Election Post #7: Week Six

May 31, 2017

Campaigning in the sixth week of the election remained suspended by most parties until Friday morning in the wake of the Manchester terror attack. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, the UK's terror threat was raised from severe to critical and the army were deployed to assist the police at key locations. The Andrew Neil interviews with the party leaders were also suspended but resumed on Friday with Jeremy Corbyn being interviewed. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn each faced a live audience on Monday night before taking questions from Jeremy Paxman in a joint Sky-Channel 4 ‘The Battle for Number 10’.  

UKIP were the first party to relaunch their campaign after the truce, resuming a full day earlier than either of the two major parties. Confirming that the party would launch its manifesto, Paul Nuttall commented that "prolonging the disruption to normality" in the wake of the Manchester attack "allows the terrorists to win". UKIP went ahead and launched its manifesto. The Liberal Democrats have warned of the damage that an extreme Brexit will do to the NHS and have launched posters attacking the Conservatives' free school meals proposals. The Green Party has tried to bring climate change into the debate, claiming that it is a bigger issue than Brexit. The Scottish National Party postponed its manifesto launch following the Manchester attack and launched the document on Monday, seeking to provide a 'clear alternative to five more years of austerity'. The party's manifesto calls for a referendum on Scottish independence at 'the end of the Brexit process'. 

The Conservative campaign has continued to be dogged by questions about the so-called 'dementia tax' and cuts to the number of police officers during Mrs May's tenure as Home Secretary have come into the public view. The party has also been forced to admit that it does not know how much one of its flagship policies, providing free school breakfasts to all primary school children, will cost. As the party's lead over Labour plummeted, their campaign launch was cancelled with David Davis pulling out of a major campaign event in London at the last minute. With the chaos following the party's manifesto launch and the apparent closing of the opinion polls, the Prime Minister has attempted to move the debate back towards leadership and security and has made several attacks on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership credentials. Several senior Conservatives have sought to make links between Mr Corbyn and the IRA. CCHQ tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn 'has a habit of siding with our enemies'. There have also been frequent references to the 172 Labour MPs that voted no-confidence in their leader last summer. Mrs May's performance at her interview with Jeremy Paxman was mixed with her taking some awkward questions from the audience, including a point where they began laughing at her. 

Labour has had a mixed week with the party leader joining football team of young people in Hackney Marshes before attending the FA cup final at Wembley. Jeremy Corbyn put in a strong performance when interviewed by Jeremy Paxman and a studio audience on Monday night. Mr. Corbyn handled several difficult questions pretty well; particularly those on his past links with the IRA. In his interview with Jeremy Paxman, Mr Corbyn came across relaxed and seemed to make a good impression on the audience. On Tuesday, however, Corbyn wrote many of the headlines when he failed to recall Labour figures on childcare during an interview on Woman's Hour. Corbyn quickly apologised for his error at an event later in the day in Watford but defended looking at his iPad for the figure, commenting that he wanted to get it right. 

What are the polls saying?

Labour's poll improvement has continued apace. A shock YouGov poll, taken on 24-25th put Labour on 38 percent, five points behind the Conservatives. If this vote were to be repeated across the country on an entirely uniform basis, the Conservative majority could potentially be reduced from 12 to 2. Of course, this was just one poll and there are many caveats attached to it. On average, Labour were sitting on 35 percent at the end of week six whilst the Conservatives were still comfortably ahead on 44. This 9-point lead is the smallest recorded in our polling average since September 2016 and is a far cry from the 20-point lead that the party held just a few weeks ago. Many commentators have pointed out that Labour's improvement in the polls is based on an inflated turnout among young people and that on election day these voters are not likely to turnout in great numbers. Of course, it is possible that on this occasion they will but it is far from certain. The Conservatives have dropped from the high to mid 40s but have remained on or above 42 percent in all of the last ten polls. Labour have had scores ranging from 32 to 38 percent. For Labour, the big question remains- can they overtake the Conservatives in the coming weeks and lead an opinion poll. The polls continue to make grim reading for the smaller parties with the Liberal Democrats only slightly above their 2015 share at roughly 8.2 percent, UKIP just over 4 percent and the Greens between 1 and 2 percent. The polls suggest an increasingly polarised electorate with the Conservative and Labour shares adding up to their largest combined percentage since 1979. Mrs May's personal ratings have also taken a tumble despite remaining clearly ahead of Mr. Corbyn. 

There have been no polls from Scotland or Wales this week.

Projection at the end of week six: Conservative Majority of 70.


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