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May wanted the election to be about leadership: it is and she is the one coming up short

June 2, 2017

This election is not turning out as anyone planned or predicted. Who would have thought less than a week from polling day Theresa May would be fighting desperately to drag the campaign focus back to Brexit only to find Jeremy Corbyn swooping in to grab the headlines on the issue that was meant to be her strongest card?

A month ago most people didn’t give Labour a chance: now no-one is laughing when Corbyn talks of what a progressive Labour government might do if it wins. He is a formidable campaigner as his two victories in the Labour leadership elections show and this was the one factor I thought might save the Labour party from the oblivion predicted for it at the start of the campaign.

How do we find ourselves contemplating a Labour revival, at least in England and Wales, and where might we be when we wake up a week today?

It undoubtedly starts with the Tory campaign which must be one of the worst run by any major party for over 30 years. This was meant to be the Brexit election with May sweeping back into Downing Street in total command of the domestic political landscape. That is one scenario we can dismiss and the responsibility for that has to lie with May herself.


May personalised the campaign and now it is backfiring. It is her poor leadership that is under scrutiny

The moment she published her manifesto – she reminded us it was “my manifesto” several times at the launch – the wheels started to come off her campaign. The shambles over the ill-thought through proposals on social care exposed her weaknesses and, crucially, meant the Tories lost control of the campaign agenda. It allowed Labour and the other opposition parties to focus on domestic issues, a much stronger policy area for them. As the Tories floundered in the wake of the social care chaos they were able to mock her claims to be strong and stable: weak and wobbly quickly became common currency.

Little has gone right for the Tories since then.

Corbyn’s last-minute decision to appear in the BBC television debate was clever and further strengthened his position. He probably didn’t make quite as big an impact as he hoped but it certainly didn’t backfire on him and it has definitely further damaged May in the eyes of most of the electorate.

How will this play out over the next week?

We can be certain that the Tories will throw huge resources at the campaign but that will not help them much unless they can find a weakness in the Labour campaign to exploit in the same way as opponents have exploited their social care blunder. Will that happen? Who knows? As we all know a week is a long time in politics.

The entire focus now is on the extent and impact of the Labour revival. It has pushed the other parties to the relative periphery.

We all knew UKIP was as good as dead before the campaign started and so it has proved. The Greens just haven’t shown up, although they should hang on to their one seat.


Farron has struggled to make an impact

The failure of the Liberal Democrats to build any momentum has been one of the surprises of the campaign. On paper the promise of a second referendum should have been more attractive to many of the 48% who voted to remain in the EU last year. It hasn’t and the Lib Dems haven’t been able to re-focus their campaign strategy. Tim Farron has also struggled to develop the sort of gravitas that third party leaders need if they are to capitalise on the additional media coverage an election campaign brings. Think Grimond, Thorpe, Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy and even Clegg – Farron pales beside them.

The Lib Dems will do well to come out of the election with 10-15 seats, a long way below their expectations at the start of the campaign.

As to the overall result, a lot now depends on Scotland. If the Labour revival takes hold north of the border then the Conservative majority could be under threat – the polls suggest they could edge ahead of the Tories as the main challengers to the SNP. Couple that with any hint of a late Lib Dem uplift and we will be heading for a hung Parliament. Without that combination we will probably be more or less back where we started with a modest Conservative majority but with a hugely damaged Prime Minister who many in her own party will have lost confidence in.

May’s opportunistic election has damaged her and damaged the country and, above all, showed that the Brexit negotiations are far from safe in her hands.

From → Politics

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