How Brexiteers Kept the Conservatives in Power

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Following the shock result of the 2017 General Election, leading to a minority Conservative Government, supported perhaps by the DUP, it is important to look at what drove the result. In the post-vote survey provided by the excellent Lord Ashcroft Polls, which projected the 2-point Conservative lead we saw in the results, there are some very interesting findings.

First, age was a better indicator of voting intention than class. The survey shows Labour leading the Conservatives by a stunning 49 points among 18-24 year olds, while the Conservatives beat Labour by 36 points among 65+ year olds. Meanwhile, the Conservatives won upper and upper-middle class (AB) voters by 9 points, and lost working-class voters (DE) by 12 points – far smaller margins!

Second, England was far less amenable for the Conservatives than last time. In 2015 they ran 10 points ahead; the survey puts them only 2 points ahead in the most recent election. In Scotland, meanwhile, the Conservatives went from 9 points behind Labour to 4 points above, another stunning turnaround.

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The Conservatives were also hurt by the distrust engendered by a blundering campaign. When asked why they chose their party, both Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters said trusting the motives of their party over others was the most important reason! For Conservative voters, it wasn’t even in the top 3; instead, they viewed the Conservatives as being best for negotiating Brexit, followed by having the best potential Prime Minister and being the best for the economy.

Under the Conservatives unemployment has plummeted to record lows of 4.7%. Last year the UK economy grew by a healthy 2%, substantially more than the Eurozone average of 1.5%. Brexit Britain has even seen a surge in manufacturing growth. Voters had plenty of reasons to believe the Conservatives are strong on the economy; not making their economic case was a key Conservative campaign mistake.

This was compounded by Labour focusing almost exclusively on economic issues, mostly the spending splurges and nationalisations listed in their dubiously ‘costed’ manifesto. Think Tanks like the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed the sums involved did not add up, so the cost would inevitably fall on the middle class. However, Labour’s opponents did not make much of this, allowing Labour to continue without being properly held to account. This disparity, between a confident Labour party making its flawed case in full, and a Conservative Party failing to publicise many of its achievements, came to shape the final weeks of the election period.

After the national spotlight was shifted from Brexit by the unprecedented terrorist attacks, Theresa May’s credibility seemed damaged and the Conservatives barely mentioned Brexit, which was supposed to be the focus of the election. They also rarely mentioned the burgeoning economy, typically their greatest strength.

Late voters favoured Labour, taken in by the disingenuous rhetoric coming from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. Indeed, the post-election survey shows Labour leading the Conservatives by 5 points among those who chose who to vote for in the last month, and by 23 points among those who decided where to cast their vote in the last week!

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Most interesting, and most pertinent for those of us looking to Get Britain Out of the EU is how the referendum impacted the election. While Labour backed a Brexit similar to the one proposed by the Conservatives, there was nonetheless a marked shift of Remain voters to Labour and Leave voters to the Conservatives. Remain voters split Labour over the Conservatives by 51% to 25%, while 60% of Leave voters backed the Conservatives, and just 25% back Labour. May’s reassurances that Brexit will indeed mean Brexit, and her successful manoeuvring of the Article 50 bill through Parliament, seem to have paid dividends. Around 14% of Remain voters supported the Liberal Democrats, and 6% of Leavers voted UKIP this time around.

The Conservative consolidation of the Leave vote is also shown by UKIP swinging behind them; an estimated 57% of UKIP voters moved to the Conservatives. Meanwhile, 30% of Liberal Democrat voters apparently went to Labour. These are far more significant defections than those seen by other parties.

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Remain voters flocking to Labour may be down to their numerous Europhile MPs, to their soft tone on the EU, and to their refusal to leave without a deal. Leave voters backing Theresa May, meanwhile, seems a vindication of the ‘banging on about Europe’ strategy Cameron disdained.

Indeed, Brexit seems to have pushed the Conservatives over the line. 48% of Conservative voters said Brexit was the most important reason for their vote. It was the top issue for Liberal Democrat voters as well, with 31% citing it, but only 8% of Labour supporters cited Brexit as their main reason for their vote, with 33% citing the NHS.

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What we can take from this is, while they lost out on many other issues, the Conservatives were trusted on Brexit, but they did not use this to the maximum benefit during the election campaign. Instead they lost focus introducing untested policies which proved unpalatable to many. While millions did vote Labour, Brexiteers broadly put their faith in the Conservatives.

If the Conservative Party vindicates that faith and Gets Britain Out of the EU, they may keep those voters for years to come.

Alexander Fiuza is a Research Executive at Get Britain Out

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