Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
In December 2019, the Conservative Party won 365 seats and 43.6% of votes in the House of Commons, placing them 162 seats ahead of the Labour Party.
Since that election, everything around us has changed. We have faced lockdowns, leadership changes, and 120,000 deaths. Seemingly, the only thing that has remained consistent? The Conservatives consistently holding a majority in opinion polls throughout the year.
Considering the political volatility of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, we might have expected more fluctuation in the voting intentions of the public, but this has not been the case. In fact, the latest poll, on the 22nd of March, gives the ruling party a 6-point lead on Labour. After a dip in popularity in Winter, we are now seeing a surge in support for the Conservatives, whilst the vaccine rollout continues.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for them, though. Who could forget the Dominic Cummings scandal which led to a decrease in confidence in the government? As if wanting to add to the surrealism of a government employee justifying his drive to Barnard Castle as an eyesight test, and the Prime Minister supporting him in this justification, the official UK Civil Service Twitter account tweeted: ‘Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?’
The majority of the UK may be supportive enough of the government to want to re-elect the Tories, but Scotland tells a different tale.
The pandemic seems to have increased support for independence, and the SNP look set to win another majority in the Holyrood elections later this year. Since lockdown was first introduced, the SNP have consistently polled above 50% for Holyrood voting intentions; additionally, support for independence has hovered at just above half. This is enough to worry Westminster, who – in response – recently formed “The Cabinet Union Strategy Committee”, aiming to keep the United Kingdom… united.
This disparity and panic may be a result of the slightly different COVID-19 strategies taken by the British and Scottish governments, but is also likely to be linked to perceptions of Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson personally. In October, Sturgeon was more popular than Johnson, not just in Scotland, but across the United Kingdom. The ultimate question becomes possible: could COVID-19 be the undoing of Great Britain?
In amongst all of this, our largest UK opposition party had a change of leader. Jeremy Corbyn was replaced by Keir Starmer; someone who sought “Labour unity” throughout his leadership campaign. Opinions on Starmer are divided and have remained varied over the last year. In July, Starmer was performing well, described as competent, strong, decisive and likeable. Now, however, he is less popular than Matt Hancock, a figure who has a popularity rating of -3%.
Not only have these political leaders had a global pandemic to contend with, but the past year has also initiated need for structural change, stemming from the murders of George Floyd in June 2020, Sarah Everard in March 2021, and the removal of Edward Colston’s statue in the summer. Protests, police violence, and a “war on woke” have added to the division and tension of our politics.
I certainly didn’t anticipate any political issue being capable of overshadowing Brexit in British Politics, but 2020 has taught us to expect the unexpected. It has been a rough twelve months, and with Holyrood elections on the horizon, and three more years until a general election, the impact of coronavirus on our political landscape is incalculable.