Is it Merry Brexmas Election everyone?

Patrick Burns
Political editor, Midlands

Image caption,
Deck the halls with... ballot boxes

Forget the parcels, pantos and parties

...except for the political parties, that is, should a Christmas election happen.

And quite apart from the December dateline, this would be unlike any General Election we have seen.

Forget the playground

The West Midlands has long been seen as a sort of electoral play area full of see-saws swinging back and forth between the two biggest parties who generally predominate more here than anywhere else. The Gloucesters, Nuneatons, Redditches, Telfords and Worcesters: They all have a long history of switching back and forth between Labour and the Conservatives.

This time, though, swing seats could be back seats. In a world so full of uncertainties, the one safe prediction we can make is that this time it's different. No see-saws, no swing seats either, at least not in the conventional sense of that expression.

Instead of our traditional two-party affair, we now have multiple parties, some energised and redefined by Brexit, while the two biggest will be battling to limit the damage already caused by their own divisions.'s a war on many fronts

The emergence of the Brexit Party, clear winners of last summer's European Elections, will, on the recent admission of Shrewsbury and Atcham's Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski, pile intense pressure on the Conservatives, especially in those Leave-supporting target seats which they hope to capture from Labour.

These are places like Wolverhampton South West and North East, West Bromwich West, and Dudley North (a notional Labour seat, albeit by the narrowest of margins at the last election despite Ian Austin's subsequent defection as an Independent).

Will the Brexit Party split the vote and help Labour to retain them? And does Boris Johnson's failure to get his Withdrawal Agreement agreed by Parliament in time to prevent this latest extension leave the Tories outflanked by the Brexit Party in Leave-supporting areas where patience ran thin long ago?

Image source, UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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On the one hand... Boris Johnson could be outflanked. On the other, Labour might come unstuck

But Labour runs the risk of being outflanked too, in its case by the resurgent Liberal Democrats who have been gathering support from Remain supporters while Jeremy Corbyn's party was struggling to present a similarly straightforward message.

Labour-held Warwick and Leamington is one of only three constituencies in our region which voted to remain so the Liberal Democrats will mount a concerted challenge there, as they will in our other two Remain-supporting seats, Cheltenham and Cotswold, which are currently held by the Conservatives.

The Green Party, too, will exert an influence in these Remain areas, buoyed by the election earlier this year of their first West Midlands MEP, Ellie Chowns.

Image caption,
Will Jeremy Corbyn look as pleased come Brexmas election day?

Battlefields and killing fields

But it is in those overwhelmingly Leave-supporting areas like the Black Country and Stoke-on-Trent that the fight will be most intense. The succession of Government announcements of billions more for health, the police and our schools were described by the right honourable member for Bromsgrove, addressing the Conservative Party Conference, as evidence the Tories were now "the party of labour", with a small "l".

We hear Labour are also worried about at least three of their seats in Birmingham.

So Brexit is just one of the elements in a patchwork of issues vying for attention which could well play out differently between one place and another.

Forget any idea of uniform national swing. The only generalisation I can make is that there can be no generalisations.

Think, for example, of West Bromwich East whose Labour MP, the deputy leader Tom Watson, has nevertheless been a high-profile advocate of Labour coming out in support of Britain remaining in the EU. How will he fare in his Leave-supporting constituency where the one-time darling of the Left, the former Labour, and latterly, Respect Party MP, "Gorgeous George" Galloway, will be standing as an Independent and parading his life-long opposition to Britain's membership of the EU?

Or could they divide the left-of-centre votes and maybe even let in the Conservatives?

Image source, PA Media
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Could Tom Watson be caught in the variables at play?

By now we are beginning to see how the complex interplay of forces introduces so many different moving parts which can vary sharply from one place to another.

Other places to look out for are Stoke-on-Trent North, Stoke-on-Trent Central and next-door Newcastle-under-Lyme, which are high on the Conservatives' wish-list, especially after they captured Stoke-on-Trent South off Labour last time, on the basis, they presumed, that on Brexit, the Tories appeared to Leave supporters a better bet than Labour.

The same was true in Walsall North, where the Conservatives captured a one-time Labour stronghold. They will certainly have neighbouring Walsall South in their sights this time, bidding to unseat Shadow Leader of the Commons, Valerie Vaz.

One final thought

With so many parties contesting this election, logic may suggest one hung Parliament will be succeeded by another.

But the number-crunchers have come up with what they call "the 35% strategy". It suggests the fact that votes will be spread between more parties than usual means the overall share for a Commons majority under first-past-the-post may be lower than the customary 40% benchmark. So a party securing a little over 30% could conceivably form a majority Government.

So, at last, it's war. But will it all be over by Christmas?