ELECTION COMMENTARY: After two years under near-constant attack not only from the Tories but also from members of his own parliamentary party, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is nearing a true test at the ballot box. And former Tony Blair adviser JOHN BRAGGINS, pictured right, wants to say sorry
With days left before polling day in the General Election, I think it’s time to say, “I was wrong”. At the start I said two things, one that Labour couldn’t win with Jeremy Corbyn as its leader and that whilst I couldn’t see a “wipe out” of Labour seats, I didn’t think Labour would win more than 200. I still think it’s unlikely that Labour will win, but not impossible, but if it does it will be because of Corbyn, and not in spite of him.
Wow, that was hard to write.
When Zac Goldsmith resigned his seat, he said he wanted to fight the by-election over Heathrow’s third runway. But the voters decided the by-election was all about Brexit.
Prime Minister Ted Heath called the February 1974 General Election on the issue of “who runs the country, me or the miners?”, history shows that voters thought it wasn’t him.
Theresa May clearly hasn’t been paying attention to what was going on (again) and didn’t learn the lesson of elections – the voters decide what it’s about.
So having got the issue wrong, Theresa compounds the error by shutting herself away from real voters and even distancing herself from the Conservative Party brand. That would be understandable if she had run a half-decent campaign, but once you damage the brand, everyone clinging on becomes damaged by it.
Towards the end of the series of focus groups I observed, there was a subtle change in the mood which coincided with the publication of the party manifestos.
Labour offered a positive list of proposals that were “eye-catching” and in so far as anyone can these days, costed. The Tories thought all they had to do was to say “here is our manifesto, we haven’t bothered to cost it because you know you can trust us with your money”. It was full of platitudes and carried a subliminal message of “if you don’t vote for me you’ll get that IRA-supporting Corbyn”.
That line would’ve worked four weeks ago when voters thought May was “Strong and Stable”. However voters now see a “Weak and Wobbly” Tory leader no longer able to command support in the way she had done.
I look forward to seeing the inquest in the Tory press as to what went wrong – some will claim it was May’s lack of election campaigning experience and others will quickly blame her advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy or Lynton Crosby. But someone must accept responsibility for the fiasco of the “dementia tax”.
We all know that historically the elderly vote Tory and young people vote Labour. So why would Theresa May piss off this section of voters and those who fear the consequences of it for themselves or their loved ones?
Labour appealed to young voters with the abolition of tuition fees and restoring grants and even suggesting existing debt could be written off. Whether or not these policies were right in terms of helping the poorest is doubtful, but what isn’t in doubt is the jolt of electricity it fired into a section of voters noted for their lack of enthusiasm for voting.
But it would be wrong to suggest that it is only university students who have been galvanised. The policies aimed at ordinary workers who feel left behind – especially those under 30 – have also given them hope in the way politicians seldom have done.
And I have to say that for someone who has believed Labour needed a different leader, it has been hard to look at Yvette Cooper, Keir Starmer, Chuka Umunna, Steven Kinnock and so on with any enthusiasm – they get me nodding along but not with the excitement I felt for Neil Kinnock, John Smith or Tony Blair.
So when I’m shown a clip on WhatsApp that tears into the Tories, eulogises Corbyn and Labour and lasts three minutes and 11 seconds and I am told by my first-time voting neighbour “its gone all around my se group and people are talking about it”, I realise that something different is happening out there. These people have little or no understanding of the IRA and “The Troubles” and don’t care either way about Trident, but they know money has to be spent on the NHS, schools and social care.
Social media has become of age in this election.
Not through the paid-for adverts the Tories did so well with two years ago, but with individual clips, passed on through Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram with content that no one can control.
What should we expect on Thursday?
Some seats will record big Tory wins, some will show swings to Labour, especially in the university towns, and some will buck any trend because of the popularity – or unpopularity – of the sitting MP. And that is so different from five weeks ago.
I see Labour staying at around 230 seats, the Tories losing a little at around 315, the SNP losing a handful and the LibDems staying where they are. In which case, Theresa May has lost “her election” and will be forced to go. What the country will make of a choice between Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson remains to be seen.
Of course I could be wrong…
- John Braggins worked for the Labour Party for 37 years. He and Alan Barnard run their own company, BBM Campaigns
- This Friday, June 9, Inside Croydon is staging a free talk about the election from American politics professor Bob Beatty. Click here for more details and to book your place
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