This election was designed to contrast May and Corbyn. In the end, both of them lost outby John McTernan / June 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
“There are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of. I suspect there is now such a sea-change and it is for Mrs Thatcher.”
Those words of Jim Callaghan do a fine job of capturing watershed elections like 1945, 1979 and 1997, elections that change the direction of the country. It is difficult to say whether this election will one day count among them. Theresa May called the election to secure a larger majority for Brexit negotiations. This morning, we find he has failed.
The Tory calculation at the start of this campaign was that the PM’s wholehearted embrace of Brexit would flip Leave voters—from either the Ukip or the Labour column—straight to the Conservatives and deliver a landslide.
Faced with an opposition consisting of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and a rump group of Liberal Democrats headed by Tim Farron, the conventional wisdom was that not to call an election would have been political charity from May. In calling one, at least, she showed some steel and determination—just about the last that was to be seen from her during the campaign.
This was, above all, designed to be a contrast election. The slogan relentlessly punched out by Tory MPs and ministers during the early days of the campaign, “strong and stable,” was instantly mocked. But it was understood and lodged in the consciousness. Everyone got the point. Theresa May was not Jeremy Corbyn.
Of course, the problem with flying high is that—as Icarus learned—you have a long way to fall. And that is the story of the election campaign. It was May’s to lose and she looks to have nearly managed that. The decision not to take part in TV debates initially looked like a de haut en bas gesture, indicating that she was out of Corbyn’s class. It was rapidly revealed as a fragility, a brittle quality—the inability to perform in public spontaneously. It built slowly with the hand-picked audiences, the pre-screened questions, the repeated platitudes. But it snowballed as it became clear that Corbyn could handle a crowd, had added slickness to his repertoire. And he could draw people to…