I’m really undecided as to where exactly I think the general election is going to go. Conventional wisdom says that the Tories will come out with a huge majority, and yeah, that looks pretty likely.
But it’s dissatisfying to me to treat this as a foregone conclusion because I can see a credible route to a much less impressive change. To be clear, I am not saying I think this will happen, I am just saying I think it’s a realistic possibility:
The polls might well be wrong. We had shy-Tory and shy-Brexit effects in the last referendums whereby the polls underestimated right wing support because people felt embarrassed about admitting their politically incorrect voting intentions. Since the EU referendum I simply do not believe that people are being shy about being right wing. The boot is very much on the other foot as we have the likes of the Daily Mail very openly channelling their inner Goebbels to shame anyone who’s not a true believer in the great brexit project. These people are now vindicated and emboldened. If there is a shy effect it’s a shy-Corbyn effect as he’s been repeatedly lambasted and the only vocal support he receives now is from a narrow set of Labour activists with whom most people would be embarrassed to be associated. A 2-3% swing towards Corbyn on election day is not unrealistic.
With a 2-3% swing we’re still looking at the Tories breaking 40% and Labour struggling to hit 30%.
But Corbyn may yet pull back a few points during campaigning. Theresa May is not a strong leader, she’s not a good public speaker and she can’t think on her feet. I’ve no problems with the last two in a PM, but if the other leaders can pressure her into a public TV debate which she is trying so hard to avoid, she’s running the risk of shattering the perception that she’s strong and commanding. At the moment she’s banking on being regarded as the professional and safe option versus Corbyn the swivel eyed loon. But while David Cameron used to run rings around Corbyn in PMQs, Corbyn manages to hold his own against May. Putting her and Corbyn head to head will make people realise that she’s not the confident and capable leader she’s cracked up to be, and that Corbyn’s not as insane as he’s cracked up to be.
Now we’re at Labour in the low 30s and the Tories in the high 30s. In other words, we’re not really that far off from 2015 numbers. So, the Tories take say 30 seats off Labour giving them a nice, but unremarkable, lead
Or at least, it would be if the Lib Dems weren’t going after the seats they lost to the Tories in 2015. Lynton Crosby, senior Tory strategist thinks that they’d lose most of the 27 seats they took off the Lib Dems in 2015. Some will stay blue, but traditionally the Lib Dems are pretty strong at picking their battles, as evidenced in the Richmond by election last year.
So the end result here is that the Tories take some seats off Labour and then lose half of that number to the LDs. Instead of ending up with 400 seats, they end up with about 340-350. A decent haul if viewed in isolation, but a definite under-performance for a snap election called on the incumbent’s own terms.