'Let's get Brexit done' is the 'strong and stable'-esque mantra of this Conservative election campaign — a statement that directly acknowledges that the country, and indeed the electorate, has other priorities, not just Brexit, which are likely to influence the outcome of next month's poll.
The Tory election campaign strategy is not just based on a slogan, but a tsunami of pre-election spending announcements, with plans to lavish money on everything from schools to police officers, which have been seen as pre-election bribes. These announcements have acted as an important 'anchor' to which Boris Johnson can refer back and demonstrate that he and his government are in fact interested in more than Brexit.
Meanwhile, the Tory claim is that Opposition parties are keeping the country 'stuck' in discussions about the UK's departure from the EU, even as Johnson is simultaneously trying to focus all commentary and discussion on Brexit.
There is no doubt that the coming election, widely described as the most important and potentially volatile for a generation, will be defined by local as well as national issues, as people head to the ballot box. What is clear is this election is about more than Brexit for many voters. A recent poll carried out by Deltapoll for the National Education Union (NEU), found that the National Health Service (NHS) was the most important electoral issue for parents (53 percent), with education ranking fourth on the list: A far cry from the ongoing commentary in Britain that this is the "Brexit election".
A wider vision for society
The importance of social issues to the electorate will be key on the campaign trail, as parties compete to showcase their wider vision for society. This poses challenges for both the Labour and Conservative parties, but potentially a greater test for a Boris Johnson-led Conservative party. The same NEU poll found that parents are more likely to vote Labour, and that women have been a big factor in securing a four-point lead for Labour over the Conservatives (30-22 percent lead).
Despite national polling indicating that this election really is about more than Brexit, the race to Westminster will not be won through national polls and leaders debates, but across the country in key marginals.
There is no better example of this than on the south coast of England. Southampton, a city that contains two relatively marginal constituencies will certainly be a 'bellweather' seat on election night. Southampton Test, Labour-held since 1997 with a majority of over 11,000 thousand in the last election, and the next door constituency of Southampton Itchen, held by the Conservatives in 2017 by just 31 votes, will be vital battlegrounds in the contest to form the next government.
Simon Letts, a local teacher standing as the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) is working on a campaign putting education front and centre in Southampton Itchen. Just this week there were signs that this message is cutting through and that education will be a key electoral issue in Southampton, as the BBC reported its importance to voters. Despite government announcements of additional funding, schools in Southampton Itchen will still have a £3.5 million shortfall in funding in 2020, a loss of £255 per pupil.
Education as a key issue
Over the coming weeks, the National Education Union, will be ensuring that the recent government is held to account over its education policies. The campaign has already included a series of Super Saturday events around the country, which look to bring parents and education professionals together to leaflet key marginals with information about cuts to schools in that area. The aim is to ensure that when people vote on 12 December, they value education and prioritise this in making their minds up on whom to vote for.
Any political party or candidate that tries to focus this election around Brexit, distracting from the issues that matter to electorate, like education and poverty, do so at their own peril. Following the last UK General Election in 2017, School Cuts — a joint union campaign led by the NEU’s predecessor, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) — was credited with changing the votes of 750,000 people.
Parties' manifesto announcements — with the Liberal Democrats pledging £10.6 billion for education and Labour's manifesto leading with plans for a radical National Education Service mirroring the successful NHS — provide further proof that a bold vision of a better society is what is needed at this election. The Conservative Party manifesto and campaign will need to be about more than getting Brexit done.
Whichever government Britons wake up with on 13 December, the country needs more than prolonged discussions about Brexit. It needs hope and opportunity about the future. It needs the 'Next-It'.
The author is national campaigns manager for the National Education Union (NEU). It is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect those of the NEU.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2019 12:07:12 IST