Monday 9 December 2019

General Election: a view from Stoke

It's now three days to the General Election, and to this particular befuddled hobbit the whole thing seems like a mighty imposition. Still, I shall reluctantly trudge out in the cold and damp to vote on Thursday.

Talking of hobbits, our political landscape now curiously resembles The Lord of the Rings. With Corbyn as Saruman, who through a vain desire to do good has turned to evil, all the while unwittingly serving 'the dark power in the East' in Mordor. Given half a chance, Saruman and his henchmen will ruin the Shire, and his sly words have already done much damage. One can see Boris as Sam and Javid as Frodo, struggling through mountains of dumb orcs and 'Project Fear' wraiths to get the Ring of Brexit across the bitter wastes to Mount Doom... and there to destroy it forever. Who is Gandalf? Well, put Jacob Rees-Mogg in white robes and a long beard and he'd fit the part quite well. Where is Aragorn? Sadly we have no Aragorn, with Prince Charles being more of a curious mix of Wormtongue ("doom... doooom... coming soon...") and good old Radagast the herbalist who talks to plants.

But enough of the strained Lord of the Rings comparisons. I have a horrible suspicion that the Election polls are wrong, as polls always are. When will the media and politicians learn that? The polls are always wrong, something that's been proved time after time over the last ten years.

As such, and from the perspective of Stoke-on-Trent Central, I think that the Election will be a far more close-run thing than London media pundits imagine. We may have another narrow escape from Corbyn and hard socialism. With another hung Parliament, and another four years of dismal Brexit betrayal through endless delay. At best I think Boris's government will be very lucky to get a working majority of perhaps 28, and that the Brexit Party could effectively hold the balance of power. Scotland, various forms of vote-splitting in key marginals, and another tactical youth surge in favour of a toxic mix of hard socialism and hateful antisemitism, will likely see to that.

Anyway, I'd love to be proved wrong by Friday. But that's my prediction.

What of my own Stoke Central constituency? I really can't see the huge Labour block vote being overturned here, even with a relatively lacklustre Labour candidate. Last time even a co-ordinated mass swing of UKIP voters to the Conservatives couldn't ding the Labour majority. UKIP has since imploded and so that won't happen again. As such, a vote for the Brexit Party seems the only chance in Stoke Central. On the assumption that a great many former Labour voters will want to defect from their dismal party, but won't be emotionally able to bring themselves to vote for the Conservatives. Thus if they get out to vote at all then they'll mostly cast a protest-vote for the Brexit Party. All would then depend on local Conservatives also strategically switching their vote to the Brexit Party. There are many who are utterly fed up with the Conservative Party's wishy-washy stances on things, even under Boris. As such, their conscience may find it easy to cast a one-time vote for the Brexit Party.

In Stoke South the election opened with the curious de-selection of the Lib Dem candidate, supposedly for being too moral and staunch in his Christian beliefs. I suspect the real reason was that someone finally realised that he had been quite popular, despite his very low media profile when a Labour MP. And that thus he could split the anti-Conservative vote if he ran as a Lib Dem in 2019. Which meant his abrupt last-minute removal, with a bit of snide gesture-politics thrown in for good measure. Stoke South is now a simple three-way fight, Conservative, Labour, Lib Dems. The Labour guy was parachuted in, and when last heard of was cluelessly calling Stoke-on-Trent a "town" rather than a city. As such I'd suspect that the Conservative candidate, the excellent local man Jack Brereton, is relatively safe there.

In Stoke North, who knows? I suspect Ruth Smeeth will be re-elected, though only-just and largely for herself rather than for the Labour Party. Also because the Brexit Party will split the anti-Labour vote there. But there are other factors at play. For those who think the constituency is just about Burslem, it's not. It's a curiously tangled constituency, running from urban grot in Cobridge through Burslem and up to the wind-swept rural hilltops at Goldenhill and then down into leafy Kidsgrove. A lot will depend on votes from the more rural fringes, in such a finely-balanced election. Small votes for the Lib Dems and Greens may also help tip the balance. If Smeeth wins then it'll be a close-run thing.

Staffordshire Moorlands should be a fairly safe seat, with the bonus of a likeable and cuddly Conservative candidate. Bill Cash is of course safe in Stone. There is no Brexit Party candidate in the Moorlands, nor in Stoke-on-Trent South, Stone, Stafford and Congleton.

The student and NHS staff block-votes, and the Brexit Party as vote-splitters, will probably be enough to keep Newcastle-under-Lyme in the hands of Labour. But it will likely be a close run thing. The fact that the sour hard-nosed Paul Farrelly has gone will probably actually help the Labour vote, if their new candidate has more personal charm.

Crewe & Nantwich is being heavily contested, and there's even a brave Libertarian candidate there. How this seat, and Stafford, will go seems like anyone's guess.

But I'll probably be completely wrong about all this, and the Conservatives will romp home with a huge Falklands War-type landslide as per the early polls.

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