Watch Out Minister, Why No MPs Are Safe This Christmas
PB Consulting’s Toby Bevan gives his thoughts on the unpredictable nature of this year’s winter election
So, Boris Johnson finally got the early Christmas present he’s been pining after these last few months – a General Election on 12th December. A winter election seems an alarmingly fitting way to round off one of the most unpredictable years in our modern political history – a grand finale suitably characterised by yet more ambiguity and anxiety for the ordinary voter.
But while the electorate will undoubtedly feel the strain as the iron-grip of election fever takes hold of the nation and its media, MPs are also set for a particularly bumpy ride. In these strange times, more politicians than ever will have to face up to the very real and daunting prospect of questioning their own job security. For as soon as the battle lines were drawn up this Autumn, it became apparent that the political boundaries have become increasingly blurred over the last three years – to a point where they are almost unrecognisable. As a result, no MPs are safe and it’s all to play for.
That is, of course, a slight exaggeration. There are a select group of MPs who will not have any concerns about their impending reinstatement into the House of Commons. However, there is also a far larger cohort of candidates who not will not feel so confident and will need to be wearing out pairs of shoes right up until polling day to ensure they win the right to represent their constituents in Westminster.
The problem that candidates face is that they can no longer rely on the traditional pool of voters associated with their own party. The traditional left/right axis – which has long split voters in the UK – has been skewed, and to an extent superseded, by the biggest question this country has faced in modern times. Brexit has re-jigged voting habits and redefined the way we perceive the main parties. This new axis distorts previously held inhibitions about why people vote the way that they do and has left political strategists flapping in the wind, hurriedly trying to play catch-up.
If that isn’t daunting enough, candidates must also consider the unknown element of the resurgent Liberal Democrats and the new Brexit Party. While these smaller raiding parties might not win a huge abundance of seats themselves, their impact on individual battles between Labour and the Conservatives could be significant. The two main parties claim they have a strategy for this but they must be wary. For while both parties are going to need to rely on the impact of the smaller parties in some seats, they will also look to squeeze them out of the running in others. This balancing act might prove too difficult to manage on a national scale.
This new backdrop means that the number of contentious (or marginal) seats will have jumped significantly. There are 295 seats which hold a majority of less than 10,000. Given the current climate, none of these MPs should be counting their chickens, nor should they be counting on votes they might have won in previous elections. Among those who fall into this vulnerable bracket are:
– Boris Johnson, Prime Minister, Uxbridge and South Ruislip, majority – 5034
– Robert Buckland, Secretary of State for Justice South, Swindon, majority – 2464
– Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative Party leader, Chingford and Woodford Green, majority – 2438
– Jo Swinson, leader of Liberal Democrats, East Dunbartonshire, majority – 5339
– Marsha de Cordova, Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Battersea, majority – 2416
– Theresa Villiers, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Chipping Barnet, majority – 353
– Paula Sherriff, Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care Dewsbury, majority – 3321
– Anna Soubry, leader of Change UK – The Independent Group, Broxtowe, majority – 863
– Jackie Doyle-Price, Thurrock, former health minister, majority – 345
– Tim Farron, former leader of Liberal Democrats, Westmorland and Lonsdale, majority – 777
– Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat spokesman for the Duchy of Lancaster, Carshalton and Wallington, majority – 1369
– Barbara Keeley, Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care, Worsley and Eccles, majority – 8379
– Chuka Umunna, Liberal Democrat Spokesman for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, majority – standing in Cities of London and Westminster ( challenging a majority – 3148)
Given the notable names littered throughout this list, it is clear this election is being held on unparalleled and shaky ground. The new political landscape not yet fully understood by anyone. Throw in the seasonal effect as another potentially significant factor and the variables become countless and uncontrollable. In such unprecedented times, could we end up with a Conservative majority where Boris loses his seat? Might Jo Swinson and Chuka’s personal failure leave a revived Liberal Democrats rudderless? Could the Labour Party find itself the party of North West London, instead of the North West? For campaign strategists, this election campaign is red rag to a bull. For incumbent MPs, it represents a huge test of their own mettle to weather the incoming winter storm.