Click here for Part 1: Introduction
…here for Part 3: Labour and Lib-Dems
…here for Part 4: SNP, Plaid Cymru and conclusion.
The Tories have changed a bit, since last time around and a lot since Cameron, especially rhetorically. They are likely to suffer some losses from their remainer wing, mostly to the Lib-Dems and the SNP. So their path to a majority relies on winning lots of leave-voting, historically Labour seats in the post-industrial heartlands of England and Wales.
To that end, they will be making all kinds of spending promises for the NHS, infrastructure and crime. At the same time, of course, they are also plotting post-Brexit de-regulatory trade deals with Trump and the rest and have a tranche of Thatcherite ultras in the Cabinet. But obviously their number one appeal in these seats and everywhere is about Brexit and the fantasy of ‘ending it’ by passing Johnson’s deal, even though this just initiates at least another decade of wrangling over Ireland, trade and everything else.
They will also likely try out some culture war tactics imported from the American right, in addition to their usual xenophobia and racism we will get Jock-baiting about Labour doing a deal with the SNP and maybe some nasty transphobia and god-knows what else hidden way in micro-targeted social media ads.
If the Tories succeed in making the election mostly about Brexit, they stand to do well, both because of the positive appeal of finally honouring the referendum vote and because this might also help split the anti-Tory vote by bolstering the most radically pro-Remain parties i.e. not Labour. However, its important to understand that they are relying on winning seats that have more or less never elected Conservative MPs and where hatred of the Tories is generational and tribal. Party allegiances are undoubtedly far weaker than they used to be, but winning seats in these places will not be easy for them.
And, of course, they may not succeed in making Brexit the overriding issue; voters do have other concerns and 5 weeks to think and hear about them now that stricter broadcast media impartiality rules have kicked and the BBC etc. have to give more air-time to Labour’s other policies. And on most other issues, the Tories will struggle.
Just as its very hard for Labour to outflank the Tories on, say, anti-migrant politics, its hard for the Tories to win on protecting and improving public services after 10 years in government systematically trashing them. Johnson himself has some skills as a communicator and his shambling charm act can work, especially on TV. But he is just not a normal person, more extroverted than Theresa May but just far too posh to connect with voters directly, especially because his personality consists almost entirely of solipsistic delusions of grandeur with essentially no space for human empathy or kindness. He is smart enough to toss quips around the Oxford Union with similarly cummerbunded parasites but not enough to engage effectively with the panoply of actual people he would meet on the streets of the UK.
So Johnson is maybe a shakier campaigner than the media has confected him to be. Add to this that the Tory front bench is not especially talented and now includes people like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who until recently was considered a reactionary outlier even within the Tory party, and who has already had to apologise for suggesting that the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire died because they were too stupid to ignore the fire brigade and leave their flats.
The Tories have the advantage in terms of paid-for media, with their piles of cash on hand, and they also benefit from the highly partisan print-media, which predominantly supports them, and from the subtler bias of the broadcast media, which generally regurgitates right-wing framings and holds Labour up to much sharper scrutiny. But Labour has a significant advantage in terms of grass-roots campaigning, with hundreds of thousands more members than the Tories, whose activist base skews both old and extremist, further reducing its effectiveness on the doorstep.
So a real, competitive campaign about more than Brexit makes an outright Conservative victory unlikely. And of course if everything goes very well for Labour and the forces of remain, they could do very badly indeed. But equally, if the Tories hold off Labour and the Lib-Dems, they are quite likely to come out the largest party.
The Brexit Party
The x-factor here is Nigel Farage’s Brexit party; if they do indeed run aggressively in all the same Labour leave seats the Tories are targeting, they could well split the pro-Brexit vote and hand victory to Labour. Tribal anti-Tory sentiment may drive the pro-Brexit vote to Farage in these areas. If things go very well for the right and they avoid splitting the vote, the Brexit Party could just conceivably win enough seats to get the Tories over the line to a majority, although a pact with the Brexit Party would further alienate any centrist support and member the Tories still have. So this could be a short-term victory presaging a longer term defeat.