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20 November 2019updated 08 Jul 2021 12:27pm

Labour needs the polls to shift – so are they finally moving?

By Jonn Elledge

Well, I’m back. Despite my best efforts and most fervent hopes that I would somehow escape my fate, I’m back in Britain, at my desk, staring aghast at this bloody election campaign once again.

I did my best not to look at the news too much while I was on holiday, so it seems worth taking a second to review what broke through to my consciousness during my blissful week outside the bubble. Both televised debates were dull and unenlightening, I gather, although the fact that nearly half of those polled thought Jeremy Corbyn “won” the first one should probably be seen as a victory of sorts given how he trailed in the ratings going in. The Labour manifesto seems to have excited nobody who wasn’t already in the tank, but did get a rise out of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who think it looks costly; the Tory one made Labour’s effort look exciting, although Stephen rejects the idea this means “safety-first” and suggests the party hasn’t learned enough lessons from the David Cameron years.

Jo Swinson, meanwhile, spent a baffling 24 hours explaining to a baffled world that she didn’t kill squirrels for fun – although given their record on bar charts, you’d think the Lib Dems would be slightly warier of throwing terms like “fake news” all over the place like confetti.

This stasis, of course, is actually bad news for Labour, which continues to trail in the polls by 10 points or more, even as the Tory vote consolidates. The surge in late voter registrations, especially among the under 35s, bigger even than 2017, may give some hope – but experts warn that history suggests most of those will be people who are already registered making sure they’re on the list, and that pollsters already factor such things in. Or to put it another way: bum.

The only thing that felt to me like it might move the polls – and please bear in mind here that my political predictions are almost always wrong – was Labour’s pledge to sort out the pensions of the so-called Waspi women, who were expecting to retire at age 60 and found out late that their pension age was going up. Given the party’s relative weakness with older voters, this seems like the sort of thing that might change a few minds: no one ever lost votes promising money to boomers.

This column originally ended with a note that, if the polls don’t start shifting soon, the idea of Boris Johnson not just winning, but winning the sort of majority that has eluded every Tory leader for the last quarter-century, is going to start feeling horribly, painfully real. But in the time it took Jasper to edit it, ICM published a poll suggesting that maybe, just maybe, that was happening. It puts Labour on 34 (up two), against the Tories on 41 (down one). That change is within the margin of error, and it is, remember, just one poll.

Oh but look, here’s another. A YouGov poll of Wales, showing Labour up nine, to 38. Is this the start of something? We shall see.

Anyway, if you want a distraction from all that, here are two good reads from the politics team on how the smaller parties are faring. George Grylls is looking into the Lib Dems attempts to bounce back after a difficult start to their campaign, by positioning themselves as the only way to prevent a Tory majority. And in an interview with the UUP’s new leader, Patrick asks: can Steve Aiken save the Ulster Unionist Party?

Good day for…

Fans (I can think of two) of the former prime minister and 12-time winner of the “Britain’s most haunted man” competition, Tony Blair, who’s has been having opinions again.

He told a Reuters event this morning that the election was shaping up to be the “weirdest of my lifetime”, adding, “The truth is: the public aren’t convinced either main party deserve to win this election outright. They’re peddling two sets of fantasies and both, as majority governments, pose a risk it would be unwise for the country to take.”

He called for the electorate to vote tactically to ensure a hung parliament, though I can’t help but wonder if he’s the best messenger about all this.

Bad day for…

Minicab-giant-pretending-to-be-a-tech-darling Uber, which just got its licence revoked by Transport for London. Again.

As with the last time this happened, TfL’s concerns relate mostly to Uber’s approach to customer safety – 14,000 journeys have been conducted by unlicensed drivers. And as with the last time this happened, the clever money is on Uber kicking and screaming and generally acting like it’s such a precious little snowflake it can’t possibly be subject to public regulation, but ultimately capitulating because London is too big and profitable a market for it to lose.

If you want more thoughts from me on this subject, I wrote about it at some length on CityMetric.

Quote of the day

“And to think, Americans think British political traditions are weird.”

The Economist’s Daniel Knowles responds to the news that two turkeys have been given a room at the Willard Hotel, Washington DC, while they await the attention of the White House. The President is meant to pardon one of them on Tuesday, though given this is Donald Trump we’re talking about who the hell knows what he’ll do to the poor creatures.

Everybody’s talking about…

Nicky Morgan’s car crash appearance on Good Morning Britain, in which she tried valiantly to justify the Tories’ claim that they were hiring 50,000 “more” NHS nurses, even when 19,000 of them already exist and are already employed by the NHS, and which led to the rare sight of Piers Morgan intellectually outfoxing someone.

Fun as this is, though, it’s a distraction: as Stephen explained earlier, the real problem is that the Tories are “making frankly Herculean assumptions about their ability to increase retention rates and they haven’t made any money available to actually hire any more nurses”.

Everyone should be talking about…

The leaked documents from the Chinese Communist party, which highlighted detention of at least a million largely Muslim Chinese citizens in internment camps in the country’s north-western Xinjiang region. The reports, of involuntary physical confinement and brainwashing, make deeply unpleasant reading.

In an excellent piece for the NS last March, Reuters’ Peter Apps explained why both the West and the Muslim world had been so reluctant to speak out about the largest mass incarceration since the Holocaust.


Thanks to Jasper and Indra for keeping my seat warm last week.

While I was away, I received an email from Stephen Joseph, formerly of the Campaign for Better Transport, who suggested that an earlier edition of this newsletter was wrong to suggest the £500m Tory fund for opening railway lines would only pay for 25 miles of line. Those figures were extrapolated from the cost of Scotland’s Border Railway – repurposing existing freight lines might be a bit cheaper. But it is still, to be absolutely clear, not a lot.

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