The little chat with a voter in the Midlands region of Britain might just have said everything about the voter’s way in British elections. "Do you trust Boris Johnson?" she was asked. "No, I don’t trust him, but I like him." And now that we’re guessing, why not another guess. She might have added, "And I neither trust nor like (Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn."
The ballot paper offers no option to tick charming complexities. So it’s still anybody’s guess how the above good lady’s sentiment could translate into a vote. No one seems to be particularly passionate about either Boris or Corbyn, but most won’t stay away from voting either. But we can do a little better than guess the outcome; the opinion polls place the Conservatives ahead enough for them to come clearly through with a win.
The opinion polls place the Tories about ten points ahead on 42, though 'there has been a narrowing over the last couple of weeks," Prof. Tony Travers from the department of government at the London School of Economics tells CNBC-TV18. Could Labour make a sudden comeback over the past few days? Not impossible, "there could be a further narrowing over the next few days, or even on the last day," says Travers. So not impossible, though probably unlikely. But if the Tory trend holds until polling day, and if the opinion-polling itself is near accurate, we’ll have Boris. And the lady in the Midlands, whose words Travers recalled through the course of a chat with CNBC-TV18, could have spoken for most of Britain.
Boris, of course, means Brexit, never mind the Brexit party that’s around in name. The election is a part referendum; the trick is to tell where and when it’s a referendum, and where and when an election that may attract votes on matters other than Brexit, such as the National Health Service, the economy, or even the Labour promise of free broadband for all. The Tory tactics to deal with this overlap are clear and seem to be working so far. Among voters inclined towards Leave (leave the European Union), they talk Brexit; in other areas, they promise a better health service and whatnot.
The Labour position on Brexit has been shifting, or as Boris Johnson said, has "mutated." So what is it? That they would tear up Boris Johnson’s agreement, negotiate a new agreement that would include a customs union and put that to a referendum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said, rather oddly, that he himself would take no position on Brexit. The Labour policy is 'complicated", says Travers. That’s British-speak for "mixed-up".
Into this mix comes the complication of the India-Pakistan sideshow with Indians going increasingly towards the Conservatives and Pakistanis going almost entirely with Labour. Here’s more British-speak from Travers. There is "differentiation among South Asians from different countries and indeed different religions." The choice between voting Tory or Labour is more closely aligned to religion than to country of origin, he believes. It’s quaint, even reassuring, that such differences can be spoken of as "differentiation."
The Right Hon’ble Indian Women
If the Tories retain their ten-point lead over Labour up to election day or even step it up, we should see a number of new Indian origin women in Parliament. The Conservatives have not been unmindful of their newly soaring popularity among Indians, and their list of candidates includes many Indians, many of them women. So Kanwal Toor Gill originally from Delhi takes on Labour’s Tan Dhesi in Slough near Heathrow, Tamkeen Shaikh is challenging Margaret Hodge from Labour in Barking in east London, Seena Shah is standing against Labour’s Ruth Cadbury in Brentford & Isleworth in the Chiswick area. Gagan Mohindra contests in South-West Hertfordshire, Anjana Patel in Brent North…not forgetting, of course, Priti Patel, home minister in the Boris cabinet contesting from Witham. The list goes on. Many of these Indian women are contesting winnable seats.
Labour has shown no corresponding fondness for women of Indian origin. There’s Seema Malhotra in Feltham and Heston, Valerie Vaz in Walsall South, both contesting again. The seat Valerie's brother Keith Vaz vacated in the very Indian Leicester East, which he held since 1987, wasn’t given to an Indian as expected. It went instead to a councillor in Islington area in London where Jeremy Corbyn lives. Coincidence, no doubt.
Keith Vaz certainly is being missed this election, he brought colour into an election as no one else does. The Bollywood stars, the red balloons trailing them in a limousine rolling slowly down the streets of Leicester…they’ve all disappeared with him. There’s not an Indian picture to be got out of this election. That it’s winter doesn’t help.
It’s the winter certainly of the coldest relations ever between British Indians and Labour, which has shown as little fondness for Indian men as for Indian women. The group Labour Friends of India has noted that Labour has given only one winnable seat to a new candidate of Indian origin. Look out for the fireworks between India and Britain if Labour wins, though by present poll trends that’s a big if. India is at diplomatic war with Labour, Indians in Britain in a civil war with it.
London Eye is a weekly column by CNBC-TV18’s Sanjay Suri, which gives a peek at business-as-unusual from London and around. Read his columns