This really has been one of the most interesting election campaigns since 1997. It began with Jeremy Corbyn being 20 points behind in the polls and having a photo call in a toilet – yet, it’s Theresa May who has had a stinker of a campaign.
We have learned an important lesson. Both leaders were untested in a national campaign and you should never judge someone until you see them in its sound and fury.
Everyone gave May the benefit of the doubt (including myself) as being the better performer and her mantra of Strong and Stable seemed appropriate five weeks ago.
Turns out we were wrong. Cobryn defied his critics and put in an energetic, enthusiastic and positive campaign which has inspired friend and foe alike. I wish he had done that during the EU referendum but he is clearly a conviction politician and comes alive when he cares deeply about something.
Corbyn started from such a low point that if he managed to walk to the podium without falling over, that would have been a win, but he and his team did far more than that. They all stepped up, and credit should go where credit is due.
Much of the criticism from myself and others was about competence. There were frustrations about not preparing for media interviews and being quick enough to respond to breaking news and attack the Tories. There has been a new and welcome level of competence (apart from a couple of interviews) and it has paid off. There is nothing ignoble about running a decent press operation and engaging with the media in a professional and courteous manner. Corbyn calling his social media attack dogs to lay off journalists, particularly female ones like Emma Barnett, was also a welcome and mature move.
The manifesto also showed that Labour can be bold about its offer to the voters. In elections gone by, we had become too timid about our policies and people either couldn’t really remember what our big ideas were, other than the energy price freeze and the mansion tax, or complained we were too close to Tory spending plans. That has not been the case with this Labour manifesto. It is bold, popular and puts clear red water between Labour and the Conservatives. Of course, it helps that the Tories chose to rip up their own rules about spending so that deficit reduction is but a distant memory for both parties, although I suspect this issue will return in the future.
Theresa May’s campaign has been dismal. To have called a snap election based on leadership and then been too afraid to debate your so-called ‘loser’ opponent didn’t pass the smell test with people. It only highlighted her lack of natural performance skills and made her look anti-democratic and weak. The dementia tax U-turn showed that she and her team were not infallible and called into question their judgment and their style of leadership. Many Tories have been furious by how May and her joint chiefs of staff behave and complain of arrogance and high-handedness.
The Tories have not even been able to deploy the traditional support of the powerful and normally noisy business lobby who have been strangely silent due to the fact they are rightly worried about a hard Brexit and the fact that the failed immigration reduction target has made a return in the Tory manifesto in a way which is unclear and uncosted. The manifesto is also vague on money, which is highly unusual for a party where fiscal discipline used to be the core concern. It is concerning that the general answer given to questions about figures or costs on policy seems to be “there will be a post-election consultation”.
John McDonnell had a decent quip about the only numbers in the Tory manifesto being the page numbers. This is a big deal for the Tories – to not have business support and to be fuzzy on costs, especially with Brexit coming down the tracks. And, of course, there are the regressive policies like the return of grammar schools in England and fox hunting, which hardly makes them look dynamic and looking to the future.
But the big weakness for Theresa May has been the cruel truth that she isn’t particularly charismatic or warm. Stick her behind a podium to read from a speech on a serious matter and she’s comfortable. Stick her in front of a crowd of people and it’s a different story. She has an awkward demeanour and finds it hard to connect. When she was Home Secretary she could have a relatively low profile and make limited and formal appearances. This campaign has exposed her. The more we’ve seen of her, the more awkward we realise she is.
Labour has produced a radical, popular manifesto rich in social justice and Corbyn and his team have run a much better campaign than the Conservatives, and on that basis, I will be proud to vote Labour tomorrow. The polls still have the Tories ahead but they have narrowed, and we have lived through some major political upheaval of late. There are only two people who can walk into Downing Street on Friday and Nicola Sturgeon ain’t one of them. The only vote to stop Theresa May is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn.