Denis Staunton’s UK election diary - Can Johnson be stopped?

Tories have been buoyed by a better-than-expected reception in Scotland

Good morning, it’s 17 days to Election Day.

Can Boris Johnson be stopped? With an average poll lead over Labour of 13 points, the Conservatives are on course to win a comfortable majority on December 12th. The Tories have been buoyed by a better-than-expected reception in Scotland, where they once feared they would lose most of their 13 seats but are now confident of holding almost all of them.

They expect to pick up seats from Labour in Wales and across the midlands and the north of England. And in South Yorkshire, where Johnson faced criticism little over a week ago for his slow response to flooding, Tory canvassers are bullish.

It is a sign of Conservative confidence that the party's manifesto launch yesterday was close to a news-free event, with modest promises not to increase taxes and to recruit more nurses. You can read my report here, and my analysis here.


Labour sources report that although many of the radical policies outlined in its manifesto last week are popular, voters on the doorstep are dismissing them as “pie in the sky”. And although Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has improved since the start of the campaign, he remains much more unpopular than Johnson – who is not himself well liked.

One of the most accurate polls in 2017 was YouGov’s seat-by-seat estimate using the “multi-level regression with post-stratification” (MRP) technique. MRP combines insights from a large national polling database with detailed information on the demographic mix and past political behaviour for every seat in the country, mapping voters’ movements through the campaign and how likely they are to vote.

An MRP analysis by Datapraxis at the weekend pointed to a 48-seat Conservative majority, with the Tories winning 349 seats to Labour’s 213, the SNP winning 49 of Scotland’s 59 seats and the Liberal Democrats stumbling home with just 14 seats.

But as Datapraxis chief executive Paul Hilder writes in Prospect, the analysis suggests that some leading Conservatives, including Johnson himself, could lose their seats if Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters vote tactically. And although nobody except Johnson is likely to win a majority, effective tactical voting could deprive him of that prize, opening the way to an alternative government that could stop Brexit.

Jo Swinson’s poor performance in the campaign so far has worried Conservative strategists because they believe a strong Liberal Democrat showing will split the Remain vote to Johnson’s advantage. The polls pointing to an inevitable Tory victory could help Labour’s prospects in two ways: by de-risking a vote for the party because Corbyn is viewed as unlikely to get into No 10, and by concentrating the minds of Remainers into accepting they can only stop Brexit by swallowing their pride and voting tactically.

Recommended reads

Gerry Moriarty on the nasty contest in North Belfast.

My Weekend Review report on the election in Scotland.

The Spectator's Katy Balls on what we've learned from the Conservative manifesto.

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian says it is not a Conservative manifesto at all.

Quote of the day

“A Corbyn-Sturgeon coalition of chaos? I say let’s go Carbon-neutral by 2050 and Corbyn-neutral by Christmas” – Boris Johnson

What’s on today

11.30am: Chuka Umunna speech on the Liberal Democrats’ foreign policy.

6pm: Nigel Farage and Ann Widdecombe in Plymouth.

7.30pm: Andrew Neil interviews Nicola Sturgeon on BBC One.

Poll tracker

Conservatives, 42.4;  Labour, 29.6;  Liberal Democrats, 14.7;  Brexit, 4.6;   Greens, 3.3; Others, 5.4

From Britain Elects