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Upwards, Downwards, Sideways: The General Election Gets Complicated

Upwards, Downwards, Sideways: The General Election Gets Complicated

Bigel Farage say on a chair next to two empty ones that say Brexit Party on them

Looks like Bojo’s winning. A big poll surge after the Brexit party pulled out of Tory-held seats seems to have sorted it for him. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

‘There are known knowns .. there are known unknowns .. but there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.’

History tells us US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had good reason to hedge his bets about evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction back in 2002.

And if 2015 counts as history, then we can draw the same message from pollsters’ predictions for the forthcoming election.

Remember Ed Miliband slugging it out with David Cameron? Gonna be tight. Really tight. That’s what they told us. That’s where they were wrong.

Since then they’ve had another go at working out how they work out the figures. But does that mean we can trust them this time round?

The elections guru Professor Sir John Curtice, who everyone agrees knows his onions, provides the following not altogether helpful answer.

‘Yes and no.’

Right. Let’s start with known unknowns then. And stick with vegetables.

Extreme weather conditions in India have led to a cut in onion production and pushed up the prices. Bad news for the locals as onions are a big ingredient in almost every dish.

And extreme weather conditions here in UK could be bad news for Bojo. He’s already got shouted at for not at least attempting the King Canute solution to floods.

No amount of saying the government is on it and can sort it. And who knows how bad things might get this winter? And how much that might put people off voting Tory?

A couple of known unknowns there.

Then there’s the health service. Described last week by a top doctor as ‘imploding’, on account of worst-ever waiting times for emergency care.

And that’s before we even get to the hard bit. The annual winter crisis. That, surely, is a known known.

The Health Secretary rather lamely insists ‘in many ways the NHS is performing better than it ever has. The challenge is that demand is increasing as well.’

Especially when it’s bloody parky outside. Which sounds like the Tories plumping for a December election might have added up to a bit of a duh moment.

Oh dear, what with that and all those Christmas nativity plays in danger of being pushed aside to make way for polling booths. Seems it never rains but it, ahem, snows.

Of course, the whole public service debate is tinsel-wrapped in telephone number bribes from both main parties. Which is why, this time round, the cash clash looks self-defeating.

The standard Tory attack line is to accuse those Marxist maniacs with the red rosettes of trying to bankrupt the country with impossible spending plans.

Labour’s promise of free broadband for all, at a cost to someone or other of twenty billion pounds, is as good an example as any.

However, it’s tricky for the Conservatives to credibly rip such plans apart when they’re at it too. Ok, not shelling out as much, but one zillion? Two zillion? What are the odds?

Which leaves Labour’s swords somewhat blunted too. Saying the country’s ills are all down to beastly skinflint Tories suddenly looks a bit passé.

Or outski dateski. Or proshedsheye vremya, to use the correct Kremlin terminology.

Talking of which, there’s a big unknown unknown waiting to hack away at Bojo’s blondilocks. The Commons Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on possible Russian meddling in the British political system.

Some wonder whether those pesky Ruskies might have tried to swing the Brexit referendum in favour of leave. After all, it suits Putin’s purpose to destabilise the European Union.

There are also suspicions that the findings might include evidence of dodgy donations to Conservative coffers from wealthy Russians.

Certainly, the committee’s chair maintains his dossier does contain information relevant to voters.

Yet, though the report was finalised as long ago as March, it won’t be published until after the election.

The Prime Minister insists, natch, this is all perfectly normal. But he said the same about shutting down parliament in the run-up to the big vote on Brexit.

And we know what M’luds thought of that little caper. No no, Bojo!

What we do not know is whether some sprightly soul might say to hell with the law and the Official Secrets Act, and leak the document.

Nor do we know how damning or otherwise the contents might prove to be.

Then there’s another unknown unknown. Concerning the glamorous American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, who seemed to do rather nicely thank you very much out City Hall while Bojo was London Mayor.

Given that the two of them were good friends, the police watchdog is considering an investigation into ‘possible criminality’.

Though unlikely, it is possible we’ll get an announcement this side of the election. And how much might that dent Boris Johnson’s credibility with the electorate?

Looking across The Pond, it’s worth noting that Donald Trump’s approval rating has actually gone up since the impeachment proceedings against him have gone public.

You might say that proves Oscar Wilde was right all along about America. ‘The only country that went from barbarism to decadence without a period of civilisation in between.’

Still, it remains a risk factor for the Tories. And it’s worth remembering why Boris Johnson wanted the election in the first place – to get Brexit done.

To do that, he needs the tally of Leavers he can win round in Labour-held seats to outstrip the Remainers he’s likely to lose in Conservative constituencies.

Nigel Farage’s decision not to field Brexit party candidates on Tory turf will help. But he does still want to fight elsewhere.

That’s likely to split the Brexiteer votes in places where it counts most, and that is a real problem for the Tories.

Because it won’t be enough for Bojo just to win in more places than anyone else, he’s got to get an overall majority to get anywhere.

The reason is simple. No one else will be willing to work with him.

Those Ulster Unionists who had been propping him up won’t do so anymore. Because they feel betrayed by the Brexit deal he’s negotiated with the EU.

A coalition with the Lib Dems then? Like the one hammered out by David Cameron? Not a chance, given their election slogan ‘bollocks to Brexit’.

Ditto the Scot Nats. For the same reason.

Whether either of those two would work with Labour is an open question. But a hung parliament could yet hand Jeremy Corbyn the keys to Number Ten.

It’d only take a small swing – hence Professor Curtice’s yes and no.

And from Bojo an oh my god no.

He was going to use the word ‘onanism’ in a speech last week, but thought better of it at the last moment. Sort of a case of verbus interruptus, so to speak.

Could be his last resort though, if the voters do refuse to get into bed with him. But there’s relief at hand from Mr Wilde.

‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.’

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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