Friday, June 09, 2017

UK election 2017 (1?)

Wow, no-one was expecting that.

Opinion polls at the start of the campaign showed that the Conservatives (Tories) had a lead of around 20%. They narrowed during the campaign but then showed a bit of a pick-up for the Tories at the end, to a gap of about 6-8% and an increased majority.

I thought that it would be a damage-limitation exercise, that the battleground, where the line might be held, would be at a point where the Tories won about 40 seats. At this point, the Tories would have a majority approaching 100, but Labour would maintain something of a base in Parliament, to build on for the future (without Jeremy Corbyn as leader).

On the doorstep, for example in Derby North, where I helped with the campaign, as in Stoke Central in February, quite a few people said they were not voting Labour because of Corbyn. True, he did run an energetic campaign and “energised the base” (*). 

However, it seems that Tory voters were even more pissed off.

Firstly, the election was seen as unnecessary, the reasons given for calling it specious or even absurd: the EU's European Commission was plotting to undermine the UK's negotiating position; LibDem MPs (all 8 of them) were determined to derail 'Brexit' (Britain's exit from the EU). There was no reason for Theresa May to seek to extend her mandate by 2 years to 2022. The election could have been held in 2020 as scheduled, when her government plans to have taken the UK out of the EU by March 2019, or before then, when a deal has been agreed (or “no deal”). 

This was compounded by the timing of the general election, 5 weeks after local elections. The general election would normally be held on the same day, as on 5 May 2005 and as has generally been the case for the last 20 years (**). In a BBC report at the start, that later “went viral”, a 75 year old woman from Bristol said, “you're joking, not another one”?

Then, the campaign fought by Theresa May was exceptionally vacuous. It consisted mainly of empty slogans, such as “strong and stable leadership”. Where they did provide concrete proposals, they betrayed an arrogant and complacent assumption that they could cut public spending how and where they liked, since they were going to win anyway.

In what May declared was to be a “Brexit election”, there was little discussion of the issues around leaving the EU. Instead, all she offered was, “Who do you trust to negotiate a deal for Brexit”? She received more or less the same answer that Edward Heath famously got when he asked, “Who governs Britain?” in February 1974: “Not you, mate.”

* Some said that if only he had put as much effort into the EU referendum last year, there could have been a different result.

** In 2001, "the election had been expected on 3 May, to coincide with local elections, but both were postponed because of rural movement restrictions imposed in response to the foot and mouth outbreak".