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14 November 2019

Is it just me, or is this election turning out to be bloody boring?

This should be The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetimes – and yet. Today's Evening Call newsletter.

By Jonn Elledge

Look. I didn’t want to be the one to say it, but I didn’t want the dry cleaners to lose my best winter coat either and we are where we are, so: is it just me or is this election turning out to be a little bit… boring?

We’re over two weeks in now. Just four to go. To abuse the sort of Second World War metaphors that British politics will vexingly be stuck with until long after we’ve all crumbled to dust, we should be through the phoney war by now and into the real thing.

And yet nothing seems to be happening. The polls might be shifting, but if so it’s happening so gently that most of the debate around them can be boiled down to, “Is this some kind of a rounding error?”

What’s more, the way in which they are shifting is that those who had migrated to the third or fourth parties now seem to be gradually finding their way back to the big two, in an “oh god anything but the other lot” kind of way. For all the talk about breaking the mould of British politics, the banter outcome of “exactly the same as the 2017 result, but without the delusion that another election could sort it” seems horribly plausible.

How has it come to this? The first week of the campaign was, to those sick twisted people among us who just want to watch the world burn, a joyous sort of affair. Jacob Rees-Mogg, accidentally reminding everyone that there’s a reason they never liked the Tories! Andrew Bridgen, Vincent Crabbe to Rees-Mogg’s Draco Malfoy, popping up to make things worse! Tom Watson’s dramatic resignation! Every single party apparently having identified the 600 worst people in Britain to choose as their candidates! Terrible news for the country, of course, but boom time for those of us who write snarky political blogs.

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And to drop into appalling cliché for a moment: this should be The Most Important Election Of Our Lifetimes. The two big parties are offering radically different visions for the country, on everything from Brexit to the public services to the role of government to Britain’s place in the world. We are not, as we were pre-crash, comparing two squads of identikit technocrats, fighting over the same square inch of the centre-ground. Who wins next month should really matter.

Yet somehow now the air seems to have gone out of the whole affair. My colleagues from the NS political team have returned from their trips around the country to report that Brenda from Bristol now speaks for the nation. No one out there wants an election. Nobody out there seems to care.

That should benefit the Tories, who, like blackmailers through the ages, are still running hard on their message of, “Just give us what we want and all this can be over”. A vote for Labour, they say, means a vote for two more referendums next year.

Against that, though, there’s the fact we don’t know how a winter election will play out as it’s so long since we’ve had one. And Boris Johnson is being greeted by a torrent of abuse everywhere he goes.

Which brings me back to my original question – how can an election in which every day brings six new clips of the Prime Minister being told he’s completely and utterly useless by members of the general public be turning out to be so unbelievably, overwhelmingly dull?

One thing that has happened in the last 24 hours, at least, is that the New Statesman has published some excellent journalism, so let’s talk about that. Patrick reports that the Tories are spending thousands on targeted advertising in Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip – which suggests they’re at least slightly frit. Matthew Engel wrote a quite excellent report on the constituency in this week’s magazine, if you want to know more.

Meanwhile, George points out that this government has increased the tax take to a near-record high. Ailbhe asks: will the floods cost Boris Johnson the election? 

Four more weeks. Hold tight, best beloved, it’ll all be over soon.

Good day for…

The Tories, the Lib Dems, the continuity Blairites, and pretty much anyone else who is terrified of what Jeremy Corbyn unchained would do to the country, after this statement from the nation’s sweetheart, John Curtice: “The chances of a Labour majority are as close to zero as it is possible to be.” Thanks, John, great to have you aboard.

Bad day for…

The aforementioned Brenda, after Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson told the Financial Times that she would sooner push the UK into another general election than put Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson into Downing Street in the event of the entirely plausible outcome of a hung parliament. The elections will continue until morale improves.

Quote of the day

“Have come to a northern town to do a vox pop about the election, and the only people on the High Street are another TV crew trying to do a vox pop about the election.”

ITV’s Damon Green, reminding everyone of quite how glamorous journalism is, and quite how useful and informative vox pops are.

Everybody’s talking about…

The bloody John Lewis Christmas ad, which this year features a cuddly dragon who has been ostracised by some quaint medieval townsfolk for the entirely rational reason that he keeps accidentally setting fire to their stuff. I mean, they’re right, aren’t they? He’s an absolute danger. Are we supposed to feel bad for him? I don’t want somebody coming round and setting fire to my Christmas tree, thank you very much.

Also, if I have to listen to one more mournful cover of a Noughties indie song before the election is out, I will not be responsible for my actions.

Everybody should be talking about…

The government’s continuing refusal to release the report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee into Russian interference in British politics. Yes, sorry, I’ve gone all serious again.

The reason for this reluctance remains obscure: nobody seems to think the report is that explosive, which means the government’s refusal to get it out there runs a serious risk of causing more problems than just publishing it would.

Anyway, the Bureau of Investigation Journalism is currently fundraising for a legal challenge in an attempt to force the Prime Minister’s hand. We shall see.


Good one today: in yesterday’s newsletter I wrote that the Lib Dems did not exist entirely to “support Brexit”. This is true, in its way, but obviously what I was trying to say was they did not exist entirely to prevent it. Oh well, you know what I meant I’m sure.

Also shout out to everyone who’s responded to the newsletter so far, either to tell me how useful and entertaining they’re finding it (thanks!) or to point out that it’s not formatted properly in their email client. We are doing our best to address the latter problem.

Questions? Comments? Abuse? Tell me.

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