Why the 2019 General Election isn’t just about Brexit
- Credit: Archant
With this year’s General Election taking place in December for the first time in decades and Brexit being the big issue for this year’s polls, the 2019 vote is shaping up to be different to most.
Local democracy reporter Jason Noble sat down with Dr Christopher Huggins, senior politics lecturer at the University of Suffolk, to get his take on the debate.
JN: Will a December election where daylight hours are shorter affect voter turnout?
CH: "There's been speculation that the weather will affect the turnout. Most people who choose to vote are driven by their fundamental desire to vote and what will go on in the campaign. Ultimately that's what most people will go by but the number of people put off will be quite limited I suspect."
JN: Will Brexit be the only issue people vote on?
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CH: "The last Parliament has been almost single issue. Parliament hasn't been able to publish any additional legislation because the timetable has been filled with Brexit.
"But it's more because the government hasn't got a majority to get it's way on anything. UK politics isn't used to the notion of compromise - compromise isn't in its DNA. If you want to get something through you have to get people outside of party politics round to that idea as well.
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"But voters aren't used to the idea of getting support from opposition parties to get things through. I think some people will go to the polls on this issue.
"The Conservatives have got a Brexit deal people can vote on, but the country still seems fundamentally divided. For half, the Conservative message of 'Get Brexit Done' is quite a resounding message but the other half won't like that message. The fundamental split since 2016 is still there.
"People say if you run another referendum remain might win it, but people haven't fundamentally changed.
"The risk is if you run a campaign just on Brexit you won't win enough of a majority to win, so you need to broaden your appeal. You are seeing this with politics at the moment,
"The Conservatives have been talking about the NHS and Labour have been talking about healthcare. Part of the problem is politicians promise quick solutions that they will get it done overnight. These are international trade agreements, and trying to move yourself from a politics system you have been part of for 40 years isn't the work of a moment."
JN: Do local issues matter to people?
CH: "It will affect different people of different ages depending on what public services people access or indeed where they are based. What you really want from your government is different where you live. Every so often you can seen an upset which is driven by local issues, but by and large most people are voting on national politics.
"A lot is also driven by how well your MP is known locally. The main media is TV news and a lot of that is driven by national headlines."
JN: People are voting on national issues but only influence who becomes their local MP. How much of an issue is that?
CH: "This is one of the problems with the First Past the Post system we use. The system we have does mean that a lot of people's votes won't count by their very nature. The outcome is disproportionate, but constituencies like Ipswich will be very interesting because Ipswich is a marginal seat.
"If you are a voter in the middle of Ipswich you probably have more voter power because almost every vote will count, and how many vote other parties will make this quite interesting. Ipswich will be one of the key target seats for both the main parties, so you will see a bit more attention here."
JN: Does having big names and cabinet ministers visit make a difference to campaigns?
CH: "It depends on the exposure. How many people realised that Priti Patel was in Ipswich on Monday?
"Those visits are important in campaign terms because they show local party activists this will matter in the formation of the next government. Will people in Ipswich notice is another matter,
"People like to think it matters that top brass are coming to see our town but it's how much visibility they have when they come here. Things can also backfire, like when Boris Johnson went to a hospital and was actively challenged about NHS budgets falling."
JN: Is it better to have a candidate with long-standing local links or have a fresh candidate from outside the constituency?
CH: "On the one hand political parties want to make sure they have a good quality candidate and sometimes that means you are going to have to recruit outside the local area. You want to make sure they are a team player and they are up for the job.
"But this concept of parachuting people in is often criticised, so it's about what people know. Communicating the connection of the local parliamentary candidates to the local area is the responsibility of the candidates themselves."
JN: How much does personality play a part in politics?
CH: "Parties produce manifestos but who actually reads those? Local level campaign leaflets that go through the door are important in that they might remind people to vote but also that they are campaigning on those issues.
"But some people in Ipswich will vote more on if they like Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn. It won't be about the local candidate but who potentially is the next prime minister."
JN: What is different about this year's election?
CH: "One context that is different is the government now has a deal on paper for Brexit, so the public can vote on whether they like it.
"For Conservative remainers, if their choice was to vote Labour to stop Brexit, they would never vote for a Labour government. You can never underplay these traditional allegiances. Brexit broke a lot of the rules we saw traditionally. The idea that UK elections produce majority governments has been thrown out."
JN: What outcome are we likely to see - majority, coalition or hung Parliament?
CH: "There is every possibility we will end up with another hung Parliament. A lot will come down to candidates in the key seats, but there is a strong possibility of a hung government. Parliaments are quid pro quo but all options are on the table. Making predictions during volatile politics is difficult."
JN: Will young people make a difference in the polls?
CH: "The 18-25 group are least likely to turn up to vote, but as a sub-group of that students are more politically aware. But the act of voting and going to a polling station is only one form of political participation - there are other forms. Many might be a member of a non-government organisation. Someone who sympathises with the Greens might not see the point of voting but they might be in an activist group like Extinction Rebellion. They might feel they can make more of a difference joining Greenpeace, or something like that."
JN: What message would you give voters?
CH: "Use your vote and believe in your own ability to make decisions."