Get your primary-coloured placards and slogans out, it's election season!
With parliament officially dissolved on Wednesday, and party campaign launch events happening throughout the week, the lead-up to the 2019 general election has taken off at a frantic pace that's unlikely to slow down anytime soon. Here's our break down of what happened this week on the campaign trail, and how it might affect the race to No.10.
Failure to launch?
Following on from Labour's kick-off last week, it was the Conservative party's turn to launch their election campaign in Birmingham, with the perhaps unsurprising theme of "get Brexit done". Birmingham was an interesting choice for the Tories considering that the West Midlands' city is deeply divided on the issue of Brexit. 22 of Birmingham's 40 wards voted to leave and 18 wanted to remain. It's a choice that perhaps reflects the wider message that the Conservatives are choosing to run on in this election: let us get Brexit out of the way and then we can focus on everything else. This is actually a pretty reasonable gamble given the level of Brexit-fatigue the electorate is facing. However, nothing ever comes easy, and the Conservatives' first official week of campaigning has been side tracked by a series of missteps by some of their most high-profile members.
Jacob Rees-Mogg's comments on LBC implying that the victims of the Grenfell fire lacked common sense were obviously the most significant error of the week, prompting a rare and swift apology from the leader of the House of Commons. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen was then also forced to backtrack on comments he made in defence of Rees-Mogg the next day. The bad headlines continued when a Conservative candidate, Nick Conrad, was forced to stand down after remarks he made in 2014 surfaced about women being "partially responsible" for their own sexual assault. This incident is especially unwelcome for the Tories after the Welsh secretary Alun Cairns was forced to resign over his awareness of a former aide's involvement in the collapse of a rape trial.
In isolation, these mini-scandals may not have a huge impact on the direction of the race and it's important to acknowledge that conservations that happen around politics on Twitter rarely reflect what the wider public is thinking about. Current general election polling looks solid for Johnson and he is a much more skilled campaigner than Theresa May. However, the strength of the Conservative campaign relies on their ability to stick to a single, simple argument. The more time they spend dealing with these gaffs, the less time they have to hammer their "get Brexit done" point home.
Budget? What budget?
While the last few years have seen unprecedented change in the British political landscape, some of the old rules still apply. One of the rules that has survived, is that when election season kicks off spending pledges will inevitably follow. Johnson has had a head start as he's effectively been in campaign mode since he became prime minister, with increased spending promises for the NHS, education, and the 20,000 extra police officers he won't stop talking about. Sajid Javid, the chancellor, has also joined in on the fun, ignoring his own government's spending rules to allow £22bn of public sector investment a year. This strategy from the Tories marks a significant push by their senior leadership to separate themselves from the austerity policies that have dominated their years in power up to this point. It might also be a play for Labour's pro-Brexit voters in the north by promising more money for public services. What remains unclear, however, is whether these voters will trust the Tories enough to vote for them in significant numbers.
Not to be out done, John McDonnell, the Labour shadow chancellor, promised in a speech earlier this week to increase infrastructure investment by £55bn for the next five years and exclude investment loans from government borrowing targets. Significant increases in NHS spending have also been promised by all parties, perhaps most sensationally by the Lib Dems who have pledged to enact a multi-billion pound spending boost for mental health services if they win, funded by an increase in income tax. In light of the escalating public spending bidding war that is fast becoming the centre of this election, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned policymakers that some of these pledges are undeliverable in a modern economy. However, whether any of these investment promises can actually be realised is not of much importance to politicians at the moment. The key challenge for the parties right now, especially those who have supported austerity measures in the past, is whether they can get voters to believe in them.
Watson and what's off
Although not many in the Tory party would describe this week as a flawless start to their campaign, Labour have also been dealing with their own internal party problems. Most obviously, the shock resignation of Tom Watson, who is stepping as deputy leader of the party as well as the MP for West Bromwich East. Although Watson went out of his way to emphasise that his decision was "personal, not political", it's difficult to not see the move as the clearest bellwether yet for the diminishing influence of moderates within the Labour party. The slow death of the New Labour movement was illustrated further by two former high-profile Labour MPs actively telling centre-left voters to support Johnson in order to avoid a Corbyn-led government. Ian Austin, former aide to Gordon Brown, and John Woodcock MP who is standing down in this election, have both stated they are unable to support Corbyn and the Labour party in its current form.
It's difficult to predict what these non-endorsements and resignations are likely to do for Labour's chances. Despite a concerted effort this week to explain Labour's Brexit policy, it's clear that Corbyn wants to fight this election on everything apart from Brexit. If this bet pays off, they could outperform expectations as they did in 2017. However, if this is the Brexit election, they risk ceding ground on all fronts by losing strong remainers to the Lib Dems and losing the pro-Brexit part of their base to the Tories, or more likely, the Brexit party.
Although it seems like a political cliché at this point, this race will probably still be too close and unpredictable to call until people start heading to the polls. What this week has shown is that this is likely to be a bruising political campaign. The big challenge for the parties going forward in this saturated political media environment is two-fold; choosing a strong single political message and being able to follow through with it.