11th June 2017
The outcome of the UK General Election has left the media and the Conservative Party baffled. How could it be the case that a snap election, called to bolster Theresa May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, has resulted in the Tories losing their majority in the House of Commons? How is it that as a result the Tories will be reliant upon confidence and supply arrangements with the Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the political wing of loyalist paramilitary thugs, to get any legislation through?
There is a school of Tory thought that May simply fought a bad campaign. That with a better ‘performer’ the Tories would not have suffered such a major setback. May’s brittleness on TV, inflexibility under questioning and her inability to engage with anyone other than handpicked Tory stalwarts certainly played a part. It is no doubt soothing to the Tory ego to believe that these are the main factors in their remarkable collapse in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
This belief will soothe Tories further over the summer, when they persuade themselves that, having allowed Theresa May to stay in No 10 for a respectable period of time, they will need to move her out for an alternative candidate. A new Tory leader could not do any worse, could they? Based on the premise that this election was purely down to the personalities of the candidates, this Tory daydream may have some merits. The Theresa May brand was all over the election campaign, with its now wholly ironic ‘strong and stable’ slogan, with any mention of the Conservative Party reduced to the small print.
For those Tories who think that a better ‘brand’ of leader will be the answer to their troubles there is likely to be more grief ahead. The May brand undoubtedly became more toxic as the campaign progressed. The greater focus there was upon personality, the less points May scored. However, the real turning point in the campaign was not the focus upon personality but the launch, preceded by the advance leaking, of the Labour manifesto, For the Many, Not the Few.
The Tory spin machine had fallen victim to the line pedalled by their cohorts in the unholy trinity of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express, that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was on the brink of meltdown. May’s Chiefs of Staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, persuaded her that a snap election would catch the Opposition on the hop and that all indicators suggested that a landslide was on the cards. Timothy and Hill are both now looking for other employment, having been forced to resign.
Their miscalculation was twofold. Firstly, they calculated that May could outperform Corbyn with the media. Repeating the mantra that she would provide ‘strong and stable government’ in order to lead the UK in Brexit negotiations, was deemed sufficient to keep on board what was regarded as a largely compliant nation. The fact that the referendum outcome itself was tight and that only 37% of those eligible to vote, voted for Brexit, should have sent out some warning signals.
Corbyn, on the other hand, did not engage in repeating ready made formulas. He engaged with the issues. He outlined the concerns of much of the country that the NHS was underfunded, that housing was at crisis levels, both for those renting and first time buyers. Corbyn identified the crisis in the jobs and training regime in the UK, which requires so many highly skilled jobs to be offered to overseas candidates, as one which needs to be addressed. Corbyn tapped into the fact that, after seven years of austerity, the majority of the population have had enough of paying off the gambling debts of the bankers and need a positive message of hope for the future.
The second miscalculation of May’s handlers was that the policies which Corbyn was articulating would have no appeal. The publication of For the Many, Not the Few brought together the key issues Corbyn had already touched upon and codified them into a costed programme, which could move beyond the arid politics of austerity. The issue in the election was not just about May’s inability to sell the Tory message but that she actually had nothing to sell. More austerity was hardly a vote winner and for most people Brexit was too abstract to be a real factor in the election. However, put the case for jobs, health, education and homes in front of people, as Labour did, and they can understand that. They can see a package of proposals that addresses the real issues that affect them on a day to day basis. They can see a set of proposals that offers hope.
Combined with a political leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who has stood for these values, principles and policies throughout his political career, who is not prepared to be diverted according to whichever way the wind blows and you have a factor in politics which the right wing media and May’s spin doctors could neither understand nor handle.
The DUP, apart from their history of supporting terror against the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, are anti-abortion, against gay marriage and are climate change sceptics. They are essentially a Protestant sect, borne out of the particular configuration of politics in the six counties of Ireland annexed by Britain, in order to prop up the fiction of the so-called United Kingdom. A United Ireland would not even see the DUP in Westminster at all. If there was ever a time to reach for the phrase that ‘the tail will be wagging the dog’ then this is it.
Labour are preparing an alternative Queen’s Speech, based upon their manifesto and the expectations of much of the population. It will be interesting to compare with what a Tory/DUP alliance comes up with. There is no doubt that hope will be at the heart of the Labour alternative. If the Tories have learnt anything, they will have to offer some additional funding for the NHS, the police and social care. In short, they will have to steal Labour’s clothes, a tactic most people will see through.
The General Election date may have passed but the job is still only half done. Theresa May and the Tories are wounded but not yet dead. The job is to finish them off. The struggle continues.