The Conservative poll lead is narrowing; halved in fact, according to one poll. That sounds perilous – but the reality is that they were so far ahead, a halving would still deliver a healthy majority. Maybe not the landslide 150 seats of early predictions; this latest poll would apparently translate into a majority of ‘just’ 46. It’s enough to stir Tory party jitters however. Financial markets appear disinterested, having decided that May calling the election means she will shore up her domestic power base, thus reducing the risk of a disorderly Brexit. With just two and half weeks to go until Election Day, this disinterest will soon ebb away. Then the real war begins: Let Brexit negotiations commence.
The outcome of the election will determine just how much of a power base Theresa May really has. The wobble in their poll lead has been put down to the unpopularity of Conservative manifesto changes to social care – a policy that was allegedly inserted unilaterally by her powerful Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy. Without powerful outriders beyond her (explained well in this article by the excellent Robert Colvile), May could end up in ever more of an ivory tower.
That’s fine if she can ensure party discipline. The ivory tower can centralise and magnify power as the negotiations progress.
What if, heaven forfend, politicians become restless?
Ah, but there’s no opposition is there! The Labour Party is imploding; UKIP are redundant; and the Lib Dems have comitragically failed to capitalise on Remainer sentiment. It turns out that Brexit does indeed mean Brexit, and people just want it got on with, whatever it will be (chart below from @GoodwinMJ):
So, no opposition. That means the Conservative Party can indulge in its favourite sport: self-immolation. Fighting itself to the death. That can be avoided in a period of relative calm, and ever increasing growth (cf. New Labour in the 2000s). No need to fight when there’s lots of money flying around, is there? (Although that didn’t ultimately stop Gordon Brown trying constantly to unseat Tony). But now, we have a subject that inflames passions. Our membership of the European Union blew apart the Tory Party in the 1990s, casting them into the electoral wilderness for over a decade. Could history be about to repeat itself?
Added to this, we have the negotiation itself. David Davis is chomping at the bit to get into the ring. The Brexit negotiator has been giving plenty of pugnacious interviews, and this weekend remarked “We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away”. As the EU put the finishing touches on their alleged 100bn EUR divorce bill demand, he noted that even 1bn would be “a lot of money”.
What happens if he oversteps his hand? Will Theresa May fire him? What if her ivory tower becomes an isolated prison? What if public opinion becomes Brexit at any cost?
Theresa’s election victory has already been played out in the markets, with Sterling’s rally from 1.2500 towards 1.3000. Now it’s time to play out who will be the victor in the real battle of the UK vs the EU27.