Sunday, 14 May 2017

A few observations with 25 days to go until the election

1. Theresa May has fooled enough people with her impersonation of a competent leader to win it. The "shy Tories" phenomenon of the 2015 election is over. People don't seem to be shy anymore about it. There are optimistic Labour Party-supporter memes showing Jeremy Corbyn drawing large crowds but the people who vote Conservative don't tend to be the people who turn out to rallies and public actions. They are not placard-wavers but they are no longer afraid of saying publicly that they will be voting Tory.

2. There could well be plenty of "shy Labour voters" out there too. These people may ensure Theresa May does not quite win with the landslide she clearly expects. Hell, after Trump and Brexit, I rule nothing out in politics these days. But I still think she has it in the bag with large swathes of the south-west of England and sizeable chunks of provincial Britain on her side. Enough people seem convinced that she is the right person to lead Brexit negotiations. 

Spoiler alert: she is already terrible in this regard and will continue to be terrible.

3. Another spoiler alert: The EU does not care who the PM is or how big his or her majority is. 

Theresa May's justification for calling the election so she has a Brexit mandate is bogus. Why the hell would the EU care if they have to negotiate with May, Corbyn or Basil Brush? The EU will outlive the political careers of both major party leaders.  

4. Jeremy Corbyn is not personally having a horrific campaign*, especially since the draft manifesto was leaked. If it was a malicious leak, it hasn't been quite the debacle the leaker may have expected. But the people he surrounds himself are accident-prone. When the election was called, I predicted that most days, there would be a Labour MP trending for the wrong reasons, dominating the news cycle for the wrong reasons. Dawn Butler had the first car crash interview of the season with a muddled effort in which she accused Theresa May of "trying to rig democracy in our country" and making unfounded accusations of tax avoidance against the Costa Coffee chain, for which she later apologised. 

5. Diane Abbott embarrassed herself on LBC by not having clear figures to hand on how much an ambitious police policy would cost, resulting in her sounding like a broken abacus with police officers apparently earning £30 a year under a Labour government. People are still making jokes about that one. Labour will always be asked the inevitable "how much will all this cost and where is the money coming from?" question in regard to spending plans. 

It is up to the party's media team to ensure anyone who is going to be thrown in front of an open mic or TV camera has the figures nailed down. Merely saying "We will raise corporation tax" is not enough to satisfy the baying hounds without actual figures. 

On the same token, it should not be enough for Conservatives to simply say they will pay for their manifesto pledges by "building a strong economy" or "because we have a strong economy". Again, hard figures should be provided. At least with a corporation tax increase policy, some sort of estimation of how much money that would bring into state coffers can be made. The slippery, unctuous Michael Fallon was at it again this morning on Marr with a "building a strong economy" answer to a "how will you pay for it?" question. It's just the Tory version of the stereotype of the left's magic money tree.

6. John McDonnell didn't handle a question from Andrew Marr about whether he was a Marxist well. There is a public interest justification for asking if the man who aspires to be our next chancellor still claims to be a Marxist, given the responsibility he will have for our economy in the event of a Labour win. His Who's Who entry says he is "generally fermenting the overthrow of capitalism" - with 82.8% of people in the UK working in the private sector, this is an entirely relevant question. 

McDonnell's witterings were in sharp contrast this with Theresa May who was able to answer with a crisp "No" when Andrew Marr asked her if she believed gay sex was a sin, in response to the Tim Farron religion fiasco - that is how she does a good impersonation of a competent leader and it is enough to convince people. She was prepared, she was drilled, she doesn't really do spontaneous, but so far, she hasn't had to.

7. If Theresa May refuses to do a live TV debate - and it looks like that is how it will pan out - Jeremy Corbyn would be mad to refuse as well. It would be a great chance to speak about policy uninterrupted by his opponent but it is hard to have any faith in the competence of the Labour party's media team.

8. The NHS cyber attack story should be a gift for Labour. Unfortunately, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, did not come out with all guns blazing yesterday. He was interviewed on Sky News live, while people were being turned away from hospitals all over the country as he was speaking, but the fire in the belly just wasn't there. He even said that he was not going to score political points. Er, Jon, you seem like a nice enough chap but right now, scoring political points is precisely what you need to be doing from now until 8 June. That is a literal description of your job in an election campaign. Do you really think the Tories would keep the gloves on if this happened on a Labour government's watch?

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, was absolutely atrocious when she tried to explain away government culpability in this catastrophe. Jeremy Hunt, the failed marmalade mogul and health secretary, has been conspicuous by his absence this weekend. On top of all this, Theresa May has been prattling on about a stupid social media policy that would be about as effective as a tent pole made of croissants, so why aren't the Labour candidates pointing out that this whole calamitous weekend shows that we have a government that doesn't really understand technology?

9. Emily Thornberry was absolutely correct when she pointed out Michael Fallon was talking bollocks on Marr this morning in regard to Assad and Argentina. This is the best I've ever seen her perform - and, let us not be naive, election campaigns are all about performance.

10. There are 25 days to go before we go to the polls, I need either a giant nap or another drink...

* I may be damning with faint praise here...

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