- Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to secure a general election on Tuesday, after the oppoistion Labour party backed a snap poll.
- Johnson’s Conservative Party is the current favourite to win the contest.
- However, there are multiple reasons to believe that an election might not go Johnson’s way.
- Here’s why a snap general election could backfire for the prime minister and end up putting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to secure a general election in December, later today, after the opposition Labour party moved to back a snap poll.
Recent opinion polls suggest Johnson’s Conservative Party is the favourite to win such an election.
However, victory is far from guaranteed, and there are lots of reasons to believe that Johnson’s election bid might badly backfire.
Here’s how Johnson could end up losing the election he spent so long fighting for – and put Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
Johnson is in a weaker position than Theresa May was in 2017
When Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election in 2017, she already held a small majority over Corbyn’s Labour Party, and polls put her as much as 25 points ahead.
However, by the end of that election campaign, Corbyn’s party was neck and neck with May’s Conservatives, meaning she lost her majority in Parliament.
Johnson, by contrast, would enter this campaign with no majority and with much smaller leads, of as little as 4 points, some recent polls have found. Some other polls have found significantly bigger leads for Johnson, of up to 15 points.
However, there remain significant doubts about whether Johnson’s polling leads are large enough to withstand a general-election campaign, in which his party’s almost 10 years in power would again be under the spotlight.
Johnson’s election message could fail
May fought the 2017 general election on a ticket of securing a large enough majority to deliver Brexit.
Her pitch – that voters should hand her enough members of Parliament to get the job done – was ultimately unsuccessful. Many voters backed Corbyn’s alternative pitch of increasing spending on public services.
Johnson’s message is almost identical to May’s, but arguably even less compelling.
Last week Johnson told reporters that Parliament hd passed his deal, while simultaneously accusing it of blocking his deal, while saying he needs to delay passing his deal in order to hold an election, after which he could pass his deal.
The PM adds that a Brexit delay will be given, if Labour agree to a general election.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) October 25, 2019
This is not a particularly coherent pitch to voters, many of whom are already utterly bewildered and frustrated with the Brexit process.
By resuscitating May’s failed pitch to voters, Johnson risks ending up with a similarly disappointing result.
However, Johnson’s campaign believes there is one significant difference between now and the 2017 election.
The ‘remain’ vote is heavily split
In 2017, Labour succeeded in largely uniting anti-Brexit voters behind it. But this coalition of support has collapsed in recent months, with younger metropolitan voters turning instead to the more explicitly anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.
This means that even if Johnson performs significantly worse in voting-percentage terms than May, he could still end up with a sizeable majority by virtue of these voters being so heavily split between his opponents.
But there is a big caveat to this assumption.
The ‘remain’ vote is now much more efficiently distributed
A fascinating Twitter thread by an Oxford University political researcher earlier this month suggested that Johnson’s success in uniting the pro-Brexit vote might not translate into an actual lead in terms of seats.
Why a split anti-Brexit vote may not be as good for the Conservatives as we assume. A thread (1)
— Leonardo Carella (@leonardocarella) October 2, 2019
Leonardo Carella’s theory – which was illustrated with a deep, graphical dive into recent electoral data – suggests that the pro-Brexit vote in the UK is now much less efficiently distributed around the country than the “remain” vote.
To put it in simpler terms: Pro-Brexit parties appear to be competing for the same votes in the same parts of the country, whereas more pro-EU parties are stronger in different parts of the UK.
So while the split in the “remain” vote might appear to benefit the Conservatives in national vote share, that may not fully manifest as seats on a local level.
If you add to this the possibility of digitally organised tactical voting among “remain” voters, the political landscape does not look quite as advantageous to Johnson as it first appears.
Johnson will have to gain lots of ground just to stand still
This effect could be heightened for Johnson in certain parts of the UK.
Recent polls in Scotland suggest Johnson is set to lose significant numbers of seats north of the border. Other national polls suggest the Liberal Democrats would pick up several seats from Johnson’s party in southern England.
This means that just to emerge with the same number of seats in Parliament he has, Johnson would need to make up every one of those lost seats, with additional seats taken from Labour.
If Labour’s national vote remains at its current level in the polls, this may well be possible. However, if Johnson hopes to regain a majority, he will need to win seats from Labour that have not been won by the Conservative Party for decades, if ever.
The Labour voters Johnson needs could prove too difficult to budge
An interesting poll conducted earlier this month found that the sort of Labour voters Johnson would need to target were actually motivated much more by issues such as the state of public services and cost of living than they were by Brexit.
That’s why Johnson has spent so much time in recent months touring hospitals and announcing spending increases, in a bid to attract voters in the sort of northern Labour seats he needs to win a majority.
However, persuading these voters to back the Conservatives, after 10 years of spending cuts under a Conservative government, may prove simply too difficult.
Johnson’s campaign could be wrecked by scandal
There are four investigations underway into Johnson’s relationship with the tech entrepreneur and former model Jennifer Arcuri.
The prime minister has been accused of wrongly giving Arcuri access to foreign trade missions and public grants while he was the mayor of London.
City Hall has yet to complete its investigation into the issue, and if more serious claims against Johnson emerge soon, they’d dominate the campaign and put Johnson’s election hopes at risk.
So while Johnson remains the favourite to win an election, there remain plenty of reasons to doubt that he can pull off the sort of victory he is aiming for.