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Election preview: Could we be heading for a ‘black swan moment’?

In years to come, students of political history might come to look at the 2017 General Election campaign with some interest. At the time of writing, the result is clearly not knowable, but one can’t help wondering whether we could be looking at something of a ‘black swan’ moment. 

Has, for instance, any incumbent Government or Prime Minister lost an election from such a seemingly impregnable position in the opinion polls at the time of calling that election? 

The polls are not an exact science, but I’d suggest, probably not – Theresa May must be wondering what has actually happened in the last few weeks?

Which of course, doesn’t mean to say she won’t be returned with her majority increased, and we may be wondering what all the fuss was about. 

Indeed, behind Labour’s apparent popularity increase, all we might end up seeing is that voters come out in stronger numbers in constituencies which are already safe seats for Jeremy Corbyn and his team. 

That said, I guarantee there are a number of nervous Tory MPs, in marginal seats, who might well be asking serious questions of a campaign which has already been called ‘abysmal’ by one of their number.

One of those very MPs is likely to be our last Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell – who might well be viewed as a ‘rising star’ within the Conservative ranks but who sits in his Croydon Central constituency knowing that his 2015 majority of 165 votes over Labour is hardly ‘safe’ territory. 

Barwell might well be hoping – as many Conservatives appear to be – that relatively large numbers of UKIPers (who numbered over 4,000 in Croydon two years ago) change to the Tories. That would certainly be helpful, especially when the polls across the UK appear to be moving towards Labour.

Which perhaps leaves me to wonder, where has it gone wrong for the Conservatives? And I shall caveat this, in case they romp home with a 100-plus seat majority on June 8th. Whatever the result, one can’t help think that the race will be rather tighter than we all presumed just a month ago. 

Housing was clearly going to be a big issue, but it was never likely to hit the campaign heights of say Brexit or the NHS, especially when you delve into the manifesto commitments and find there’s actually a little bit of consensus. 

At the very least, there’s recognition of the need for greater levels of supply, and even though the parties differ on how this is going to be generated, they at least acknowledge the problem and put forward solutions. 

We, as a trade body, were also encouraged by the Conservative’s commitment to house purchase and leasehold reform – two areas which are a major part of our Strategic Plan.

What we perhaps didn’t know was how it would be the role of the house, rather than the housing market, which might ultimately be seen as the defining factor of this campaign. 

The Conservative’s manifesto policies on social care funding, in particular the lack of a cap and the undertaking to include people’s home as part of their assets if they were receiving care in the home, were quickly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’. 

The subsequent u-turn appears to have done nothing to dampen the anger of a voter demographic – namely pensioners – who the Conservatives would normally count upon as their core support. 

The fact that the amount of the newly-introduced cap won’t be announced until after a consultation in the next Parliament, perhaps understandably leaves many pensioners feeling rather vulnerable, and (we shall see) perhaps disinclined to vote the way they might well have done just a month or so ago.

While many would acknowledge the need for social care reform, I suspect large numbers of Tory MPs might well be wondering why now was a time to alienate those who they would previously have relied on in their droves to give them the majority they need. 

Add in other campaign-related issues, such as Theresa May seeming to do particularly badly in her TV appearances, the fact that she did not turn up to the recent ‘leaders’ debate’, and a belief that she is ill-suited to the ‘rough and tumble’ and ‘public-facing’ requirements of a General Election campaign, especially when compared to Corbyn, and the result is a tightening of the polls. 
  
Which might all count for nought when the results start to come through on Friday morning, but it does leave us with the prospect of a rather different hue(s) to the new Government than we might ordinarily have expected. 

If this is the consequence, then it will certainly be important for all of us to get on the front foot quickly with the new power-brokers. As you will know, there are some radical policies for the housing market in a number of manifestos – and while the need for a Coalition consensus might water them down, some may well be seen as non-negotiable and could make it to any new Coalition Agreement.

We hope that, whoever makes up that next Government, the focus on the required reform in the house-buying process, to bring conveyancing up to date and not to let it languish in the past, remains a priority. 

It will certainly be our aim to keep working to convince those in such positions that our aims in this area are definitely in every stakeholder’s best interest.   

*Eddie Goldsmith is Chairman of the Conveyancing Association and Partner in Goldsmith Williams

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