Boris’s election gamble: Clouded futures and no answers on the cards

You don’t need psychic powers to feel the weariness of the British electorate right now. 

With three general elections and a referendum in the space of four years, it’s hardly surprising, is it? And political fatigue is just one of the factors that makes the coming election such a gamble – for Johnson and all the major parties.

The election will inevitably be fought on the logjam at the heart of all British politics: Brexit. And that’s a gamble for Johnson in itself because, of course, he is the Brexit architect who stormed to the top of a crumbling Conservative Party saying he would get Brexit done by 31 October or be found “dead in a ditch”.

The spookiest thing this Halloween, then, is to find that Britain hasn’t left and that this ghostly Prime Minister, animated by his blonde ambition, has risen from his ditch and is leading an election campaign.

His message in that campaign – perhaps his biggest gamble of all – is that he has done all in his power and “Parliament and Jeremy Corbyn have blocked everything.” Will his populist “people versus parliament” message cut through? Will Leave voters really absolve Boris and blame Parliament and Labour instead? Only time – and a lot of Facebook advertising – will tell.

As for Corbyn’s Labour, this is an election they do not want to fight on a subject they have tried to dodge and fudge at every turn since the referendum itself. It’s fair to say they do not want to be here. They wanted to keep dodging an election after Brexit and fight on their natural home territory of the NHS and austerity. They’ve been wrongfooted and their indecision on Brexit and stalling on an election could now cost them dear.

There are two big unknowns with Labour. However poor their polling now (polls put them up to 16 points behind the Conservatives), Corbyn comes into his own on the campaign trail. Most people believe this was the key to Labour’s shock gains in the 2017 election.

The other key question is whether Corbyn will be able to hold on to his Leave-voting constituencies in the north despite the party’s dithering over Brexit. With Boris homing in on them, these seats are likely to be key battlegrounds in the election.

What about the two great yellow perils in this election, the SNP and the Lib Dems? These two parties cloud the picture further and make this election even harder to predict. With their hard-Remain pledge to revoke Article 50, the Lib Dems will undoubtedly pick up votes: the question is from whom?

The Lib Dems are likely to win big in large parts of London and other metropolitan centres. A shock poll in Finchley and Golders Green, for example, showed they had leapt eight points ahead of the Conservatives. Nationally, they are polling between 15 and 21 per cent, but it is far from certain whether this will translate into seats and, if so, where.

In Scotland, the safest money is, of course, on the SNP. The Scottish Conservatives, who made reasonable gains in the last election, have been seriously damaged by Johnson and the party’s lurch to the right on Brexit. They have also lost their figurehead, Ruth Davidson. Labour too, have suffered in Scotland because of their English party’s stance on Brexit. The hard-Remain Lib Dems, however, may be in a position to gain among anti-Brexit Scottish unionists.

As if the future of this election wasn’t shrouded in enough mystery already, there’s one more factor. Voters in general, it seems, are changing. Earlier in October, the British Election Study warned there is now “an unprecedented trend of voting volatility”, with voters more likely than ever to switch allegiances.

David Butler, an expert psephologist involved in the report said: “I have never felt more confused and uncertain” about an election. People in British politics may not have had enough of experts, but experts seem to have had enough of British politics.

In this environment, there’s no crystal ball for the future of self-employment after the election. This means uncertainty for freelancers, but it also means their cards aren’t marked. With no surety about the kind of government we will end up with, on vital issues like IR35, late payment and parental pay, there’s everything to play for.