A December Election? What could go wrong?
As many are aware, the braintrust of government and opposition of the United Kingdom have called a general election for December 12. Considering my role in this thing, I won’t be able to keep up my exceptionally minimal level of contribution to LGM for the next month (34 days until polling day), but hopefully an open thread gets put up on the day somehow. Also considering the nature of this event, apart from one or two minor comments here, my criticism of the party leadership, and the cult that surrounds the party leadership, is on hiatus for obvious reasons.
While those used to electioneering in the US won’t find a deep autumn / early winter election all that unusual, it is here in the UK. The last time there was not an early spring to summer election was October 1974. We know from theory and evidence in the turnout literature that this will have an impact, and we also know that this will asymmetrically effect the two main parties. A joke I often use on the campaign trail is that “if the Luftwaffe were to appear overhead for a second go at reassembling Plymouth’s architecture, Conservative voters would still go to the polling stations”. The second problem that confronts us, evident to all but the leadership of the party, is that we literally have half the daylight in December as we did in May-June 2017 (and this is measured down here in Plymouth; up north, which to us is everything past Bristol, it gets worse). The latitude of Plymouth is around 50.4°, and we’re in Britain’s south. Daylight is dear in the winter. The key comparative advantage of the Labour Party has been our volunteers and activists, many of whom are deployed knocking on doors to find new voters, or to reconfirm the accuracy of our vast wealth of data. This all feeds in to polling day, where we GOTV with a vengeance.
With significantly less daylight and warmth, this machine will be less efficient both in the run in to and on polling day itself. Below is an image of a canvassing team I led last night, to illustrate the point. At least it wasn’t absolutely pissing it down with rain as it has been frequently:
Couple other points — given my accidental rise through the ranks of responsibility in the local party, I seem to be doing a lot less of the above. I still have the full time day job, with a pretty decent teaching load, student meetings (four scheduled for today alone), and the like; my every spare moment is dedicated to the campaign (writing this will be the only real break I get today). But, most of my time is spent in Plymouth Labour HQ discussing and writing literature, arranging canvassing teams, directing canvassing strategy (there are 48 canvasses in Plymouth this week alone), examining data (wow, that sounds important), helping run our weekly campaign briefings for the membership (it’s tonight, by the way, and at present I only have a rough outline of what I’ll be saying), doing the comms to membership every week, and meetings. Whereas in the 2015 general election I was a happy foot soldier, and I ran a ward in the 2017 general, I’ve got a bit more on my plate being part of the small team running the constituency, which has meant less time for street-level politics.
Two observations on the national scene — Jeremy Corbyn is inordinately proud to have called this election:
“I put it to them quite clearly: I said, our objections are now gone. We are now supporting a general election – and everybody gulped. I didn’t alert anybody in advance – it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy.”
And a couple nights ago word hit us that the Deputy Leader of the party, and rallying point for the so-called “moderates” in the party (which is really an ideologically broad coalition from centrist to left wing who aren’t members of the cult) is resigning that position and not running for re-election as MP. This has hit some people quite hard, as it could be further evidence that the once broad church of the Labour Party has further eroded into a small sect.
But, I don’t have the time to think about that right now. We’ve got an election to win here for our MP, and we’ve got a good team, and a good plan. The mood is businesslike. We have a job to do, we know how to do that job, and we’re doing it. An impressive first move was sending out around 40,000 targeted direct mails in the two constituencies — before the legal “controlled period” of the short campaign kicked in, each envelope stuffed by hand.
I’ll leave this with one final point. As part of my day job, I run a seminar series that invites in local politicians to discuss the practical side of getting involved in politics. The 30 minute talks, and the Q&A that follow, do not address the competing merits of the parties, the ideologies, or for the love of god and all that is holy and true, whether or not Brexit is a good idea. Instead, the focus is about getting involved, or the personal path of these various individuals, the choices and barriers they’ve faced, etc. I want our students, very few who are from any sort of privileged background, to be able to identify with these people and visualise paths into politics for themselves.
The first speaker this semester, a couple days after the election was called, was the Conservative Party opponent to my candidate, whom I introduced. We’ve met a few times before, she’s a nice person, she knows my role in erecting a roadblock to her political ascendency, and she nailed her talk — hit the right tone for the series, and the questions from students were all great. Her talk should serve as a model for the series. The six talks I have scheduled for this semester (two have already passed) includes the MPs for the two main Plymouth constituencies (one Labour, one Conservative) and their main challengers (one Labour, one Conservative), in addition to the Labour leader of the Plymouth city council, and a Conservative county councillor.
It’s a bit bizarre, this December election.