Remember David Cameron’s 2015 pre-election warnings of ‘chaos’ if-then Labour Party leader Ed Miliband was elected into government which would include being held ransom by the Scottish National Party?
It assisted him in delivering a thumping victory as the Conservative Party won 331 seats, giving them a majority.
This was despite nearly all the polls having the two parties’ neck and neck during the entire run-up. But when it came to the business end, Cameron had the punchlines and slogans ready, and in elections, they can make all the difference.
As Britain heads to the polls for the fourth time in five years, the terrain is no different.
Politically hamstrung after failing to pass his Brexit deal through the Commons, and with Brussels granting an extension to the October 31st deadline, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called an election for December 12th in a bid to overcome the political logjam.
It might well be his undoing though. Whilst Johnson has up to this point profited from favourable press coverage, allowing him to lie unbridled to the public, a campaign trail is very different. It is precisely where Corbyn thrives and operates best.
It has only been a couple of days since the election was called, but Labour and Corbyn are already in full steam and displaying remarkable ruthlessness.
In only Johnson’s third PMQ’s, yet maybe his last, he resorted to what the Conservatives have banked on for their support in recent years, and smeared Corbyn. He asserted the health service would be at risk because should Labour get into government, it would be collateral damage as they ‘wreck the economy’.
What Johnson did not realise, is that shifting the conversation onto domestic issues, such as the NHS, works entirely in Corbyn’s favour.
Indeed, Corbyn responded sharply, warning that ‘Boris Johnson ’s planned sell-out deal with Donald Trump means yet more NHS money taken away from patients and handed to shareholders’.
He added ‘The NHS is up for grabs by US corporations in a Trump trade plot’.
It is potent and forthright messages and slogans of that ilk which will pitch in the mind of the public. The election campaign is a six-week long process, and Brexit cannot dominate it all. Brexit is the topic on everyone’s lips when it comes to the biggest issue facing the country, but when the conversation is concerning the biggest issues facing people individually, jobs, the NHS and the economy will always prevail.
In fact, the conversation on the NHS has come at a valuable time for Corbyn. A fresh investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches shows that initial trade discussions between the two countries have taken place, with ‘drug pricing’ being at the heart of the conversation.
Likewise, as long ago as January, America’s pharmaceutical firms were asking the US government to ensure Brexit trade negotiations increased the price they can charge the NHS for drugs.
Corbyn hammered home the message on Thursday as he made a speech to kickstart the election campaign in Battersea. ‘The NHS is not for sale’ he affirmed, as the crowd erupted into chants of ‘not for sale’.
Corbyn’s message would only have been accentuated when on Nigel Farage’s LBC radio show, President of the United States Donald Trump phoned in, and heaped praise on Johnson, claiming he is ‘the exact right guy for the times’ whilst suggesting Corbyn ‘would be so bad for your country’.
Corbyn responded immediately by accusing Trump of interfering in Britain’s election, and the Trump endorsement of Johnson will be a welcome tool for Corbyn and Labour to employ.
It is indeed a problem of Johnson’s making. He has made ample references to a future robust trading relationship with the US post-Brexit. And now fears are that will include a central pillar of the UK, the NHS.
Thus, Brexit has engendered divergent opinions and contributed to a split in the country. But the health service is one thing that the public can unanimously unite behind. And Labour is making it abundantly clear it is only they who will protect it.
So for each time Trump makes reference to ‘getting Brexit done’, Labour can point score by questioning the mould of any future trading relationship and whether it will compromise the NHS. In addition, when Johnson attempts to woo voters with his ‘people v parliament’ narrative, Labour can return with claims that for all his pretence, the people’s man Boris Johnson is happy to sell off the people’s health service. That may well be the antidote to Johnson’s Brexit discourse and the key slogan this winter.