The battle lines have long since been forged. Theresa May has reverted to the Conservative’s usual USP by presenting the image of a government that will offer “strong and stable leadership”. Indeed, she must be pretty doubtful about the electability of her manifesto, as in a speech in the Black Country on the 22nd April, she mentioned the word “strong” 28 times, and “stable” 15 times in a 13-minute speech, achieving a remarkable average of 3.3 “strong and stables” per minute.
The Liberal Democrat’s record seems to be equally broken, with Tim Farron’s mantra being “change the direction of our country”. This is equally traditional – Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan was “Change we can believe in”, and before him David Cameron used the phrase “Change to win” to emerge victorious from the Tory leadership contest in 2005. Indeed, change is a much more popular mantra than one might think, as borne out by the decision of 52% of the population to jump into the frightening abyss of economic, military, social, cultural and political uncertainty on June 23rd last year on the basis Nigel Farage’s disparaging ravings that “the little people…want change”.
So far, so typical. Until we move onto Labour, who having sat down and assessed the patent unviability of their position on Europe, the blatant unelectability of their hapless leader, and their flagrant lack of policy on anything else (other than to introduce more bank holidays) have opted for an ad hominum attack on Theresa May, who they deem to be dishonest. Corbyn called her a “Prime Minister not to be trusted”, David Winnick labelled her a “political opportunist”, Paul Farrelly accused her of having “a loose and complicated relationship with the truth” and Yvette Cooper claimed that “we can’t believe a single word she says”. Corbyn’s incessant soapbox talk of the “rigged economy” also contributes to this stance.
On the face of it, this appears to be quite a logical move. Theresa May’s dishonesty is less a matter up for debate, more an objective truth. This is a politician who claimed 7 times that it would be wrong to call an election, up until the point that she called an election, when it suddenly became a moral compulsion to “crush the saboteurs” (Daily Mail, April 19th). She ‘campaigned’ (in a very generous use of the word) for Remain in the build up to the referendum, but is suddenly a more committed Eurosceptic than the most boss-eyed of swivel-eyed loons. Her desire to leave the Single Market makes Nigel Farage (who for years merely wanted to be more like Norway or Switzerland) look like a moderate.
However, history proves that this breed of personal attack doesn’t wash well with the electorate. In 1997, the core of the Labour campaign was this: while arguing that it was time for a change, they sought to make that seem as unthreatening as they could. Much of the time, Labour simply promised that they would retain existing policy. They combined the techniques of the Liberal Democrats and the Tories in this year’s election. It left their opponents with very little to go on. The only argument the Tories could make in ’97 was that, as they were promising both change and no change, they were untrustworthy. This proved a weak attack. The defeat was comprehensive, their most humiliating since 1906.
That the Labour Party of 2017 should be replicating the same, failed technique might be understandable if Jeremy Corbyn’s personal popularity far outstrips that of his party. But the truth is that it doesn’t – one imagines 65p Freddos and people standing on the left of the escalator are more in-demand than poor, old Jez. So, the truth is that Labour are destined to fail in this election: the Tories and the Liberals might be tiredly reworking former campaigns, but at least they were campaigns that worked. Labour, inexplicably, are using the least successful campaign in recent electoral history as their masterplan to rescue a leader who is unprecedentedly unpopular.
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