If media narrative is the key to political success, Theresa May just took another big step towards a majority of historic size. Thursday’s speech outside Downing Street, framing this election as her pluckily defending the nation against Jean Claude Juncker and the Brussels bureaucrats, was exactly what the Tory tabloids wanted to hear. It will tap directly into the worldview of the Brexit voters she needs to re-align UK politics in the Tories’ favour.
The timing couldn’t be better with voters in England, Scotland and Wales going to the polls today (May 4) for local elections. According to psephologists Rallings and Thrasher, determining the winners and losers will be straightforward. They predict the Tories to gain 115 seats, while Labour lose 75. For the opposition to be losing seats to the governing party, especially at this late stage, is catastrophic.
However all those numbers will do is re-inforce the consensus. Terrible news for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, but when hasn’t that been the case? Likewise it is obvious that UKIP are disintegrating, with their supporters transferring to the Tories en masse. The more interesting story – with profound implications for June 8th – concerns the minor parties. 85 projected Lib Dem gains is not far behind the Tories, while UKIP losing 105 is more than Labour.
One reason why virtually nobody predicted a Tory majority in 2015 was that we were all trying to make sense of a unique period in UK political history – in which the old party system was breaking down and voters were in flux like never before. Two years on we are still trying to understand it and winning money on this election necessarily involves predicting the behaviour of these same voters.
Two critical things happened after 2010. In joining the Tories in coalition, the Lib Dems burned their bridges with over half their voters. Throughout the parliament, they were punished repeatedly in local elections and obliterated at the General Election, losing 49 out of 57 seats. On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps as a partial response to the Tories leading a more liberal government, UKIP rose from nowhere.