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Westlake Legal Group > Conservatives

Red Swan…or Conservative landslide…or…

We’ve been here before – and recently, too. Today’s YouGov MRP poll may be “wrong”: that’s to say, its data may not represent what happens on election day, either because voters change their minds substantially, or the findings will be out of date by then, or are simply mistaken.

It doesn’t follow that because this particular MRP was right in 2017, so to speak, it will necessarily be right this time.  Other MRP polls were wide of the mark two years ago.  And one conventional pollster, Survation, got it right (in other words, its final poll mirrored the actual result).

When all that is said and done, however, the poll is roughly where one might expect.  We noted in our final campaign summary last Friday that Labour’s support had risen according to the polls.  The most simple explanation is that a swathe of the party’s supporters are coming home.  Lord Ashcroft’s latest election dashboard suggests the same.

At any rate, the YouGov MRP headline finding is a Tory majority of 28 – down from 68 last time round.  Our media colleagues are making much of the consequent possibility of a hung Parliament.  And no wonder: journalists love a contest. They are making rather less of that of a Conservative landslide.  (John Rentoul tweets that if the YouGov MRP has the same relationship to the final result as in 2017, thid election will produce a Tory majority of 44.)

As we wrote last week, Labour could yet produce a “Red Swan”. “[It] could yet close the divide for a mix of reasons: if there is large-scale tactical voting; if the vote distribution works for it; if its ground campaign is sufficiently strong; if the polls are “wrong” – and perhaps above all if there is differential turnout that favours the party,” we said.  And if the YouGov MRP is picking up a late swing.

Boris Johnson would have to be unlucky for such a combination of events to occur.  But even a mix of some of them might do for him.  He would see the seats that the YouGov MRP find competitive between the two main parties fall overwhelmingly to Labour.  And the Tories fare poorly against the Liberal Democrats and the SNP, too.

All in all, a Conservative win is still the most likely result.  But if the YouGov MRP, the Ashcroft dashboard and other polls are accurate, it is less likely than it was.  Just as Johnson wouldn’t have been entirely happy with his bigger lead last time, so he won’t be entirely unhappy now.  A closer race means more incentive for Tory voters to turn out.

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Daniel Hannan: If you can’t get to a marginal seat, try some telephoning. But please – don’t hang back.

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

So much at stake, so much displacement activity. We have not faced an election with such a gaping chasm between the parties since at least 1983. Yet we fill the final days of the campaign with rows about nothing.

Do you remember the Coen Brothers classic, The Big Lebowski? The film initially flopped, but became a cult favourite as people realised that it was in fact an ingenious meditation on nothingness. A case of mistaken identity leads the wrong man into a kidnap plot where the ransom money is not paid to a group of nihilists who turn out not to have the victim. The main action occurs in a dream sequence. Nothing really happens.

The past 48 hours have felt rather like a Coen Brothers film. On Monday, Diane Abbott issued what must surely count as the most puerile and dishonest press release of the entire campaign, complaining that Boris Johnson had used the n-word in a book in 2004. “Boris Johnson wrote this when he was a Conservative Shadow Minister. It exposes his deeply-held racist views which fuel hatred and bigotry towards black people”

As you have probably guessed (though naturally you wouldn’t pick up from the press release) the book was his novel, Seventy-Two Virgins, and the offending passage came in a black traffic warden’s reflection on rudeness and racism. The point Johnson was making was anti-racist and – perhaps braver in a politician – pro-traffic warden. Which is why, of course, there was no outcry at the time – an observation that holds, incidentally, for all the confected outrage about phrases torn from Johnson’s past writings, usually to make it look as if he had been saying the opposite of what the full context reveals.

Abbott’s witless press release topped a day that was, as the poet says, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. A punch turned out not to have been thrown. The Prime Minister was castigated for not looking at an image (though the clip in question shows him looking at it). Jeremy Corbyn protested against an NHS privatisation that no one is proposing. Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again.

If the two parties were offering similar programmes, these empty skirmishes might make sense. People are often disproportionately troubled by minor deviations from their world-view. It’s why religions tend to persecute heretics with a ferocity they rarely display vis-à-vis different faiths. Sigmund Freud called it “the narcissism of small differences”.

But the differences this time are anything but small. So much has been said and written about Corbyn’s Marxism, his anti-Semitism, his readiness to embrace any tyrant or terrorist who is sufficiently anti-British, that it seems otiose to add anything at this final stage. Except that it is worth thinking about the immediacy of what happens after polling day.

Next week, if Johnson wins, Britain begin a mini-boom as the business decisions put on hold by Brexit uncertainty catch up. A flood of dammed-up investment will pour in. The exit deal will be ratified next month, and the agenda will move on to how Britain maximises its global trade opportunities.

If, on the other hand, Corbyn wins, we will almost certainly have capital controls in place by next week as people rush to move their assets abroad. Those Remainers who, as the economy has continued to grow, have been pointing frantically at the exchange rate, will learn what a run on the pound actually is. Those who complain that Brexit threatens isolation and a loss of global influence will see what it looks like when allies treat the British Prime Minister as a security risk. This is by no means only a concern on the Right, by the way. Corbyn’s own health spokesman frets that British officials will have to “pretty quickly move to safeguard security things”.

Every election is described before it takes place as “the most important ever”. Not by me, though. I dislike cliché, and I worry that the over-use of such phrases drains them of meaning.

What vocabulary is left for a choice like the one we face tomorrow? We have no words to convey the magnitude. So let me just make a final pitch to ConservativeHome readers. Put your screen down do some door knocking. Come with me, if you’re nearby: you’ll find me today in Reading East, and tomorrow on Southampton Itchen. Or if you can’t get to a marginal seat, try some telephoning. But please: don’t hang back.

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The truth about the NHS

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-10-at-09.03.01 The truth about the NHS ToryDiary The Economist Labour Jeremy Corbyn MP Jeremy Cliffe Highlights Germany Conservatives Boris Johnson MP   Jeremy Cliffe was in charge of the Economist‘s Brussels bureau, where he wrote its Charlemagne column, before recently becoming International Editor of the New Statesman.

It is an article of faith of the pro-EU Ascendancy, as we call it here, that nothing in Britain is done as well as it can be abroad.

The logic of Cliffe’s tweet above is that Britain’s health service would be better were it to be exchanged for Germany’s.

So ConservativeHome looks forward to him explaining to voters why they must swap Our NHS, as we all now call it, for Germany’s healthcare system.

We’re confident that they will leap at the chance to exchange a service free at the point of use for one based on compulsory insurance.  Why on earth haven’t our useless politicians tried this one before?

If for some reason the British people are unwilling to make the exchange, then we must keep our system, which relies on queues. For these are what you get when an essential service is offered without payment upfront.

And if you have queues then, however much taxpayers’ money you pour into the service, you will inevitably have horror stories like the tale of the treatment of poor Jack Williment-Barr at Leeds General Infirmary.

In order to try to ensure that they don’t happen, you will need not only good management (which helps to explain why such incidents happen in some places but not others), but more public money, too.

Which is why you shouldn’t put a Marxist Government in charge that will starve the NHS after first feeding it – the former being the cuts that would come when Jeremy Corbyn ran out of other people’s money.

(Like Labour’s cuts in hospital capital spending during the late 1970s, which the first-time voters queueing up to vote for Corbyn won’t remember.)

For clarity: we plead guilty to Cliffe’s charge.  For on balance, we believe that all European health systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but that Britain should stick with the NHS.

But ConservativeHome would say so, wouldn’t we?  After all, it was a Conservative, Henry Willink, who proposed a National Health Service when serving in Churchill’s wartime coalition.

And, if he wins this election, Boris Johnson will carry on doing what Tory Governments always do – i.e: raising spending above inflation, and seeking to reconcile what the NHS can provide with what taxpayers are willing to pay.

To try to stop him, Labour will desperately seek out as many last-ditch healthcare stories as it can, in order to succeed where its ludicrous campaign about an NHS sell-off to Donald Trump has failed.

Our media colleagues want a proper election contest, which Corbyn’s uselessness and extremism have denied them, and will enthusiastically play along.  We can scarcely blame them.

Meanwhile, the British people must decide whether or not, come Thursday, to try a bit of “chippy hubris” and “swaggering bullshit” of their own, as Cliffe puts it.  Or as we and Johnson prefer to say: Get Brexit Done.

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David Gauke: An election won. But a year on: “You promised us you’d get Brexit done, but all we hear about is Brexit”

David Gauke is a former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary.

November 2020. An all-day Cabinet Meeting had concluded. The decision had been reached and an anxious Prime Minister was preparing to address the nation from the Downing Street lectern. The meeting could have gone worse – only three resignations – but there was no concealing the fact that the Prime Minister and the Government were in a tight spot. The honeymoon had finally come to an end.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had had a good few months. He was the first leader of the Conservative Party since Margaret Thatcher to win a comfortable majority last December. Even though he had lost a few seats in London and the Home Counties (one particularly eye-catching shock in Hertfordshire), the fear of Corbyn and a desire to ‘get Brexit done’ had been enough to breach the red wall and return a majority of over 30.

His Withdrawal Agreement Bill had been rushed through Parliament and, on 31 January, the UK finally left the European Union. It was a moment of great historical significancem even if the moment itself was much of an anti-climax. After all, the terms of the implementation period meant that nothing very much changed on 1 February.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, although receiving a majority of the votes between them in last year’s general election, had entered into a period of introspection. A few elder statesmen warned of the consequences of leaving the EU on the terms agreed, but no one was listening. After all, the people had spoken in both a referendum and a general election. Who cared what a few out of touch Jeremiahs had to say?

That spring, the economy continued to drift on comfortably enough. It is true that the oft-promised tidal wave of investment that was supposed to flood the country did not materialise (after all, investors wanted to know about the future relationship), but many businesses remained sanguine that, now that Brexit had been delivered, the Prime Minister would pivot to finding a sensible accommodation with the EU.

The Prime Minister had said that he would get a comprehensive free trade agreement before the Implementation Period expired, but would not extend the Implementation Period beyond 31 December 2020. There was more than a little scepticism about this position and some confidence that these were pledges not to be taken literally.

At least, that was the position until the political excitements of May. Alarmed at the lack of progress towards reaching a free trade agreement, sources close to Sajid Javid had suggested to The Times that ‘EU intransigence’ meant that it may be necessary to extend the Implementation Period by 12 months.

The reaction soon put paid to that idea. Within hours, a letter of objection had been submitted by 25 newly elected Conservative MPs – all of whom had become members of the ERG – pointing out that they had won their seats on the basis of ‘getting Brexit done’ and that ‘extending vassalage wasn’t getting Brexit done’. Senior Cabinet Ministers briefed that they would resign rather than allow the Implementation Period to be extended. Lord Farage threatened to form a new party.

By the end of the day, the Chancellor had made it abundantly clear that he was resolutely opposed to any extension of the Implementation Period and that he had not authorised any briefing to the contrary. The pound fell.

Progress towards a trade deal remained slow throughout the summer. The UK said that a deal should be easy because the parties began the process aligned on a large range of matters. The EU pointed out this was all very well if the intention was for both parties to remain aligned. An agreement could be quickly agreed if the UK accepted ‘dynamic alignment with EU regulations’. The Prime Minister said that this didn’t constitute Brexit.

The EU also offered a ‘barebones’ deal, but it required all sorts of concessions from the UK that appeared politically impossible. The French made some threatening noises about fish; Scottish Conservatives MP (who had happily seen off the SNP last year) demanded that our fishermen should not be betrayed; the Prime Minister deployed the Royal Navy, the practical purposes for which were not entirely clear.

Meanwhile, discussions with the US about a free trade deal had run into the ground. The Prime Minister won much praise for robustly dismissing demands from the US for acceptance of their food standards and increased drug prices. Donald Trump said that the Prime Minister had been ‘very, very mean’ and withdrew an invitation to the Prime Minister to visit Washington. None of this did the Prime Minister any harm with the public, although he was forced to admit that no progress was going to be made in reaching an FTA with the US until after the Presidential election.

The Opposition made a push towards extending the Implementation Period in June but Johnson saw off all Parliamentary manoeuvres with ease. He had the numbers. And he remained confident that a trade deal was in sight. The markets were not so sure. The pound fell.

Party conference was a triumph. It is true that the economy seemed to show signs of slowing as uncertainty grew. Clearly, Brexit had not been entirely ‘done’ but the Prime Minister delivered a barnstorming speech attacking the European Union for being cumbersome and bureaucratic, and that its delays in signing up to an agreement just demonstrated how right we were to escape the clutches of this sclerotic entity. The audience loved it. And the pound fell.

Post-conference, the mood began to change. Inflation picked up as the consequences of the depreciation in sterling worked its way through the system. Living standards were starting to fall; business investment was now falling fast.
Much of the country blamed the EU for the failure to reach an agreement. But much of the country did not. ‘Get Brexit done’ was now a phrase only used ironically.

A clip of the Prime Minister being harangued by an angry first-time Conservative voter from Wakefield went viral. “You promised us you’d get Brexit done but all we hear about is Brexit”, Johnson was told. “Why should I ever trust you Tories again?” To be fair, it was the only interrogation the Prime Minister had received for some weeks after he had declined broadcast interviews for weeks.

Not long afterwards, the deadlock in the EU negotiations was broken. The UK had been curiously reluctant to set out its positive demands for an FTA and it was left to the EU to take the initiative. It brought back the proposal was a ‘barebones’ agreement. It addressed tariffs and quotas which mattered to the EU.

But it did nothing for services, left the UK as rule takers in a host of areas and, when it came to fish, required that the demands of the French and others were accepted in full.

‘What else are you going to do?, the Prime Minister was asked after a testy exchange with the President of the European Commission. ‘You have weeks left before the Implementation Period comes to an end. This is the deal. Sign it or Great Britain leaves on WTO terms.’

That takes us to our emergency Cabinet meeting. So what does the Prime Minister do? Agree to a deal that, on any fair assessment, gives the EU all that it wants but fails to deliver any of the UK’s negotiating objectives. Or leave on WTO terms having, one year previously, acceded to the EU’s objectives on the divorce payment, citizens’ rights and Northern Ireland.

Two very bad options. The Treasury advises that the economic hit of both choices will be considerable but that, in this case, a bad deal will be better than no deal. Politically, the Prime Minister ponders whether he could sell such a deal as a triumph. It evidently isn’t a triumph, but that hasn’t always stopped him in the past.

Either way, the honeymoon is properly over. A general election may have been won on promises to put Brexit behind us and move on, that getting a comprehensive free trade agreement would be easily achieved and that our post-Brexit future would be filled with opportunities to trade with the rest of the world. A year later, those promises collide with reality. There is a price to be paid.

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We placed our trust in Johnson. Whatever happens on Thursday, he has kept faith with us – and with Britain.

The biggest-ever fringe event at a Conservative Party conference took place in the autumn of last year.  The host was this website.  The speaker was Boris Johnson.  How it came about and what happened afterwards may be a tale worth telling.

The year before, Johnson had spoken from the platform as Foreign Secretary.  Brexit was in trouble.  Theresa May had lost her majority the previous spring.  Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill had departed.  The days of May’s glad confident pre-election Lancaster House speech were long gone.

At any rate, Johnson “has out-trumpeted all others so far at this flat, bewildered and underwhelming conference”, we wrote of his 2017 conference speech. It “worked because at its heart it was making an argument. This was not merely that Brexit can be a stonking success, but that it is Conservative ideas that can make it so”.

Then came the Chequers summit and May’s plan the following summer.  David Davis resigned in protest.  Johnson didn’t want to but, in the end, also quit the Cabinet.  So there would be no 2018 Tory conference platform for him in the main hall.  That being so, ConservativeHome decided to supply one on the fringe instead.

Readers will see that our view of Johnson had been changing.  “Our attitude to Boris should exactly mirror his attitude to us: we should have our cake and eat it,” we had written two years earlier, echoing one of his own phrases.  Gradually, we had found ourselves wanting more of the Great British Cake that he was baking.

At our fringe meeting, Johnson delivered a bracing pro-Brexit phillipic to “my friends and fellow ConHomers”.  Within a year, Theresa May was gone – and he was in the final of the ensuing leadership election with Jeremy Hunt.  In other circumstances, the choice for us might have been hard.  In those that existed, it was easy.

The Conservatives has plunged below the floor in the polls, and were hurtling towards the centre of the earth.  In the spring’s Euro-elections, they had been reduced to a pathetic four seats.  The reason was straightforward enough.  May had pledged over a hundred times that Britain would leave the EU on March 29.  It didn’t.

She then said that she was not prepared to delay Brexit later than the end of June, but did.  She then declared that it would be “unacceptable” for European elections to take place, but they happened.  She denounced Jeremy Corbyn as a threat to the country, but then sought to deliver the Withdrawal Agreement by making a deal with him.

The situation was desperate.  The Party was losing its sense of self-belief – indeed, of self.  It had no alternative but to throw the dice.

We believed that “if the Tories want the leader best placed to see off Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, Johnson is the man,” and ended our endorsement by quoting from The Dark Knight.  “Perhaps Johnson is not the Prime Minister that the British people deserve…but he is the Prime Minister that we need right now”.

Conservative MPs and Party members duly threw those dice on “a wing and a prayer”, as we put it.  Johnson won the election.  And then everything began…to get even worse.

His enemies recognised that if Johnson could be stopped, Brexit could be too.  That meant violating all constitutional norms by taking the Commons’ timetable hostage.  He recognised this – and sought to head them off by means of a long prorogation.

The Supreme Court barred him from doing so through a judgement as constitutionally illiterate as it was legally plausible.  Oliver Letwin duly hijacked the Commons’ proceedings with the aid of a biased Speaker.  Johnson was forced by law to seek a extension that he didn’t want.

And he lost in the Commons again and again: to Letwin; on the Benn Bill (or Act, as it became); over calling a general election (twice); about a conference recess.  Johnson’s majority vanished as Phillip Hammond and company claimed that the Prime Minister’s intention was to get a No Deal Brexit.  We said he might have to resign.

Then something strange began to happen.  After Johnson duly sent an extension letter as required, his and the Party’s poll ratings began to go not down…but up.  Where May had been blamed for pursuing extensions, Johnson was forgiven.  She had been a Remainer.  He was a Leaver.  Voters gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“Get Brexit done,” they told Conservative-run focus groups.  Johnson began to repeat the slogan back at an voter-fearful Commons.  Eventually, its nerve cracked: Labour, the SNP and – especially – the Liberal Democrats waved an election through.

As we write, the best part of six weeks on, the Tories last five poll ratings have been: 44, 43, 46, 43, 42 and 41 per cent.  For all that, Johnson may not return to Downing Street after Thursday.  A Black, sorry, Red Swan may swoop on him as he nears the winning-post.

Differential turnout, tactical voting, late swing, “wrong” polls: a combination of some of these may do for him.  If so, he will be told that he got it all wrong.  For as a lower league manager put it in the different context of Saturday’s football highlights, “we all have a degree in hindsight”.  In such circumstances, most will be quick to deploy it.

We hope to reverse the usual order of things: in other words, to kick up and kiss down.  Having put the boot into Johnson many times – recently, we complained of once having “been driven nuts by his evasiveness about content, selfishness, amorality and unwillingness to file on time” – we will strive not to do on Friday, whatever happens.

For his campaigning achievement has been nothing less than amazing: to pick the Tories off the floor of 20 per cent or so, and drag them by the scruff of their neck up to 40 per cent or more, in less than six months, is an astounding turnaround.  What other politician could have come remotely close to doing the same?

So much for the Party.  What about the country, you ask?  What indeed.  Give Johnson his majority, and we will be out of the EU by February – finally delivering on the referendum mandate.  Give him enough Tory MPs, and we can wave goodbye to Jeremy Corbyn’s institutional anti-semitism, two referendums, extremism and tax grabs.

He may even be able, God willing, to make his One Nation Boosterism sing.  In the Sword in the Stone, T.H White tells the story of how Wart, a.k.a. King Arthur, is unable to free the sword at first heave.  As he heaves and sweats, the tutors, companions, and friends of Wart’s childhood become mysteriously present.

For the next four days, Johnson is the Wart, the Once and Future King, of this electoral struggle.  “Put your back into it,” says one friend to Wart.  “What about those forearms?” asks another.  “Keep a steady effort,” says a third, “and you will have it yet.”  “Come along,” says the last, “for all we humble friends of yours are here waiting to cheer.”

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WATCH: “I can make sure that numbers come down,” Johnson promises on immigration

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WATCH: No Russian money funding Conservative campaign, says Lewis

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James Cleverly: We need one last push, with your help, to deliver Brexit, stop Corbyn – and win

James Cleverly is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Braintree.

On Thursday, voters will go to the polls in an election unlike any I have seen before. The stakes are high. The choice is stark. And we have just five days to secure the result we need.  Nine seats stand between us and the majority that would allow us to get things done. To deliver Brexit, bring the country back together and move forward.

All 635 Conservative candidates will back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – that’s the deal, by the way, that we were told he’d never get. We will re-introduce the Withdrawal Agreement by Christmas and leave the EU in January.

Just think what we could achieve then. We’d be able to refocus the efforts and energy of Government and Parliament on the ambitious agenda the Prime Minister presented in our manifesto. On levelling up education funding, helping families onto the housing ladder, supporting local businesses and boosting the number of nurses in our NHS.

A vote for any other party is a vote to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten, leading a chaotic, Remain alliance propped up by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. His promise to respect the referendum result in tatters. His flimsy commitment to the Union predictably abandoned at the first sniff of power. 2020 squandered to two divisive referendums.

Voting Conservative is the only way to end the paralysis that has characterised the last three and a half years and restore faith in the democratic system we all live by. Voters told us what they wanted in 2016. It’s a shocking indictment of contemporary politics that we are the only major party prepared to deliver it.

But the threat of Corbyn goes beyond the damage he would do to public faith in democracy. It goes beyond, even, the economic damage he would inflict on hardworking families and vital public services. Corbyn would fail in Government’s primary responsibility – which is to keep its people safe.

Whereas Labour’s post war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, saw NATO as embodying the ‘spiritual union’ of the west, Corbyn has said the peacekeeping alliance should be scrapped. No matter that over the last 70 years it has halted Soviet aggression and helped to prevent a third world war.

He would undermine our armed forced, disempower the police and inflict irreversible damage on our closest security alliances. Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has turned its back on the party’s traditional support, mutating into something which an ever-rising number of former Labour MPs feel compelled to urge the British public to vote against. As Ivan Lewis put it last week, it’s not the Labour party of our parents or grandparents. And it’s led by a man entirely unfit to be Prime Minister.

Since becoming Party Chairman, I’ve visited candidates and spoken to constituents up and down the country. The fear people feel at the prospect of a Corbyn premiership is palpable. And we have five days to make sure that doesn’t happen.

We didn’t want this election, but we do need it. And we need to win it. We can’t do that without you.

General elections require a special kind of commitment from members and activists. General elections in deepest winter event more so. I’ve seen first-hand the dedication of our associations and supporters over the past five weeks, but as we enter the final five days we need one last push.

In 2017, 51 MPs were returned with majorities of less than a thousand. That’s 51 results potentially determined by an extra hour on the doorstep, an extra evening delivering or telephone canvassing. In a tight election, these ‘extras‘ makes all the difference. We need just nine more seats to get Brexit done and move our country forward.

So here’s my ask to you. I need you to find the time for just a couple more hours leafletting and on polling day to work with our candidates. Whatever you can give our candidates across the country. When we work together, the Conservative Party can deliver incredible results. Just look at the famous victories of 2015 or 1979.  Those victories were not just delivered by our Party’s leaders or manifestos.

They were delivered by you, our members. Taking the argument to the doorsteps of the UK and making the case for a Conservative majority government. I don’t want any of us on Friday thinking, ‘what more could I have done?’ as we look down the barrel of years more in-fighting, dithering and delay.

Like our candidates, I will be pounding the pavements. Like our councillors, I will be wearing my knuckles out knocking on doors. Like our association chairmen, I will be making sure that come December 13th we have the majority we need to take our country forward.  I hope you will join me.

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The BBC debate. Both men were given the chance to make an argument. Which is why Johnson won it.

The ITV election leader’s debate which took place last month was like a frantic lower league football match.  I tweeted at its end: “terrible pitch, kick and rush, noisy crowd (but no pitch invasions), competent ref, high press from Boris Johnson, no goal on the break for Jeremy Corbyn – no score draw.

This evening’s BBC equivalent was more like a Premiership encounter in which both teams have the space they need to play as they wish.  They were assisted by a referee, Nick Robinson, who didn’t halt the flow of play by blowing his whistle too frequently.  That may be why the crowd – i.e: the studio audience, in this comparison – clapped little and mocked less. They showed every sign of being absorbed by the game.

Given more space than at the ITV encounter, Corbyn made a simple case based on change.  If you believe in Labour’s magic money tree – we apologise for reviving the phrase – you will have found him convincing.  But his argument was essentially abstracted, with little three-dimensional sense of the last deadlocked Parliament; the institutional gridlock of the last of the last few years; the possibility of it continuing.

You may not have agreed with Johnson’s case, but it had more body to it.  Like Corbyn, he made a case for change; unlike him, he provided a context – painting a picture of that paralysed Parliament, and of how that paralysis can begin to be healed: by, in a phrase that the Conservatives have filched from focus focus, “getting Brexit done”.

Furthermore, the space that both men were given allowed Johnson to do something almost unseen in this election to date: namely, to make an argument more broadly.  Capitalism depends on profits.  Unlike losses, these can be taxed.  Those taxes pay for public services.  That is One Nation conservatism.  One can disagree with this case, but Johnson was allowed to make it.

Which is why we believe he clearly won the debate on points – or by one goal to none, to stick to our comparison.  Robinson asked Corbyn some sharp questions on Brexit and Labour NHS scare stories; at least one of the audience questions came “from the right”, in the form of a sceptical probing of both the main parties’ spending plans.  Johnson visibly relaxed, mocking Corbyn’s “Bermuda Triangle” tales of Tory NHS plots.

He got into detail, too, making a decent fist of explaining the six new hospitals / 40 new hospitals controversy.  Only when the questioning turned to politicians’ “lies” did he look flustered.  Otherwise, his weakest point, public trust in him, was scarcely probed.

Some will disagree with us calling the debate for Johnson.  So be it.  But they will find it hard to assert convincingly that it should be called for Corbyn instead.  And remember: as in the ITV debate, it’s Corbyn who needed a win more this evening, at least if the polls are right.


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