The jaws of victory. The Conservatives’ faltering campaign

The jaws of victory. The Conservatives’ faltering campaign

The wheels have come off the wagon for Team Theresa.  Just two weeks ago the blue team’s lead looked more fearsome than the north face of the Eiger.  Theresa May looked to be cruising to victory and the saboteurs were on track to be crushed. The stocks were sold; the press was squared: the middle class was quite prepared.  But the middle class were emphatically not prepared for the Tories’ social care policy, which seems to have gone down like rat poison with those voters who are potentially affected by it.

In response, Theresa May redrafted the manifesto on this point.  Backtracking on a manifesto commitment before the election is pretty much without precedent.  It certainly doesn’t give off a strong and stable air.

Labour’s manifesto launch has been much more successful.  It started with a leak which, whether or not it had been deliberately intended to do so, ensured that the manifesto received many days of front page coverage.  It comprised a vast array of populist commitments that were neither particularly coherent nor particularly obviously thought-through, designed to attract as many disparate groups as possible.  So Labour have guaranteed the triple lock and propose a national care service in an appeal to pensioners, are pledged to abolish tuition fees in an appeal to students, are seeking to stay in the single market in an appeal to Remainers and are aiming to renationalise the rail service in an appeal to train travellers.

It is very questionable whether Labour’s programme is capable of being implemented in full.  I very much doubt that anyone senior in Labour cares.  The aim is simply to get as many votes as possible.  And in that the manifesto seems to be succeeding admirably.

The most recent YouGov poll has them with a 50% increase in their poll rating in just over a month.

This has come as a surprise to pretty much everyone, including me.  But we should not have been surprised.  Only last year we saw the Leave campaign, characterised by incoherence and populism, succeed in winning a referendum against the Remain campaign which sought to stress stability and being sensible.  It seems that right now a large part of the electorate isn’t very interested in being sensible.  They want to roll the dice and see what happens.

It seems that the Leavers might be running into the 7 Minute Abs problem. In that seminal film There’s Something About Mary, Ted picks up a hitchhiker who intends to make his fortune by making a video called 7 Minute Abs, snaffling all the sales of 8 Minute Abs.  The hitchhiker gets driven into a wild rage when Ted innocently suggests that he might himself be undercut if someone brings out a 6 Minute Abs video.  In the same way, if you peddle a fantasy to angry fearful people, there’s always the risk of being successfully outcrazied by another salesman.

It may well be that Labour yet flatter to deceive and that their poll ratings will subside.  If they get elected, Labour will no doubt face an array of problems in making good on their promises.  If they get elected, Labour will no doubt be delighted to face that array of problems.

On the other side of the fence, Theresa May needs urgently to remind the public what she considers to be her USP for this election.  Her manifesto has bombed and her reaction to that has severely undermined her strong and stable persona.  Remain and Hillary Clinton both fought and lost on the basis of not being the other guy.  Theresa May at present is trying to break that streak.  Perhaps she should try something more than that.

Alastair Meeks

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