Conflicting narratives

Last night saw the first set-piece event of the election campaign, as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn squared off in the initial leaders’ debate.

Most commentators have scored the contest an uninspiring draw; certainly neither man landed a significant blow, nor made a major blunder. There was nothing to surprise potential voters who have paid even scant attention to political developments over the last few months, but the outlines of the respective campaigns were clarified; Johnson is determined to keep the focus on Brexit, while Corbyn wants to fight on the broader front of opposition to Tory austerity.

How this will all play out is still very uncertain. Johnson’s strategy hinges on winning support from Labour leavers in the north of England, while hoping that Tory remainers in the south are put off defecting to the Liberals by fear of a Corbyn administration. Labour’s hopes rest on their traditional heartlands staying loyal, while Johnson’s lurch to the right drains his support among moderate conservatives.

Add in the wildcard of the Brexit party, the national question in Scotland and Wales, and doubts about turnout in the middle of winter, and it all looks quite bewildering. The polls are suggesting that Johnson’s gamble might pay off, but the polls were badly wrong in 2017, so I’m sticking to my forecast of a minority Labour government before the end of the year.

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