Friday, 2 June 2017

The final straight of two terrible campaigns

A week left of campaigning, and Britain’s political race to the bottom is in full flight. Polls all over the shop; but narrowing at the end, as they invariably do.

In different ways, the Tory and Labour campaigns are spectacularly failing to enthuse the electorate.

The Tories, for whom the election has always been theirs to lose, seem intent on torpedoing their own campaign. Uncosted pledges – almost unheard of for usually-meticulous Tories – and their fiasco on the “dementia tax”, resulting in a mid-campaign U-turn by May.

Then there is the air campaign. First she is front and centre: then the party panics and sees her wooden, unengaging and largely absent. John Prescott reports a senior Tory viewing the campaign as “a disaster”, and that opinion is surely not a one-off among the grandees, let alone the commentariat.

To round off her dismal campaign, she has made an awful blunder, not so much in boycotting the televised debates, but worse: sending a substitute and saying she is too busy “thinking about Brexit negotiations”. The optics, as they say, of such a high-handed approach are awful, and the natural response uncomplicated. “I’m sorry? Who was it actually called the election?”

The one ray of light on the horizon for the self-sabotaging May must surely be that the poll-narrowing currently taking place will probably be enough to animate her base to come to the polling station, rather than stay at home. Meaning she will win comfortably where she does not deserve to. But, then again, neither does her opposite number.

Ah yes, Labour. Where to start?

In the wake of the Manchester tragedy Corbyn, perhaps fatally, has decided to put foreign policy – surely his weakest area – front and centre in the campaign, thus playing right into the Tory attack unit’s hands in its final days. Foreign policy, security and defence are suddenly important; a highly unusual effect in a general election, usually decided on leadership and economy. But, when it does happen, the effect can be sizeable (for example, the celebrated “Falklands bounce” in 1983). Britain does not love leaders weak on defence and terrorism. And Corbyn has around four decades of previous.

Talking of which, a mention of honour goes to his “economy with the actualité” on meeting the IRA. He apparently didn’t meet anyone from the IRA, even though a convicted member says he did. Then came Diane Abbott, who helpfully agreed that he did meet them but only “in their capacity as Sinn Fein activists”. Not as bombers, obviously. So that’s all right then.

On these subjects, Corbyn is worse than weak: his views completely turn off many of those who take the trouble to actually find out about them. His only workable defence is therefore either to hope no-one will; or accuse the media, Trump-like, of “fake news” in the hope that it will convince. And for a segment of the electorate, he will succeed.

And then there are the daily gaffes – yesterday’s being Corbyn’s inability to cost his own policies. This latest was most notably followed by, not a spirited defence of the party’s flagship childcare policy and its costs, but a deluge of anti-Semitic hate-mail directed at the interviewer via Twitter, noting that she was a “Zionist” (far-left code for “Jew”).

How often, we ask, has the leader of a major party ever had to publicly disown racism by his own diehard supporters, in the middle of a general election campaign?

Then there is the parallel campaign being run by the Corbynite left of Momentum. Not content with Labour’s own mobile app for telephone canvassing, they have launched their own. Why, one wonders, should they need one, with a perfectly serviceable app from Labour freely available?

Could it be so they can actually target different seats from Labour HQ, thus saving MPs friendly to the Corbyn cause? Or is it just that the contact details of supporters might turn out to be incredibly useful in the coming leadership battle which seems nigh on inevitable?

In short, the more intelligent commentators see both campaigns as dire. But elections are usually fought on a more visceral level, where people will make a judgement on leadership credibility and the chances of the economy. Where the intelligent arguments will pick apart May’s largely uncosted manifesto and the potential impending economic disaster of Brexit, the public at large will see someone who looks vaguely credible and someone who does not.

Yes, May sent him a gift via the TV debate by not turning up and sending Amber Rudd, allowing herself to be “empty chaired”. He did ok. So what? TV debates change little (and in fact Rudd did not make a bad fist of that particular hospital pass, either).

Then there is still the last week of campaigning which will be, you can bet your life on it, a no-holds-barred, relentless attack on Corbyn’s, McDonnell’s, Thornberry’s and Abbott’s fitness to govern, via their personal histories. There can only be one winner in that contest.

Finally, there are the polls. Even with narrowing polls, it is as well to remember that this general election, like all others, will be decided in the marginals; calculations based on broad swings in the national vote-share have inbuilt inaccuracy in a first-past-the-post system. Lord Ashcroft, the only pollster regularly to poll in marginals, predicts a Tory majority of 142, and Tory seat count of nearly 400, even after the recent poll narrowing. Oh and yes, YouGov has predicted a hung parliament in its most recent poll, but you can see here why that is a “brave” prediction.

Even allowing for significant error margins and a dire Tory campaign, the truth is that a Labour win is still, sadly, a distant pipe-dream.

What matters is what happens next.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

1 comment:

  1. Whatever the outcome, we see how the proof is after taking office.



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