Richard North, 28/11/2019  

Despite Corbyn's determination to distract attention from it, and Johnson's reluctance to entertain any detail, this remains the Brexit election. That is certainly the way the voting public seems to be seeing it and, according to the latest YouGov poll, is prepared to award Johnson the victor's laurels.

But this is not just any poll. We are looking at the eagerly-awaited results of YouGov's multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) model which uses techniques which are credited with correctly predicting the outcome of the 2017 election – making YouGov's poll the only one to do so.

Published in The Times, this latest super-survey, based on more than 100,000 interviews over seven days, predicts that the Conservatives would win 359 seats if the vote was held today.

That is a clear margin of 33 above the 326 seats required to give an overall majority, leaving Labour trailing with a mere 211 seats - the second-worst defeat since the war. Corbyn gets only two more seats than Michael Foot achieved in 1983 after a manifesto that was described as the "longest suicide note in history".

The SNP romps home with 43 seats in Scotland while the Lib-Dems struggle to gain one more seat than they held in the 2017 election, losing all their high-profile defectors who had temporarily boosted numbers to 20, leaving them with an uncomfortable 13 seats. Farage's party fails to make a dent, gaining no seats on three percent of the vote – just one tenth of its European Parliament showing last May.

Interestingly, the Conservative would gain Six Labour marginals that have never voted for them before, and at least nine seats that have been Labour since the Second World War- all on the basis of "leave" sympathies. However, YouGov cautions that the projected majorities are below five percent in at least 30 of the seats which are allocated to the Conservatives. Thus, should their lead fall from the current level of 11 points, the seats projected will drop. A lead of less than seven points could deprive Johnson of a majority. Thus, YouGov aims to produce another of these polls just before the election.

Mercifully, there are only two weeks to go before election day, but it can't come soon enough. Normally, on any working day, I will have as many as 30 separate websites open as I trawl through news and information sites, preparing to write the blogpost for the following day.

Yesterday, by about midday, I had closed down virtually every site, including Twitter, as I could no longer stand the drivel that was being dished up as political commentary.

Quite obviously, Corbyn's attempt to re-open his claim that the Tories are planning to sell off the NHS was a distraction, as he sought to steer attention away from the criticism of the party's record on antisemitism.

But all that the release of the 451-page "dossier" has done is illustrate how serious Johnson's government is on securing a United States deal, and how much work has already been done. The list of US Negotiating Objectives from earlier this year, however, indicates that there is a long way to go.

Reading between the lines, one sees US concerns about what are evident to the knowledgeable eye as long-term incompatibilities between US and EU regulatory disciplines.

If – as appears from the dossier – the UK is intent on securing greater "regulatory compatibility", thereby reducing "burdens associated with unnecessary differences in regulation", then this can only be done at the expense of divergence from EU regulation.

Instead of saturating the news agenda with Corbyn's lame assertions, a more alert media might have taken in some of the detail and made the link with Johnson's refusal to extend the transition period and the nature of his intended deal with the EU.

That would have been particularly appropriate given a letter published earlier in the day in the Telegraph by 14 individuals who had self-identified as "trade professionals", lamenting – as the Telegraph's Peter Foster put it – the "poor quality" of debate in the current election campaign over trade.

Looking at the signatories, though, one might be forgiven for thinking that there were only 14 trade policy "experts" in the entire world, as these names are wearily familiar, routinely providing "comfort quotes" to the entire media establishment. Some of them, in fact, are not experts at all, but merely lobbyists or journalists - and some with only the thinnest veneer of knowledge.

If there is poor quality in the debate - and indeed there is - it is much to do with this self-identified group of "professionals" who have been unable to bring anything interesting or credible to the table. They have tried to make the debate their own exclusive domain and then seem surprised that no one else wants to join in. Almost all of them on Twitter I have blocked, as having nothing to say that is of least interest to me.

An indication of how far from reality they have digressed comes in their own letter, when they call on all political parties to commit themselves to focusing "on content, not timing".

They complain that "engines are being revved to strike FTAs by arbitrary deadlines, with little sense of what we want to achieve", and thus assert that Britain "must carefully define its offensive and defensive interests for each negotiation, and their sequence, if these FTAs are to benefit the economy".

This seems completely to ignore the cross-dynamics affecting the activities of this government (and any future Johnson government), where it is intent on breaking away from a policy of "Europe first" which has prevailed for the best part of half a century in order to pursue a US trade agreement (prioritised in the Conservative manifesto) and then deals with other Anglospheric nations.

If my assessment has any merit, then there is no possibility of Johnson extending the transition period past the "arbitrary deadline", and nor – given the political problems associated with an extension – is he likely to consider asking for more time.

In the second of three "demands" the group, tell us that free trade agreement "involve trade-offs that should be openly discussed", rather naively asking that government and parliament "should conduct transparent consultations with the public, business, devolved administrations and wider civil society to help define negotiating priorities".

Ensuring openness, the group says, "is essential to build public confidence, allay fears and ensure the government delivers deals people want". There is little point, it adds, "negotiating a deal without knowing whether it will gain domestic approval".

Yet, on its way to a comfortable majority, the very last thing a new Johnson government will be concerned with is "domestic approval". It has its own agenda already set out and, from all accounts, knows exactly what it wants to achieve. And in pursuing its agenda, it can rely on the disinterest and lack of intelligent discussion from the media, as it rolls out a fundamental change in our trade policy.

To that extent, the YouGov survey results in The Times are bad news. Johnson with a large majority will be even more insufferable than he already is, and with a compliant party behind him, will – for a time at least – have free rein to do what it will.

The only good thing that might transpire from such a result is that, if Corbyn really does do that badly, he might be forced to resign – perhaps to be replaced by a more capable leader of the opposition who could start to call Johnson to account. Given the quality of the current batch of Labour MPs, though, that might be wishful thinking.

Still, it is early days yet as there are those two weeks to go. And, in my experience at least, many people don't really make up their minds on their vote until the last week – some not until the very last minute. A hung parliament is not an impossibility even if, at this particular moment, it looks unlikely.

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