With the next phase of Brexit negotiations on the horizon, the Conservatives have more than just a potential deal on their mind. After a slip in the polls following a month largely focused on domestic issues such as the budget, the Industrial Strategy and ministerial resignations and investigations; the next round of negotiations gives the Conservatives an opportunity to shift the country’s attention back to the issues which propelled Leave vote to victory.
In the run up to the 2016 EU referendum, the single biggest voter issue as recorded by Ipsos Mori was immigration. 48% of people saw immigration as the country’s most pressing concern. With this in mind, perhaps it is unsurprising that the country opted to leave the EU – an action that campaigners made synonymous with controlling borders and limiting immigration.
However concerns about immigration dropped dramatically as voters took to the polls for the snap General Election. Whilst Brexit was the single biggest issue for voters, the NHS and education eclipsed immigration in importance for voters – with the importance of the economy, poverty and housing not far behind.
Undoubtedly much of Labour’s success was down to their fudged Brexit position; but by bringing to the fore issues close to home – social care, the NHS, tuition fees – Labour was able to shape the narrative to their advantage.
If this pattern continues, the Conservatives, whether led by Theresa May or not, will need to keep the public’s attention largely fixated on issues associated with the EU, such as immigration. In this respect they have one clear advantage: the country’s most pressing issue shapes public opinion towards one of their perceived strengths.
The challenge for Labour is to keep the political narrative on the issues close to home, whilst effectively holding the Conservatives feet to the fire on Brexit. Expect many more attacks from Jeremy Corbyn on the Government’s roll out of Universal Credit and its housing policy.
The winner of the next election may well be the party that can most effectively shape the political discourse towards their vote winning narrative. For the Conservatives, this means talking tough on immigration, and the upcoming negotiations in Brussels can provide the perfect forum for such an endeavour.