An Election of Surprises?

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Will Jennings is a senior Politics and International Relations lecturer at the University of Southampton. Here, he has kindly offered his analysis of the 2017 General Election to be published in Wessex Scene. 

Theresa May’s decision to go to the country on June 8th took many by surprise, not least because of her earlier protestations that she would not call a snap election.

For an election where the result seemed a foregone conclusion, the campaign has thrown up a number of unexpected surprises. After an initial bounce in the polls, the Conservatives have seen their once towering lead cut, while Labour has surged – though questions still remain about the reliability of its support, and whether it will turn out on Election Day. UKIP’s support has collapsed from its high water mark of 2015, with the party struggling to find a purpose after Brexit and its leader Paul Nuttall making little connection with the electorate. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats have struggled to make gains having positioned themselves as the party of the 48%.

It may yet be that Theresa May secures a sizeable majority, but the events of the campaign so far have highlighted that the conventional wisdom can sometimes be misleading, or at the very least grossly simplistic. Ahead of the election a lot was made of the ‘death of Labour’ thesis, with Jeremy Corbyn’s unpopularity exacerbating the structural divide between working class voters in its northern heartlands, many of whom had voted for Brexit, and its strongholds in metropolitan areas, where its support has a very different demographic look and cultural outlook. It seems, though, that Labour’s brand has a residual appeal to many voters and its manifesto managed to present a series of policies with popular appeal. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have struggled to connect with voters, despite Theresa May’s huge lead over Corbyn in the polls as the person considered ‘best prime minister’ by the public. The normally well-run Conservative campaign has seen proposals on social care backfire, and the focus of the campaign has drifted from the initial focus of who voters trust to handle Brexit.

The Conservatives may yet outperform the polls, as they have often done in recent decades, and there remains time for further twists and turns in the election campaign – with many outcomes seemingly possible, ranging from a Conservative landslide to a much narrower than expected victory, which would surely spell trouble for Prime Minister May in the months ahead.

Many thanks to Will Jennings for his contribution.

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