General Election 2017: Could Corbyn's youth appeal prove a gamechanger?
Markets are moving against the Tories after a Yougov poll projected a hung parliament, but others are still in landslide majority territory. Paul Krishnamurty tries to make sense of this volatile, unpredictable election...
"Corbyn's chance fundamentally rests on turnout and the theory that his authentic voice and radical brand of Labourism is inspiring a new generation of previously apathetic voters."
One week from polling day, what exactly is the state of play? Pretty much whenever the same question was asked during the 2015 campaign, the same answer came forth - dead-heat. When it turned out to be completely wrong, pollsters that largely agreed on a daily basis were an easy scapegoat. That cannot be said about 2017!
Poll projections range from hung parliament to landslide Tory majority
In recent days, we have seen the Conservative poll lead range from 12% to 3%. Lest we forget, it was above 20% when the campaign started. Clearly, Jeremy Corbyn has thrived since, in stark contrast to Theresa May, but is he really now in close contention to become Prime Minister next week?
Corbyn's chance fundamentally rests on turnout and the theory that his authentic voice and radical brand of Labourism is inspiring a new generation of previously apathetic voters. Labour's best numbers are with pollsters who take voters at their word (Yougov), whereas the biggest Tory leads are with firms who weight according to previous low levels of youth turnout (ICM).
Who is right? Both anecdotal experience and the optics of this campaign suggest things have changed. It is unimaginable that Ed Miliband would have been cheered at a Libertines concert, or addressed thousands of youngsters on West Kirby beach. Corbyn's offer to students is clearer and widely popular. It would be a surprise and frankly devastating for the Left if turnout among 18-24s remains below 50% (it was 44% last time).
However the most optimistic numbers are based on around 80%, which is simply unrealistic. The truth probably lies in the middle but we also should not assume the phenomenon is restricted to the youngest age group. UK politics is going through a historic, transformative period and many of the old certainties may be swept away.
Has Brexit sparked greater interest among British voters?
In the last three years, we've had referenda on Scottish independence and Brexit, with profound electoral effects. First the emphasis on nationalism altered the narrative in Conservative and SNP favour, leaving Labour with nothing to say as their Scottish base disintegrated and UKIP emerged as a gateway to the Right. Now the dust is settling, Brexit seems to have rejuvenated political debate in our country.
I can't offer a numerical measure to prove that, but it feels evident from the campaigns, social media, talk radio, the pub, the workplace. This feels nothing like 2015, when pictures of Miliband looking awkward were going viral and the EdStone was a major news story.
In that climate, this no-frills Tory campaign would have been perfect. The problem for May is that this time the media and public want more than ten second soundbites about "strong and stable leadership' or, as previously, David Cameron's 'long-term economic plan'. The Tories took an easy win for granted and arrived unprepared - to disastrous effect. Win or lose, I feel vindicated for writing much earlier that May would regret calling this election.
For sure, there are plenty of voters for whom Brexit is the main issue but it has been notable to see and hear a much wider range of policies under discussion. Perhaps the nationalist era is passing - having delivered it's main goal - and we now want to discuss a vision for post-Brexit Britain?
Regarding that debate, Labour's overtly left-of-centre manifesto seems to be striking a stronger chord than the Conservatives' right-wing one. Rather than Labour being on the backfoot explaining how renationalisation will be paid for, May is under pressure for cutting entitlements.
An extra 6% turned out for Brexit, thus blindsiding the polls. I think plenty of these newly engaged voters will keep the habit, and that a high turnout remains underestimated in our market. The 65.01-70% band won last time and is good value at [3.75] now. For my money, that should be the favourite rather than 60.01- 65%.
Those new Brexit voters seem likelier to add to the bank of reliable Conservatives and deliver dozens of once-safe Labour seats, and may counterbalance any extra Corbyn-backers.
Corbyn's style has greater appeal than recent technocrat losers
However it is equally possible that the shock of Brexit and Donald Trump's election has finally galvanised lazy liberals. Could it be the Left that blindside the polls this time? Note how Emmanuel Macron overperformed the French polls, in contrast to Miliband, Remain and Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, Corbyn's idealistic rhetoric is perfect for attracting newbies. It seems nowadays that the Left needs optimism, projected by a charismatic preacher - Blair, Obama, Macron, Trudeau - rather than technocrats like Clinton, Miliband or Gordon Brown. Harold Wilson once lectured the Labour Party that it was 'nothing if not a moral cause'. Corbyn has restated that vision and is taking people who haven't voted Labour in years with him.
Equally there is a big danger that Corbynism is a bubble, concentrated in seats Labour already hold. They look unstoppable in the big cities but the election will be decided in the West Midlands and Yorkshire. Deep Conservative support well above 40%, coupled with entrenched hostility towards Corbyn from a majority, would in any normal situation amount to a landslide. Labour need every new vote they can get, spread as far across the country as possible, to have any sort of chance.
Don't underestimate the potential difference in outcomes. Even with their reduced lead, a majority over 100 is well within reach for the Tories. If the favourite won every constituency, the result would be around that mark. At the other end, Yougov's seat-by-seat model predicted a hung parliament.
That prediction stunned the markets and came in for criticism but the seat totals are an accurate reflection of what happens if the Tories win by only 3%. Remember two years ago this was pretty much what most expected and the race to win most seats - let alone a majority - was regarded as tight. The crucial question is whether you believe that poll.
I don't and would guess 7% is the real current lead, but having seen politics over the last year transformed by outsiders whose different style inspired previously apathetic voters, it would be wrong to dismiss this Corbyn surge. This has become an absolutely fascinating election.
Back Registered Turnout to be 65.01% - 70% @ [3.75]