Party Leaders Learn Just How Gruelling A December Election Can Be

NHS waiting time figures catch out Boris Johnson as Jeremy Corbyn faces problems in Scotland.

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Stirling Efforts

Brexit voters in England, or so the story goes, will decide whether Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson emerges victorious after the polls close on December 12.

But marginal seats in the north and midlands, though crucial, make up just one part of the coalition either leader must build to clinch the keys to Downing Street.

Corbyn has spent the last two days in Scotland, trying to win votes in his party’s former heartlands of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Dundee and Edinburgh.

The remain-voting nation is, on paper at least, jam packed with marginal constituencies and Corbyn is holding out hope he can chip away at the SNP’s near-total dominance.

But his tour has been dogged by claims he is sending out confusing messages over when, or if, Labour would agree to a second Scottish independence referendum.

After initially telling reporters in Glasgow there would be “no referendum in the first term for a Labour government” he later said he did “not countenance” another vote in “the early years”.

Then during his visit to Dundee a heckler confronted him with claims he was working ‘arm in arm’ with Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader who has repeatedly underlined that she ‘won’t pick up the phone’ and help Corbyn form a parliamentary majority if he refuses to back a second poll.

Labour is in a bind north of the border. So much so, it seems, that polling guru Sir John Curtice thinks Corbyn should give up. The Strathclyde University academic told reporters in a briefing that the “chances of the Labour Party winning a majority are frankly as close to zero as one can safely say” and that it was “utterly incapable of regaining anything in Scotland”.

Curtice also had a warning for Johnson but over another part of the Union: Northern Ireland. He told reporters that the fewer seats the DUP or abstentionist party Sinn Féin win could make it harder for the Tories to form a majority if, as some polls suggest, the UK is headed for another hung parliament.

Meanwhile for Sturgeon, the stars appear to have aligned. The timing of the election avoids any difficult headlines the Alex Salmond sex assault trial may throw up in January. And if, or perhaps when, the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, her government in Holyrood has a reinforced mandate to formally demand a re-run of the independence vote next year.

The bigger problem for Sturgeon and Johnson may be the Lib Dems, now led by Scot Jo Swinson. They are hoping her party’s clear pro-remain, pro-union stance will boost its chances in North East Fife (which the SNP held with a majority of just two votes), Tory-held Stirling, and even Charles Kennedy’s former seat of Skye, Ross and Lochaber, where Ian Blackford is seeking re-election.

The Tories may appear vulnerable north of the border, with the much-liked Scottish leader Ruth Davidson vacating the pitch and the PM, already an unpopular figure in Scotland, selling a hardline Brexit deal a majority of Scots did not want in the first place.

But given Number 10′s strategy is to benefit from a divided remain vote, Johnson perhaps needs to do very little to hang on to Davidson’s gains in the Scottish borders and north east. ‌

The PM spent the day campaigning in the Brexit-voting south west England, visiting a school in Taunton after skipping a visit to a bakery, where climate change and austerity protesters were waiting for him.

The Tory leader was perhaps wise to avoid the protest as he would no doubt have faced more heckles about his party’s handling of the NHS.

Earlier today, the health service was put back at the centre of the winter campaign when new figures revealed the NHS recorded its worst ever waiting times for A&E in October. In response, the Nuffield Trust warned of “one of the bleakest winters in NHS history”.‌

Johnson attempted to defend the Conservatives’ record, pointing to the £20.5bn the government was spending, and telling reporters to “look at what we’re putting in”.

‌Health Secretary Matt Hancock chose to go on the attack, pointing to John McDonnell’s plan for a four-day working week, and even telling the BBC’s World At One: “In many ways the NHS is performing better than it ever has. The challenge is that demand is increasing as well.”

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth called the claim “staggering, on [the] day it’s confirmed A&E performance at its worst”.

By now, strategists in Downing Street are surely panicking that their push for a December election could backfire.

Cheat Sheet

Nigel Farage claimed the Conservatives offered jobs and peerages to his Brexit Party in a bid to get him to pull candidates from marginal seats. He said the alleged move by the Tories was “bordering on corruption”, suggesting that it came from people “who work deep inside Number 10”, rather than from the PM. The Conservative party denied the claims.

Boris Johnson officially abandoned the Conservatives’ long-standing commitment to get net migration below 100,000 people a year. The PM said his promised points-based immigration system “may” mean the numbers come down “in some sectors”. Home Secretary Priti Patel said a Tory government would “reduce immigration overall”.

The European Commission has launched “infringement proceedings” against Britain after Johnson refused to nominate a new British EU commissioner. The commission claimed the UK was “in breach of its EU treaty obligations”. Johnson has repeatedly said he would not appoint a new commissioner – even though all member states are legally obliged to do so.

Quote Of The Day

“The chances of the Labour party winning a majority are frankly as close to zero as one can safely say it to be given they look utterly incapable of regaining anything in Scotland.”‌

Prof. John Curtice on Corybn’s election prospects.

What I’m Reading

Boris Johnson is not Britain’s Donald Trump. Jeremy Corbyn is | The Atlantic

7 takeaways from Wednesday’s impeachment hearing | HuffPost

‌We never really got rid of the plague. 2 people in China just caught it | Vox

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