On Your Marks. Get Set. Campaign.
And they’re off. Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited The Queen on Wednesday afternoon, to inform her that the country will have an election on 12th December 2019. Later that evening, Johnson headed to the Midlands to launch the start of his campaign. Earlier in the week, the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party, Green Party and Plaid Cymru all launched their election campaigns. The SNP launched their election today.
This week marks the start of six grueling weeks of manifesto promises, pledges and intense debate, whilst the electorate weigh up their options.
The Conservative Party:
It was probably not the start that Johnson had hoped for, as his first week of campaigning was littered with gaffs, resignation and awkward interviews.
Firstly, Cabinet Minister and Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, was interviewed on LBC with Nick Ferrari, where he implied that the victims of the Grenfell tragedy didn’t have the common sense to evacuate the building, despite firefighter instructions to remain in their homes. The comments prompted immediate backlash and calls for his resignation. This was worsened when Conservative colleague Andrew Bridgen MP, echoed the comments in a subsequent interview on Radio 4. Both Rees-Mogg and Bridgen apologised for any upset their comments might have caused.
Alun Cairns, the Secretary of State for Wales, resigned from his position following an email leak. The leak revealed that the Minister was aware that a former constituency staffer had collapsed a rape trial, of which his friend was the defendant – the friend was later convicted of rape. Cairns had previously denied any knowledge of this, yet the released email sent directly to the Secretary of State, contained evidence that he was indeed aware of his staffer’s actions.
From one problem to the next, Party Chairman James Cleverly MP was empty chaired by Kay Burley on Sky News. There was some confusion as to whether the Chairman was set to appear on the show, however Burley was adamant that she received confirmation from Party officials. After he didn’t show, Burley proceeded to read aloud all the questions she had intended to ask Cleverly. Cleverly’s schedule was subsequently released, on which Burley’s show did not feature. Nevertheless, the lack appearance, in light of other gaffs was damming.
The Party also came under fire following the posting of an ‘edited’ version of an interview by the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. The ‘edited’ video of Sir Kier Starmer exaggerated his interview on Good Morning Britain, where he failed to answer questions on how he would campaign in Labour’s second referendum. The video was captioned: Labour has no plan for Brexit.
Despite the rocky start, the Conservatives have maintained their lead ahead in the polls, despite the announcement from Nigel Farage that the Brexit Party will field candidates in 600 seats, unless Johnson drops his Brexit plan. Johnson also received a boost when ex-Labour MP Ian Austin, argued that voters should support the Conservatives at the ballot box.
The Party managed to announce some policies. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid, announced on Thursday that a reelected Conservative Government would borrow more to invest in public services, whilst still living within ‘our means.’ He also announced a £100bn splurge on roads, rail, broadband and buildings over the next five years. Javid revealed three new fiscal rules to replace policy imposed following the financial crash, hailing ‘new rules for a new economic era.’
With the Number 10 door behind him, Johnson’s speech to the country reinstated his pledge to defeat Corbyn and deliver Brexit, put more police on the streets and protect and invest in education.
The Labour Party:
Labour also had a shaky start to their launch, as ex-Labour MP Ian Austin gave an interview on Thursday arguing that voters should lend their support to the Conservatives. He described Jeremy Corbyn as being ‘unfit to lead our country [and] completely unfit to lead the Labour Party.’ Austin resigned from the party earlier this year after serving the seat of Dudley since 2005. He hit out at Corbyn for ‘creating a culture of extremism and intolerance.’
Leader Corbyn continues to face problems with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and the party faced an investigation from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. There have also been a string of deselection attempts against Labour MPs who have spoken out against the leadership team and its handling of anti-Semitism. Several MPs left the Party, of which some have now defected to the Liberal Democrats. A Labour Parliamentary candidate also resigned this week, after making an anti-Semitic comment.
The Jewish Chronicle, published a newspaper on Thursday in which it stated that ‘The vast majority of British Jews consider Jeremy Corbyn to be an anti-Semite.’ In the recent poll, 87% of British Jews believe Corbyn to be an anti-Semite. In an interview for the BBC, Corbyn described anti-Semitism as a ‘poison and an evil.’ Adding that he has spent his life fighting against racism and will ‘die an anti-racist.’
The party have also unilaterally deselected candidates including current MPs Roger Godsiff and Chris Williamson. Godsiff stood with campaigners in Birmingham to prevent the teaching of LGBT+ issues to children. Williamson was deselected over anti-Semitism. Both will stand as Independents in their retrospective seats.
Kier Starmer gave a non-committal interview during a Good Morning Britain appearance. It comes as the Labour position on Brexit continues to be scrutinised. Labour released several campaign pieces explaining their policy, restating that they will secure a deal that protects jobs, worker’s rights and the environment and then put it back to the people for the final say. Many leading figures in the party have revealed that they would campaign for Remain in any referendum, regardless of what deal the party secures. The official party position will be decided at a special conference.
The number of MPs standing down at this election continues to grow. However, a huge blow came to Labour moderates when Deputy Labour Leader Tom Watson announced his intention to stand down. Although he stated this was for personal reasons, it is no big secret that there have been serious disagreements between the Deputy and the Leader. Labour group Momentum also launched a plan to remove the official position at Labour party conference in September.
On the same day as Sajid Javid, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell launched Labour’s spending plans. He revealed that some £400bn would go towards ‘investment on a scale never seen before.’ McDonnell reaffirmed the commitment to re-nationalise rail, energy, water and mail. McDonnell also announced £250bn to transform the economy to a green alternative and £150bn for schools, hospitals, care and council homes.
Today, Labour announced policies for women at work. These include, extending paid maternity leave to one year, stronger rights for flexible working, fines for bosses who fail to tackle the gender pay gap and the introduction of a menopause workplace policy.
Corbyn announced his commitment to reduce NHS waiting times, kick start a Green industrial revolution and build a million genuinely affordable homes. He also wants to see the end of in-work poverty, foodbank use, rough sleeping and tuition fees.
The Liberal Democrats:
Leader Jo Swinson had a somewhat better start to her campaign. However, Swinson was criticised for the party’s use of poll in North East Somerset. The poll placed the Lib Dems in second to the Conservatives, despite coming third in the 2017 election. Upon closer inspection, the question asked was very niche. It read:
Imagine that the result in your constituency was expected to be very close between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidate, and none of the other parties were competitive. In this scenario, which party would you vote for?
Swinson hit out at both ITV and the BBC after their announcement that they would hold a head to head debate between Johnson and Corbyn. Swinson accused them of being either sexist, scared or both, for not wanting to debate her. She argues that as the only female and the largest unequivocal remain supporter, she too should feature in these debates. Some good news came for Swinson, as Sky announced their intention to hold a debate with all leaders – she was the first to accept.
The Liberal Democrats also received a massive boost as the announcement came that they, along with the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, would agree which seats they would stand down to increase the other chance of success. A total of 60 seats were revealed, however BBC analysis of the 2017 results determined that not one of the 60 seats would change using this tactic. It is believed Labour refused to join talks. Criticisms have come from both Labour and the Conservatives, and the Conservative Party have asked the Electoral Commission to examine this.
The Party have made some policy announcements, such as their intention to cut harmful emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2045. They also revealed that they will seek to generate 80% of the countries electricity from renewables by 2030. The Party committed to spending £11bn on mental health services and free subscriptions for those with chronic mental health conditions. With no surprise, they also reinstated their intention to stop Brexit on day one, as well as putting an extra £10bn a year into schools.