Hung in the balance

by Gideon Hymas

For any arch Thatcherites in favour of a conservative fiscal policy and small government, this is not a good election. The Conservative and Labour parties are taking part in something of an arms race when it comes to spending commitments on core public services, especially healthcare. 

Ditching their divine conviction on tight public spending, the Conservatives have committed £20.5bn to the NHS which Boris Johnson has said is one of his three “people’s priorities”. Labour then responded with a promise of a £26 billion per year “rescue plan” for the NHS which would be paid for by higher taxes on higher incomes.

For many Conservative MPs standing for re-election who would ordinarily be alarmed at such a proposed spending spree, Brexit is ultimately more important. Therefore, if there is anything that may increase the possibility of delivering Britain’s exit from the EU, then it’s worth it. 

So, as such, Boris Johnson is seeking the votes of Britain’s Brexit heartlands with these spending commitments. He mounts this offensive in the full understanding that winning simply the most seats will not cut it. He needs a parliamentary majority to justify his decision to call an early election. In any case, relations between his party and the Democratic Unionist Party are not presently strong enough to envisage any confidence and supply agreement in the event of a hung parliament.

Labour, by contrast, know they do not need a majority to get the keys to number 10. An increase in seats could see Jeremy Corbyn as head of a minority government or in coalition with the Scottish National Party. Jeremy Corbyn seems comfortable on the campaign trail where he is trumpeting a radical plan that offers “real change” in relation social justice and climate change. His main challenge is now from the Conservative & Brexit parties in the North and the Liberal Democrats in some pro-Remain areas. 

The Liberal Democrats are the party of Remain, setting out their election pitch as the party most clearly opposed to Brexit. Meanwhile the SNP can be confident they will gain most of the seats in Scotland which would put them in a strong negotiating position in the event of a hung parliament where they could demand a second vote on Scottish independence.

With it all still to play for, predicting this election is a bit like trying to nail jelly to a wall. The collective sense is to compare it with the last election, but to do so in 2019 would be a largely futile exercise. While Brexit has been the dominant theme in both 2017 and 2019, there the similarity ends as Boris Johnson can now very clearly show that parliament has in the past two years obstructed the process of Brexit; a message that may resonate with an increasingly frustrated electorate. 

But, while the polls indicate conservative support, Labour’s digital campaign cannot be overlooked. They are currently winning on this front with millions more impressions made on their online content compared to the Conservatives.

Ultimately, whether it is online or elsewhere, how the campaign unfolds over the next few weeks will be the deciding factor in who is victorious, making each day as critical as the next.

We will also be publishing a further article in the coming weeks outlining the parties' proposals in their manifestos and what it means for healthcare.