We’re now well into the not-so-snap 2017 General Election SEUK forecast in December last year, and the suggestion that Theresa May would return with a majority of 100 looks to be in the right ballpark. I was struck by a recent report that physicists had for the first time observed “negative mass”. It’s very cool. The harder scientists push a liquid, the firmer it pushes back -thus seeming to defy what little I know about physics. Yet, if the polls are to be believed, it’s a phenomenon that Labour activists up and down the country are finding replicable: the harder they knock on doors, the firmer the doors are slammed in their faces.

With apologies to Scotland (where one can expect another large contingent of SNP MPs being re-elected give or take a few seats) and high-turnout Northern Ireland (where seats do change hands but it’s often very close) who ends up in Downing Street will be determined by what happens in England and Wales and the movement of seats between the LibDems and the Conservatives, and critically between the Conservatives and Labour. With the polls showing the Conservatives not just leading, but ahead in Labour strongholds like Wales (in Wales!), it’s looking good for Theresa May and the Conservative Party.

And what does the election mean for social enterprise?

The election frankly gets in the way of things a bit. We felt as if we were beginning to get somewhere with the Government. I’m picking up a sense that there are older, perhaps bolder, Conservatives who instinctively understand that the capitalism we have in the UK isn’t working for all and needs to change. Along with enlightened corporate leaders, senior Tories know that a more interventionist Government is needed to address inequality. The Prime Minister’s narrative to date seemed to fit with social enterprise (‘shared society’ and the ‘inclusive economy’). Ministerial doors were open across Government. Rob Wilson MP was just about the launch the second review of the Social Value Act. Crown Commercial Services has just announced that they intended to put Social Value at the heart of procurement. We believed that the Government had privately acknowledged that social enterprise and DCMS was a poor fit.  The General Election has put everything on hold, then you have an inevitable reshuffle, then its summer recess and then attention focuses on the Autumn Budget and Party Conferences. Everything is put back by 6 months.

The Labour Party was beginning to ask the right questions on procurement and on social investment. There were some interesting policies coming forward about the Social Value Act and the development of “platform cooperatives” which would challenge the dominance of exploitative companies operating in the “gig economy”. There was progress; we were getting somewhere with them.

We must wait, but not that long, to see whether the notion of the social economy is reflected in the Party manifestos. The Social Economy Alliance’s manifesto is shorter than it was in 2015, and the sector’s contacts into the manifesto writing teams is greater than it was two years’ ago.  I’m hopeful we will see party manifestos mirroring some of the SEA’s suggestions: we can expect more from May than Cameron, and more from Corbyn than Miliband.

Theresa May will probably re-enter Parliament with a personal mandate, and dozens of new MPs on June 9th. She will feel she is in a stronger position to shape her Government than she was, and we should expect her to ring some changes. I’m optimistic that Social Enterprise UK’s message in our Industrial Strategy consultation hit the right note: I think we’ll up end up with an Industrial Strategy with an inclusive economic agenda running through it and I think BEIS will take on more responsibility for growing inclusive business.

May the 4th be with you

We’ll get an inkling of what is to come in the General Election later this week, with local elections across much the UK on the 4th May. There are half a dozen elections for “metro mayors” across England, but eyes will be on the West Midlands Mayoral Election which is a corker not just because of the size of the area but because it’s seen as a close fight.

Andy Street, former CEO of John Lewis (who has embraced social enterprise during his campaign and spoke to SEWM members) is standing for the Conservatives and Sion Simon MEP is standing for Labour. With high-profile candidates standing in what is seen to be a bit of a bellwether region for the two main UK-wide parties, victory for either Labour or the Conservatives will give the parties a tremendous psychological boost in the run-up to the General Election.

Yet don’t read too much into it – or indeed the other elections being held on the 4th May. Local elections are influenced by local factors. The real story of the local elections is about how many councillors parties win or lose: councillors are the ones who will be called on to leaflet, deliver, and knock on doors for the next month. Losing councillors means losing capacity and conversely winning a whole new crop of councillors means you have a new generation of activists full of energy and ready for a month of campaigning.

Mind the gap – could Labour pull off a shock win?

With polls, don’t focus on the numbers, the gap between parties is the key. Even then, they need to be taken with a pinch of salt. They are what they are, a snapshot in time not a predictive tool.  Attention needs to be paid to how large the gap is, whether the gap is narrowing or increasing, and the rate of change. Having said all that even despite Labour narrowing the gap it is difficult to see anything other than a large Conservative victory – both in the locals and the General Election. But let’s give a counterfactual analysis a go. Could Jeremy Corbyn pull off a shock win?

He has consistently said that he expects there be a General Election this year. As result, Labour’s machine is in slightly better nick than one might expect. Professional organisers are in place, the membership is large and if they can be motivated will mean that Labour’s “ground game” will be better staffed than the Conservatives – more voters talked to, more leaflets delivered, and so on. Not everyone reads newspapers or has access to social media and knocking on people’s doors and having a chat still works. Embarrassed by the Tories’ excellent use of Facebook in the 2015 General Election, Labour has invested in smart people and smart new ways of using social media. The by-elections in Copeland and Stoke will have given the party a chance to test out different messages and approaches.  

Labour is getting better at developing good policy. They’ve talked about using the power of procurement and the Social Value Act for the first time recently. And, they’ve already unveiled one a couple of eye-catching ideas, an extra bank holiday per nation and free school meals paid for by VAT on private school tuition fees. We might expect more to come and if they can cut through the overwhelming negative press then perhaps the policies might resonate with more people than the polls suggest.

Jeremy Corbyn is a campaigner, seemingly never happier than giving a speech. It’s what he did as a backbencher and in two leadership elections. It’s what he is doing now. People mocked John Major’s soapbox approach in 1992, but he won unexpectedly in 1992 on a massive turnout. Maybe there is something to be said about meeting people during election campaigns.

Yes, the polls seem very one-directional, but they were wrong on Brexit, wrong on Trump, and wrong on the 2015 General Election. There are plenty of reasons not to believe they are accurate if you are so minded. I, for one, have a slight suspicion that the pollsters are overcompensating for “shy Tories” following the last election when they understated the Conservative share of the vote. It’s possible, likely even, that some “flaky” Labour voters will come back to the fold as the election gets closer and the choice clearer. Perhaps there are also “shy Corbynistas” out there which no-one knows about?  Go on, admit it – don’t you fancy an extra bank holiday? And if you do believe the polls, there is reason to think the campaign may be turning towards Labour: a 20-point gap has become a 10-point gap in the space of a week.

Then there is the unexpected. Elections are physically and mentally exhausting. Under pressure, party leaders make odd statementsmistakes happen and sums are tricky. Who knows what might crop up? Maybe May will drop a clanger before June 8th.

The Conservatives have problems. They are an ageing party. They ferried young activists around the country in buses at the last election to compensate for this, and after Electoral Commission investigation found “significant failures” by the party to report its campaign spending in the 2015 General Election one can expect a rather more prudent approach to spending. The not-so-snap election means that in some ways they are behind Labour in terms of organisation; the Tory “election guru” Lynton Crosby was only recently brought on board and one gets the sense that their election campaign hasn’t really got going yet. The LibDems are bouncing back somewhat and have hopes of retaking seats from the Conservatives in the South West and in seats with a significant Remain vote. This potentially makes targeting tricky for the Conservatives – given limited capacity, do they try and hold those seats, or focus on winning seats from Labour?

Yet even in this ‘best possible scenario’ for Labour with the polls being what they are, I can’t see them winning. Much can happen between now and 8 June, but on current projections we should expect anything between 40-80 new Conservative MPs elected. Don’t rule out the Tories doing even better. In those circumstances, if Labour lost just 30-40 seats, it would be a triumph of sorts for the left.

On election night, look out for Tony Blair’s old seat of Sedgefield. Labour currently has a majority of just under 7,000 there. That it is even conceivably a seat the Conservatives might come close in says it all.

What have we (and the SEA) done so far?

In a remarkably short space of time, the SEA has written a new manifesto. It is shorter than the 2015 manifesto; it’s also a good read. Look out for when we publish it. Emerging policy asks have already been sent to the main parties’ manifesto writing teams to hopefully inspire them.

With the General Election just a couple of weeks away –and where some candidates have not yet even been selected – what we can practically do is limited. However, there are some practical actions that we will be taking. We will be contacting new candidates to let them know about the social economy. We will support you to contact candidates. We will look at the party manifestos to see what extent they embrace the social economy. We will help you make a splash in your local area.

What can I do?

  • We will work out a way to help you contact your local candidates with a strong message about the social economy. Please do so, it does make a difference. Early contact with Parliamentary Candidates makes a difference – it’s how we ended up with the Social Value Act.
  • Speak to canvassers. Party activists feedback what they are hearing on the doorstep to the election agent and candidate – this is especially true in marginal constituencies.
  • Attend hustings meetings and ask a question. Not every constituency has a tradition of organised hustings, but some do. If you spot one, go – they’re a lot of fun.
  • The General Election is a month after the local elections. Don’t forget to contact your councillors and ask them what they are doing to take forward the social economy in your area. If you are in England, ask them about how the council fulfils its obligations under the Social Value Act.