No side has been able to wholly convince the electorate of their main campaign claims, writes Brian Monteith.
With only four campaign days for the parties to influence the minds of voters the Prime Minister still enjoys a comfortable lead of ten points that should assure him of a working majority.
Yet nothing is certain. Boris Johnson could still miss the goal spectacularly like Diana Ross famously missed that penalty at the ‘94 World Cup opening ceremony. He undoubtedly has flair and talent, but can he be trusted to deliver? That has been the central issue that has limited his undoubted appeal and held him back from achieving an unassailable lead.
At the outset of the campaign I argued that the election was Boris Johnson’s to lose. The danger facing him was that having benefitted from the public’s growing sense of grievance about Parliament obstructing the deliverance of Brexit he might be drawn into fighting on the ground of his opponents choosing where he could be more easily beaten.
He might lose points on the NHS, he might be outflanked on social care or ridiculed for increasing police numbers that his party originally cut. Whatever the issue, Johnson had to remind the public that the general election had been called earlier than should be expected, and that if they truly wanted to end their boredom and exhaustion with Brexit they must make a choice between giving him a majority – or sending him packing.
In the end, from my own admittedly subjective viewpoint, Johnson has managed to hold on to a diminished lead because his main opponents have been unable to land any significant blows. Indeed the very question of being able to trust Johnson that has been levelled at him by other leaders such as Corbyn, Sturgeon and Swinson has only raised the questions of trust in them.
Labour’s revered Aunt Sally – the threat posed to the NHS by the dreaded Tories – becomes less convincing each time she is wheeled out in her bathchair. Thanks to the changing demographics a lot more demand is putting a strain on resources and with changing technology the costs rise further. NHS costs keep going up and this will not change whichever party governs the nation. Labour can argue you can’t trust the Tories on the NHS all it wants but it rings hollow when we know they say this every election and that every time they are in office they increase spending on the NHS – even during the period of austerity when other departments had their budgets cut.
Nor do the attacks from Labour and the SNP about the threat of privatisation of NHS services have credibility. Their idea was to use President Trump as a bogey man but my MEP colleague Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, a practising dentist and former head of the General Dental Practice Committee, utterly demolished this thesis last week by categorising how it has been the European Union forcing the growth of private provision of services in the NHS. Likewise it is the EU that was pushing a trade deal with President Obama that could have opened up the NHS further. In all of these points it is those such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson who by fighting to deliver Brexit are the real defenders of the NHS remaining accountable to the British electorate.
In Scotland, the claims of Nicola Sturgeon are especially weak. The scandals of the tragic and avoidable deaths of children in Glasgow’s new infirmary due to contaminated water, and the unopened Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh costing an extra £90 million that leaves her especially vulnerable to an accusation of rank hypocrisy.
Claims about trust on law and order under Johnson – made after his promise to recruit 20,000 more police in England when it was the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who originally reduced their numbers following the great recession – have no value when put by other parties who have their own records to feel ashamed about. This week in London the 137th murder was committed, surpassing last year’s total of 136 with three weeks of 2020 still to go. The comparison of Johnson’s record as London mayor against the current Labour incumbent, Sadiq Khan, puts labour in the dock, not the Tories. Likewise the state of Scottish policing was brought into sharp focus by the resignation of Susan Deacon as the chair of the Scottish Police Authority claiming its governance and accountability is fundamentally flawed.
While the issue of trust has undoubtedly undermined the Boris Johnson campaign it has not been a knockout blow, for sadly too many politicians come with the same reputational challenge about trust.
Nicola Sturgeon promised the 2014 independence referendum was “once in a generation” then “once in a lifetime” vote but started campaigning for a second referendum practically from the moment her campaign was defeated.
At first she was careful enough to suggest it might take a few years but now, five years on and she has been pressing incessantly for a second vote – certainly not a generation later.
Corbyn has his reputational problem with past associations with terrorist groups and now wishes to take our industrial relations back to the unrest of the seventies. Then there is labour’s ant-Semitism problem. Do people really trust Jeremy Corbyn?
The largest issue of trust for me is Johnson’s claim that only he can “get Brexit done”. It is proving a convincing slogan with the public fit to burst over the incessant parliamentary infighting and sharp practices to deliver a deal that suits the EU and leaves our country divided. I do not accept Boris’s “deal’ is anything other than an attempt to move the issue out of the public eye and play down the further capitulations of the UK’s interest that are yet to come. I fully expect the Prime Minister to get his majority and therefore get his deal through parliament – but I do not expect him to secure anything like the free trade deal with the EU that he claims is within his gift, nor do I expect him to go for leaving without a deal – so I foresee yet another extension to our membership after the end of 2020.
That’s why we need Brexit Party MPs to press Johnson to deliver, without them millions will have no voice.
I would like to think I am wrong but this Brexit General Election could well prove fruitless and undermine public trust in politicians even more.
Brian Monteith MEP is Chief Whip of the Brexit Party in the European Parliament.