themes; Brexit, NHS, crime. He was proficient at poking holes in Corbyn’s positions, and managed to come across as more statesmanlike than he has managed before. However, when the audience focused on questions of trust and integrity, he did not appear as confident. He also showed some insolence by repeatedly talking over the moderator Julie Etchingham and continually went beyond his allocated speaking time, although the chairing of the debate itself and the short time each leader had to answer questions has been criticised.

A YouGov poll conducted immediately after the debate which polled over 1,600 respondents found that 51% of people thought that Johnson won the debate, with 49% preferring Corbyn. This is essentially a neck and neck vote which was a generally fair verdict of the debate. Corbyn was rated more trustworthy, but Johnson more prime ministerial. We have seen how these debates have catapulted politicians into mainstream contention (most famously with Nick Clegg in 2010) but it is unlikely that this debate would have swayed many voters towards either camp. Corbyn and Johnson will feature in a special version of Question Time on Friday which will include see both leaders in addition to Swinson and Sturgeon each undergo 30 minutes of questioning.

Labour provides rationalisation for nationalisation

Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour’s election manifesto on Thursday in Birmingham Ladywood, a safe seat in the Labour heartlands. The manifesto was labelled a “manifesto of hope” which sets out Labour’s plans to deliver “real change” to the United Kingdom. It has also been deemed one of the most expensive and radical manifestos in history, with spending plans totalling £83 billion and plans to nationalise rail, energy and water industries, alongside Royal Mail and broadband infrastructure.

Unsurprisingly, after facing criticism for the lack of clarity on his Brexit stance, the issue did not take centre stage. Instead, Corbyn orientated his manifesto pledges around “hope”, “real change” and a fight back against the “billionaire elites”. Corbyn continued to reference that the billionaire elites own the Conservative Party throughout the speech, frankly stating that the party is not on the side of the people and that Labour instead is a party of the people. The upbeat launch emphasised the radical nature of Labour’s programme and how it would deliver “real change” for the country.

Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has argued that such policies are “simply not credible” as analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that the UK is already incredibly dependent on higher earners as a source of tax income and could be ineffective if individuals reduce their pre-tax income. The IFS have warned that this method could cost the Treasury £1bn a year. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell criticised the analysis, stating that the IFS has in fact got it wrong, and claimed it was “not inevitable” that prices would rise.

Who factchecks the factcheckers?

The Conservative Party came under fire this week after it renamed its press office Twitter account @factcheckUK. The account was renamed for Tuesday’s debate between Corbyn and Johnson, in the attempt to spin the result and the facts of the debate in Johnson’s favour. However, they were accused of being deliberately misleading, as it was unclear that the account was run by the Conservative Party  and had a blue tick, meaning it was ‘verified’.

However, there is no doubt that CCHQ knew exactly what they were doing with this idea, and the backlash it would cause in the fake news era. This alludes back to the unconventional social media strategy being taken by the Conservatives for this campaign. In its own way it has been very successful, as the site dominated the news for a day and robbed coverage from all other parties, while still getting the site’s messages to voters both online and on TV. Of course, this is engaging in the political dark arts, but most campaign strategists will do anything so long as it is legal and effective.

In a sign of things to come, when Labour launched their manifesto on Thursday, the Conservatives posted a new website called Labourmanifesto.co.uk. Unsurprisingly, this website was highly critical of Labour’s manifesto, highlighted the Tories’ attack lines of no Brexit plan, higher taxes and two more referendums, and used newspaper clippings to provide criticisms of Labour from a range of national publications. However, in a small sign that they had acknowledged the backlash from @factcheckUK, the website clearly stated that it was created by the Conservative Party.

CBA with the CBI

Earlier this week, the three main party leaders, Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson, made their key pledges to businesses at a Confederation of British Industry conference. During a more traditional election campaign, a Conservative Government would likely appeal more to businesses through promising to lower corporation tax. However, both Conservative and Labour leaders promised a major state expansion which would require more spending, whilst the Liberal Democrats rebranded as a champion of fiscal restraint, objecting to the pledges made by its opponents.

Johnson’s speech received mixed responses when he made a U-turn and announced that the Conservatives will postpone cuts to corporate tax, stating that tax cuts are not fiscally appropriate in the current climate as corporation tax “saves £6bn that can be put into the priorities of the British people, including the NHS”. This U-turn has led to scepticism that other previous pledges will be honoured, including  the promise to cut commercial property tax in its first budget.

On the other side, Jeremy Corbyn begun his speech emphasising that he is “not anti-business”. However, reports suggest that this message did not resonate with the audience, once Corbyn announced his plans to nationalise rail, energy and water industries, alongside Royal Mail and broadband infrastructure. The suggested nationalisation plans have caused panic amongst business leaders, due to the significant loss of jobs that this could entail, with many suggesting that the Labour leader has failed to understand how businesses work and is not on their side.

Brexit, naturally, became a focal point for the speech as businesses have paused investment spending due to the lack of clarity that surrounds Brexit. One thing that would solve the Brexit uncertainty would be an end to the Brexit negotiations, either by leaving straight away or by revoking Article 50. Whilst Boris Johnson has secured a deal, negotiations and discussions between Brussels and the United Kingdom are still required to determine the future relationship. Corbyn additionally stated that Johnson’s progress would involve a drawn-out process of getting a trade deal with the United States. However, Jeremy Corbyn is not promising a short end to Brexit either, suggesting renegotiation and then a people’s vote within six months. The Liberal Democrats on the other hand are suggesting a revoking of Article 50, though even Jo Swinson, leader of the party, has noted that it is unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will gain a majority, suggesting that they will play a more supportive role if involved in the next Government.

These speeches did little to install confidence for business, for either spending plans or future Brexit negotiations. Surprisingly there did not appear to be a clear front runner of the race by the end of the day, with each leader making promises that did not overwhelmingly appeal to the businesses attending the conference.

Swinson and a miss

The announcement of the Liberal Democrat manifesto took place in Camden Market and saw Jo Swinson position herself as the alternative candidate for Prime Minister standing up to the “two tired old parties”. However, the attempt to dominate the day’s headlines with Lib Dem policies was greatly dampened by the media’s extensive coverage of Prince Andrew and the suspension of Waheed Rafiq, the Lib Dem candidate in Birmingham Hodge Hill, over alleged anti-Semitic and racist social media posts.

Following a similar strategy to the Conservatives, the Lib Dem’s main campaign approach is to take a clear stance on Brexit. The front cover of their manifesto reads ‘STOP BREXIT: Build a Brighter Future’. Consequently, they have avoided criticism over Brexit ambiguity, but have been exposed to condemnation that they want to overturn the largest democratic mandate in British political history. The manifesto claims that, in the case of a Liberal Democrat majority government, they would revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU. Interestingly, however, they also accommodate for a situation where they do not win a majority, stating that they would “continue to fight for a people’s vote with the option to stay in the EU”. In the time that has passed since their manifesto announcement, it appears that they have already accepted that this is the more likely position. Consequently, the party has shifted to a position which aims to deny a Conservative majority and push for a second referendum.

Stepping away from Brexit, the manifesto unsurprisingly promises higher levels of government spending. A key economic takeaway is the pledge to invest £130bn in infrastructure, including “transport and energy systems, building schools, hospitals and homes”. This will largely be funded by an estimated £50bn “Remain Bonus” as well as a 1p increase in income tax, higher corporation tax, and a new levy gained through the legalisation of cannabis, a policy the Lib Dems estimate would generate over £1bn a year.

Additionally, the Lib Dems have vowed to change Air Passenger Duty to an incremental tax system on international flights. By doing so the Lib Dems hope to increase revenue from frequent flyers, but also discourage individuals and businesses from taking flights. Combined with projects to ensure 80 per cent of the UK is supplied by renewable energy by 2030, banning fracking and tackling biodiversity loss – the Lib Dems are hoping to convince climate conscious voters that they are pushing towards a greener society.

Other keynote pledges include: plans to prioritise small and medium-sized businesses in the rollout of hyperfast broadband; free childcare for children aged between two and four; 300,000 new homes a year and a fare freeze for peak-time and season ticket trains.

EU Update

Leyen down the law

The European Commission has issued a “letter of formal notice” to the UK after Boris Johnson breached EU Treaty obligations by refusing to nominate a candidate for EU commissioner. Last week, the UK’s EU ambassador, Sir Tim Barrow, wrote to the Commission stating that the UK was not nominating a candidate until after the General Election as it was in a state of political purdah. However, the Commission has rejected this explanation and stated that the UK’s domestic system does not take precedence over its European Union obligations.

By going ahead with the procedure, the Commission hopes that Ursula von der Leyen (President-elect of the European Commission) will be able to proceed with the inauguration on December 1st rather than facing delay due to the absence of an UK Commissioner. Whilst this process may continue to undermine the UK’s reputation amongst its European allies, it may also provide Mr Johnson with the perfect ammunition to demonstrate his commitment to leaving the EU thus winning over key voters tempted to side with the Brexit Party on December 12th.

Upcoming Key Dates

  • 1st December: Inauguration of new European Commission President
  • 12th December: UK Election.
  • 31st January 2020: New Brexit Deadline.

 

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