Only just over five weeks of the election to go folks. Can you feel the snap, crackle and pop in the air? The drama? The passion? The vision? What’s that?... no you can’t… nor me. It’s entirely possible that the most exciting thing about this damn election will be the way it was called.
I get why the Tories have hired Lynton Crosby again to run the brutal political strategy which delivered them a surprise majority in 2015. I get that the Crosby Project Fear playbook has been dusted off and is now the bible at Conservative HQ.
But please can I beg the great British public to at least be aware of the game?
First there’s the phrase – the slogan – to be repeated and repeated until our poor ears are bleeding just to make sure the wider public hear it. In 2015, it was Long Term Economic Plan – even though the deficit reduction targets were missed and people in work are going to foodbanks, but pish posh. This time it’s Strong and Stable Leadership – not sure if you’ve picked that up yet? You’re welcome.
Then there’s the hysterical fear message. They have plumped for a bit of recycling with the Coalition of Chaos message, which worked well for them last time because it was plausible in terms of where Labour was in the polls. This time round, it isn’t even a credible threat or possibility given the fact Labour is trailing so far behind – although there has been a small uplift in the last few days. The maths just don’t stack up.
Finally, there’s the highly personalised attacks on the opposition. This is normally when that ray of sunshine Michael Fallon gets wheeled out. In 2015, he made very sharp comments about Ed Miliband knifing the country because he ran against his brother. Now you may well think the Miliband of brothers soap opera was tragic and a bit weird, but to say that Ed was going to actually going to attack the entire country was a bit bonkers and pretty spiteful. Bit like the Nasty Party which Mrs May once spoke out against bravely.
This time they let loose the Boris who called Jeremy Corbyn a mugwump, which, to be honest, makes Jez sound like a cuddly woodland creature and quite nice compared to his opponents.
Now, you can argue that the Lynton Crosby playbook has been highly effective and the polls are looking very bullish but there are a few things to be noted. I’m not saying that these will magically disrupt things, but political upsets have not been uncommon over the last few years when the voters are feeling fed up.
The whole of the UK – and especially Scotland – has had a lot of democracy over the last few years and has tasted a lot of Project Fear, so some of the sharpness of that strategy may be blunted, or at least feel more predictable to some of the electorate, especially as the media are calling it out more this time.
Theresa May’s outing on the Sunday morning political programmes was a dead-eyed loop of slogans delivered with all the poetry of a Dalek. The media must call that out. And the fact that there are no press conferences, or not that much actual contact with real life humans who aren’t from Tory central casting, is not good for democracy.
Tim Farron hit the nail on the head when he said on the Andrew Marr show that this cannot be a coronation for Theresa May. He is right.
We know that once this election is over, there ain’t going to be one again for a long time. Now that will come as some relief to everyone who felt that Brenda from Bristol spoke for a nation, but that means that people will (hopefully) clock that this vote really matters. This election will define our country for a long time and a landslide will not make for good governance.
Theresa May is seeking a mandate so she can have a new post election slogan – Mandate means Mandate and we’re going to make a success of it! (hat tip to David Allen Green) .
But how can she hope to claim, in six weeks’ time, that she has a mandate when she hasn’t actually deigned to outline any plans for what she would do, from Brexit to crucial tax and spend policies?
There is much to criticise Jeremy Corbyn about, but at least Labour is out there making an energetic, if at times clumsy, attempt at outlining important domestic policies which matter to people and the Lib Dems are clear on their anti-Brexit offer.
Theresa May’s robotic, guarded interviews on Sunday showed just why Lynton Crosby will not let her anywhere near the TV leaders’ debates. She is not a gifted debater and would have the most to lose against underdogs Corbyn and Farron. She would be outshone on pure performance by Sturgeon.
Politics is not a game. It’s about people’s lives and the direction of our country at a very fragile time. Democracy matters now more than ever and I hope the media and the public will be alive to the Crosby playbook and make a robust and energetic effort to question and scrutinise Conservative policy in the way they perhaps didn’t in 2015.
We cannot have a landslide simply off the back of vacuous political soundbites, because Britain deserves better, to coin a phrase.