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Forget the hostile media noise – the Conservatives are on course to win this election

Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks onstage at the launch of the Conservative Party's General Election campaign at the National Exhibition Centre on November 6, 2019 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Boris Johnson visited HM The Queen earlier today to officially dissolve Parliament before heading to the West Midlands to launch the Conservative Party general election campaign. The British people will go to the polls on December 12th for the first winter election in nearly a century.
All elections are hope versus fear  Credit:  Christopher Furlong/ Getty Images Europe

Flapping about at the beginning of an election campaign as to whether this or that interview or “gaffe” will make all the difference and cost votes or even the election itself, is a traditional rite of passage for most hard boiled politicos and this week’s Conservative Party launch is no different. I’ve fought six General Elections and it was ever thus.

Spoiler alert: It very rarely matters in the ballot box.  

The 1987 General Election is a casebook example of initial jitters and panic in the Conservative camp at the electability and plausibility of the then Labour Leader, Neil Kinnock. Wiser heads prevailed and the strategy remained in place and Margaret Thatcher won her third election as Prime Minister with a 102-seat majority.

Overheated instant analysis by often hostile media, ventilated in real time on Twitter and Facebook, is usually hyperbole and is rarely read by those each party seeks to galvanise and win over – the precious swing voters.

A few years ago Nate Silver wrote a seminal book on communications called “The Signal and the Noise” which postulated on the distinction between the noise of data and what he called “true signals”.

The point being that voters zone out the ephemeral chaff thrown up in the early part of the campaign – splits, rows, alliances, pacts, policy detail etc. - and often come back to make their decision later in the campaign by measuring two key factors: their general view of the parties and their leaders and then, how the policies they promote will affect them and their current life experiences, for good or ill.

The challenge for the parties is to match the true signals with those most receptive to the message.

It’s that simple. All elections are hope versus fear. Every single one. This one is no different.

For the Conservatives, the signal is simple because the fundamentals are in their favour: a strong economy, a promise to spend on key public services without breaking the bank and a popular Leader who is a born campaigner and of course an Opposition Leader with record breaking unpopularity ratings.

Not only that but they are gifted with presenting a clear binary choice to the voters – Getting Brexit done with a deal that’s ready to roll or months and years more of strife, anger and business uncertainty with a new referendum and an obdurate and fractious hung Parliament. Conservatives can and will offer the hope of a better future post Brexit and point up the genuine fear many voters have of a Corbyn/McDonnell Labour Government.

That’s not to say that the signal does sometimes emerge from the noise. A particular event occasionally encapsulates and crystallises the innate feelings of a huge swathe of the electorate. Rather prosaically, Lord Mandelson, the New Labour uber campaign guru, recommended that his party alight time and again on Tory weakness and the electorates’ predispositions towards their failings and “punch the bruise.”

In my opinion, the resignation of Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and specifically the plea by former Labour MP Ian Austin to Labour voters to cast their ballots for Boris Johnson, are just such moments – or “points of departure.”

Why? Because Austin’s heartfelt plea is not that from a thwarted careerist but from a Labour right or wrong tribalist, a man who’s given over thirty years to the party and one who is clearly conflicted between family loyalty to his tribe and the moral duty to his former constituents and the country to warn them of the ethical malaise central to the Corbyn Labour Party, currently being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for alleged institutional racism and anti Semitism.

In my experience Labour MPs are mostly decent, caring and engaging as individuals but ferociously partisan and aggressive in a pack and Ian Austin hitherto fitted the latter mould.

The reason his denouncing of the Corbyn regime and its retreat into an intolerant Marxist laager is so effective, is that it taps into what so many electors actually believe. A sense of gnawing unease about what sort of country Corbyn wants.  And it will be catastrophic for Labour’s electoral prospects because of what I might call the “Barnet effect”.

In 2018, Labour were well ahead in the polls in London and were expected to easily win the strongly Jewish borough of Barnet in the May elections, where Conservatives had a precarious majority of just one seat. The Labour antisemitism row then exploded.

In the event, Conservatives finished the night with a majority of 13 seats, despite a massive Labour push to take control.

Fundamentally, there weren’t enough Jewish votes alone to swing the borough for the Tories but there were enough of their friends and neighbours who were horrified at the prospect of a Labour win and the impact on their fellow residents and voted accordingly to beat Labour.

Ian Austin’s outburst means that lots of other people across the UK will be prompted before December 12 to question their own moral and ethical antennae and the impact that their own vote might have on their friends, family, neighbours, community and country.   

Unfortunately for the excitable Momentum activists who now constitute the Labour Party’s most muscular advocates, Ian Austin has demonstrated with emotion and regret, that Labour will lose any election which pitches hope against fear and rightly so.

Stewart Jackson was a Conservative MP from 2005-17 and was Chief of Staff to Rt Hon David Davis MP as Brexit Secretary 2017-18