Published: 02 December 2019

CBE UK Election Watch 5: Corbyn’s Campaign Countdown

Less than two weeks to go now, and with the expected declaration times being released on Thursday, I’m carefully planning my election night buffet for maximum effect.

Corbyn’s Campaign Countdown

Less than two weeks to go now, and with the expected declaration times being released on Thursday, I’m carefully planning my election night buffet for maximum effect. This week has arguably been a pretty tough one for Jeremy Corbyn, with a combination of the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis attacking Labour’s record on tackling anti-Semitism, a bumpy television interview with Andrew Neil and the party’s candidate being removed from the Falkirk race due to alleged antisemitic remarks. Yet Corbyn is still pressing on with this campaign trail around the country. This week I’ll be looking at where he’s been, where he may be going and how different this is from 2017.

At time of writing, Corbyn has visited thirty-one constituencies since Parliament was dissolved on the 6th November (he was of course on the road as soon as MPs voted for the election, but in technical terms the campaign proper doesn’t start until the Parliament has come to an end). So far, he is averaging about eight constituencies a week, but he has visited up to four constituencies per day. This, therefore has left him time to attend manifesto meetings, prepare for debate appearances and even manage a day on the allotment (probably). The rest of the campaign is where the momentum should really pick up. He’s visiting slightly more (54%) seats that are not currently Labour-held, but this is a rather cautious strategy if the party is aiming to win enough seats to hold the balance of power. It was only on Thursday that Labour announced that their election strategy was changing, as they had overestimated the threat posed to them by the Liberal Democrats and were reorienting to focus on the Conservative seats and on Leave areas. Funnily enough, if you look at the seats that Jeremy Corbyn has visited during the course of the campaign proper, not a single one has either been held by the Liberal Democrats or has them in second place. Apart from Corbyn’s foray into Scotland a fortnight ago, he has exclusively visited Labour-held seats with the Conservatives in second place, or Conservative-held seats where Labour are the challengers. So not a dramatic change in the campaign strategy as it sounds on the surface.

Most (71%) of his visits have been to marginal constituencies, which is a higher proportion than in 2017. In that election he spent almost half of all his visits in Labour strongholds, enabling him to hold those big open-air events that characterised his campaigning style. So far in 2019, only seven of his visits have been to these seats with large Labour majorities. In these seats, he is still doing these large-scale events (but inside, because it is much nippier than a May/June campaign), launching the race and faith manifesto in Tottenham (majority 70.1%) or visiting Manchester Central (majority 63.2%) for a rally. There’s usually a lectern and a Labour red background – the image we are being sold is that Corbyn possesses prime ministerial qualities; he can perform on a formal stage. But as these seats are super safe, the (largely) friendly audiences are often well-stocked with local activists and he is not running into too much opposition. In more marginal seats, he is stepping down from the stage and meeting members of the public, although not necessarily encountering them in a spontaneous way. He often speaks to small groups of local activists or wheels out the gimmicks. On Monday, he learned how to build a wall and in previous weeks he has been painting pottery, making oatcakes on a boat and meeting children at a play centre. Expect a Christmas themed Corbyn visit to be arriving in a marginal seat near you soon…

This week I gave my final year students my data from the last three general elections on where the leaders have visited. They have produced predictions for potential visit locations for the rest of the campaign. I have promised prizes for correct guesses. We’re only two days into their predictions, but so far, they have already correctly guessed three of the visits Johnson and Corbyn have made. At this rate, they’ll have cleaned me out by Polling Day…Next week Jo Swinson and why everyone seems to be in a boxing gym during this campaign.

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