Embattled Labour Could Still Win UK Election

Glenn Houlihan
May 22, 2017

Many observers have dismissed Labour as a certain loser of the upcoming UK General Election. It's a mistake to write off the left-wing party. however, as a Conservative victory isn't a foregone conclusion.

When Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly called an election, commentators and party leaders quickly brushed away her flimsy rationale. Rather than an effort to give Conservatives a stronger hand at the Brexit negotiating table, it was a cynical attempt to cash in on Labour’s abysmal polling.

Labour’s internal conflicts reached new highs in 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn defied conventional thinking to become the party leader. The subsequent mass mutinies triggered another leadership election in 2016, which he again won convincingly. Critics argue that if Corbyn can’t control or unite his own party, he's unqualified to run the country.

However, Labour appears to be staging a comeback. In Wales, support surged 9 points in two weeks to 44% of intended voters, while the Tories' share fell to 34%. Moreover, a national poll found Labour support has jumped from 26% to 34%. True, the Tories still command more than 45% of the vote according to major polls, but it's clear Labour have regained momentum.

The party's revival can be attributed to three Ms: Media, Manifesto and Mood. Firstly, media outlets have been forced to allocate greater airtime to Corbyn’s speeches and policies, raising awareness among readers and viewers and informing their views. The leak of Labour’s manifesto magnified national interest, galvanising discussion and debate and allowing Corbyn to make his case before his rivals had a chance.

Secondly, Labour’s bold manifesto - still dubiously budgeted - has cut through the noise to reach voters. Popular policies include abolishing tuition fees, renationalising failing sectors and guaranteeing the pension ‘triple lock’ - an annual increase in state pensions by the higher of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. These proposals have connected with significant and diverse parts of the electorate: students, working-age commuters and the elderly. In contrast, May has refused to guarantee the triple lock, intends to cut fuel allowance and hasn’t ruled out an estate tax. She may be taking voters for granted – a dangerous mindset that arguably undid both US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Remain campaigners.

Finally, both of Labour’s main rivals – Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - have misread the country’s mood. The latter seemed to be on the rise after their surprise victory in a byelection in Richmond Park, London. But the self-proclaimed ‘party of the 48%’ – the percentage of Brits who voted against leaving the EU – are averaging just 8% in in the polls. A major problem is that their middling manifesto has failed to inspire or engage voters. And both May and Lib Dem leader Farron have tried to frame this election as a second referendum on Brexit, when there appears to be limited appetite for one; Labour has focused on other issues such as healthcare.

The demise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) - having completed its flagship promise of securing an EU referendum - will be key to Corbyn's success. If most of the right-wing group's nearly 4.9 million voters defect to the Tories, Labour could be squeezed out of crucial marginal seats.

It’s indisputable that Labour has a mountain to climb. But the coming election is more than an exercise in predicting the size of the Tory's majority in Parliament; the hyper-volatile climate raises the chances of an surprise. Corbyn may have only a few weeks to close a 15-point gap and best the Tories, but stranger things have happened in politics in the last year alone. Following the twin shocks of Brexit and a Trump presidency, it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility of a Labour upset.