He’s been accused of misleading the public, his aides have sworn on live TV and he’s dodged multiple interviews, including by hiding in a fridge – and that’s just in the last week. Yet, Boris Johnson and the Conservatives have not only won the UK General Election, but they have done so convincingly, with their largest majority since 1987. The question on the minds of many this morning is, how?
From the start of the campaign, election polls predicted a win for the Conservatives, and then much like 2017 but not to the same extent, polls suggested Labour was catching them up in the days leading up to the election. This, and the general mood surrounding the election on polling day meant that many Britons were left shocked at the Exit Poll and the results that followed. It would have seemed very difficult a few days ago to predict such a triumph for the Conservatives and such a disastrous night for Labour – so how did it happen?
The answer? Let’s start with the big one – Brexit.
It’s over three years since the UK voted to leave the European Union, and we’ve heard about little but Brexit ever since. Brexit was always going to be important in this election, but it seems it may have been significantly more important than many may have appreciated. The general election was called because the government was unable to resolve the issue of Brexit – it just didn’t have the numbers and there was too much division in Parliament. The Conservatives framed the division as people vs. parliament, claiming that Parliament was refusing to honour the will of the British people. Some have described this type of rhetoric as dangerous for our democracy, but it seems to have worked in Boris Johnson’s favour.
The Conservatives have so far had to extend the Brexit deadline three times, and have repeatedly failed to get a withdrawal agreement passed through Parliament. However, it is the Conservatives that the British public has again put their trust in to deliver Brexit. The idea of Parliament getting in the way of Brexit seems to have resonated with the public, and no doubt helped the party win many votes.
When looking at campaigning, ‘Get Brexit Done’ was a headline slogan for the Conservative campaign and it was something that they would not stop repeating. In the interviews they did complete, the Conservatives tried to make almost everything about Brexit, claiming things could not be improved until it was done – whether it be the NHS, education or even policing and sentencing. In the days running up to the election, Boris Johnson’s Twitter account had the words ‘Get Brexit Done’ being tweeted once an hour during several periods.
The Conservatives knew that the public wanted to see the back of Brexit, either because they just didn’t want to talk about it anymore, wanted to move on to other issues or because they were particularly passionate about leaving the EU. So really, the campaigning on Brexit alone could be seen as the main reason for the Conservative’s triumph. The party may have potentially hindered themselves by hiding from interviews and giving particularly misleading figures on domestic investment policies, but with the public having such strong beliefs on Brexit, it didn’t seem to matter.
The simplicity of the Brexit message helped the party, and it seems likely that so did their fairly limited manifesto. Sure, the Conservatives have plenty of spending plans in their manifesto that many considered to be dubious, but compared to Labour, their offering in terms of policies away from Brexit was pretty small. The party has clearly learnt from its mistakes of 2017 and opted for a much safer manifesto, where they can be no repeats of policy pledges like the 2017 ‘Dementia Tax’ which lost them support and subsequent votes.
Finally, the relative weakness of other parties helped the Conservatives to their victory. Constant reminders over anti-semitism and other issues impacting the Labour Party resulted in some traditional Labour voters either staying at home or lending their support elsewhere. The Labour message on Brexit was much less clear than that of the Conservatives, so some keen leave supporters were said to be voting for the Conservatives for the first time. It’s key to note that in the election, compared to 2017, the Labour vote share dropped by 7.9%. The Conservatives did increase their vote share, but only by 1.2% so the failure of other parties like Labour definitely assisted the scale of the Conservatives victory, and their failure can be largely related to their campaigning on Brexit.
The Lib Dems can also be seen to have had some impact in helping the Conservatives – they failed to achieve a net gain in seats compared to the last election and while it’s unlikely that too many who would have supported Lib Dems voted Conservative, it is certainly possible that the Lib Dems failure to attract high voting shares allowed the Conservatives to win in more areas.
So, overall, the major importance of Brexit cannot be denied in the 2019 election. The Conservatives have got the majority they so greatly wanted and now claim they can go forward and deliver Brexit – as for what happens next and how it all unfolds, we’ll have to wait and see.