What will Friday the 13th bring for Britain?
What will Britain look like on Friday morning, the day after the election, when poll results will tell us what sorts of choices the British people have made?
Will the country be on a Brexit course navigated by Boris Johnson or will the underdog Jeremy Corbyn manage to steal an unlikely victory and steer Britain towards a new socialist model?
Although most opinion polls keep projecting a lead for the Conservatives, that lead has been diminished over the course of the campaign. Apart from the incumbent factor (the party has been in power for almost a decade), they seem to have lost quite a bit of support due to their behaviour on the campaign trail. Boris Johnson, for example, is usually a natural performer and his style of the ‘bumbling but charming English eccentric’ has worked to his advantage in the past, but in this campaign he has had to curb this tendency so he can try to seem prime ministerial: knowledgeable and sober rather than flippant and endearingly buffoonish. He is also having to bat very defensively as he and his party have been under intense media scrutiny, each claim or statement immediately fact checked by different teams and each interviewer having been relentless, properly briefed, and having facts and rebuttals at their fingertips.
The opposition parties have successfully made truth and trust into key issues in this campaign because the Tory government, in general, and Johnson, in particular, are now known to have taken a great many liberties with facts and told a great many untruths. As a result, Johnson and several of his cabinet colleagues have looked sheepish and untrustworthy during the campaign. And Johnson did not help the situation by backing out of the one-on-one interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neill that had already been scheduled. And since he did this after Corbyn had already done the interview with Neill, it was considered somewhat unethical behaviour.
The Conservatives have also tended to project themselves as victims of a biased media, crying wolf again and again. When Johnson backed out of the (climate change) debate on Channel 4, the editors ‘empty-chaired’ him and put an ice sculpture of the globe by the microphone in his place. But his fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove turned up at the Channel 4 studios shortly before the programme asking if he could go on instead of Johnson. The editor politely declined, but Gove, who had brought along his own camera crew to record this perceived injustice, then posted the video of this as proof that Channel 4 was biased! This was followed by threats that a Conservative government would ‘review’ Channel 4’s license. (a few days earlier a Channel 4 reporter had asked Gove several specific questions about the Tories pledges on health spending, and Gove instead of answering had accused him repeatedly of a propagating a ‘particular agenda’).
Labour’s message has been all about hope and fairness and they have pledged a lot of spending on public services and various new programmes. Their plans and costing have been criticized by The Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Tories too have, at any opportunity, attempted to suggest that Labour knows nothing about finance or the economy. But despite the fact that Labour’s campaign seems to be going better than the Tories’, it is quite possible that the Conservatives will still be able to form a government. The reason for this is that there is still a large number of people who want Britain to be separate from the EU, and there are some who, while they may not have voted to leave Europe, feel that the government is honour-bound to implement the referendum result. It is expected that many areas in the north, which have been traditional Labour strongholds, will now vote Conservative because of the Brexit question.
And while the Brexit party – who would potentially have divided the Brexit vote and harmed the Tories’ chances – has withdrawn candidates from the 317 constituencies the Conservatives won in the last election, Labour has not reached an arrangement with other parties so potentially the anti-Conservative vote will be divided. This will, of course, benefit the Conservatives.
Another reason that the Conservatives may not do as badly as their inept campaign would indicate they should is that a lot of their vote-getting efforts may have been away from the campaign trail and rather more under the radar. Channel 4 news reported last month on the efforts of a BJP-aligned British Indian businessman, who was conducting his own campaign by telling the Indian community not to vote Labour as Corbyn was a friend of ‘Muslim extremists’. This is pretty much the same fearmongering tactic used by Zac Goldsmith when he was running for London Mayor in 2016. The ‘Muslim extremist’ card is likely to be played again by the Conservatives in the final few days of the campaign. No surprises if ‘Muslim extremists’, ‘Sharia Britain’ and associations/photographs with Muslim hardliners suddenly surface (mysteriously) closer to polling day.
Whatever the electoral landscape looks like on Friday, one thing is certain: Britain is poised at a crucial point in its destiny. The election result will determine many things: whether the country leaves or remains in the EU, whether the Union of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is in danger of coming apart and, most importantly the direction the country will take itself in and the identity it is thereby choosing. Will it be isolationist and nativist? Capitalist? Socialist? Green? European?
Let’s see if the youth vote swings the situation dramatically or not. Let’s see what Britain looks like on Friday the 13th.
The writer is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.