So, the General Election campaigns are up and running. This, the first week of proper campaigning, has been either very good or very, very bad depending on whether you’re following Labour or the Tories.
For Labour the week has gone from strength to strength. Corbyn has been out and about and has spoken to large, supportive crowds. He’s seen his poll rating jump by 13 points in only a few days. Theresa May, on the other hand, has seen her poll rating drop as much as Corbyn’s has climbed and her public profile seems almost non-existent.
Corbyn has drawn attention to May’s apparent unwillingness to meet and greet the average voter. Her refusal to take part in live TV debates hasn’t done him any harm, either. Social media, now an important factor in getting a party’s message out, has been more supportive of Corbyn with the hashtags Kim Jong-May and Make June the end of May trending furiously.
The mainstream media, meanwhile, has largely softened their normally hostile stance on Corbyn. Aside from the usual suspects with axes to grind (Polly Toynbee, the New Statesman etc, take note) the left and liberal press has finally decided to do what EvolvePolitics and others have been doing since Corbyn was first elected. They’re actually giving him a fair hearing.
It could be said that May’s own blundering ineptness has been one of Corbyn’s trump cards. Her almost ghost-like week on the campaign trail has consisted of little other than pre-arranged appearances before crowds of ‘supporters’ suspected of being bussed in for the occasion.
At one workplace, reporters were quietly informed by one worker that they’d been ordered not to talk to the press. At a Leeds community centre the crowd was also staged, the centre’s users and workers having already left for the day. But worse was to follow.
Much, much worse…
May’s week went from the merely embarrassing to the downright humiliating on her trip to Scotland. With her poll rating slashed, possibly over her refusal to rule out tax rises, she didn’t need any further blunders. Trying to spin her visit to Scotland was exactly that. First, her press team claimed she was in Aberdeen. She wasn’t. She was at a small local hall in deep woodland at Crathes.
Crathes actually being 17 miles from Aberdeen raised questions. Further questions came about whether this was yet another stage-managed event before hand-picked party loyalists (it was). Possibly the biggest question was why the event was falsely booked as a children’s party, unless May thinks an election is a parlour game where everybody gets a prize.
From a media point of view, it was a disaster. A disaster perhaps mitigated only by the fact that the event was so well hidden that even loyal party members couldn’t find it. When the media finally heard about it, they found it in a location so distant it made live broadcasts impossible.
But May’s bad week wasn’t over just yet. Her appearance on Andrew Marr’s BBC show on Sunday was perhaps the most disastrous of the week, truly saving the worst for last. Flubbing her lines, delivering them badly, looking rattled and shaken rather than strong and stable, May was a rabbit in the media headlights.
Only thirty seconds or so after Marr explicitly told her viewers deserved better than mere soundbites and not to use them, May started using them. Her delivery and ‘strong and stable’ mantra left even Marr flabbergasted. Her tetchy response to Marr’s irritation didn’t do her any favours, either. Even the BBC couldn’t make her look good in the face of so woeful a performance.
Going by last week’s performance two things are becoming clear. One is that May, regardless of what she says, isn’t just scared of live, unscripted debates and encounters with actual voters. She’s terrified of them. She’s terrified of them because, as anyone following her PMQ’s performances against Corbyn will have noticed, she simply isn’t up to it.
Corbyn and Labour have a powerful weapon in her fear and loathing of any event not spun like a merry-go-round. His meetings and appearances have, as a rule, usually met with big crowds and much applause from those attending. His TV appearances have shown a tougher side to him than many expected. May’s week has been one of falling poll figures, blunder after blunder and Corbyn soundly trouncing her on social media.
Her Sunday interview with the Daily Mail was another toe-curling embarrassment. Strewn with insults like “Weak, unstable, nonsensical and floundering” (rather like her Scottish road trip, perhaps?) May paraded her Christian credentials (for which she’s been roundly criticised by other Christians), and she also expressed her willingness to use nuclear weapons on a first-strike basis and denied being scared of public debate. In a somewhat ironic (and unintentionally satirical) remark she stated bluntly;
“There’ll be no lack of me being on television, I can tell you.”
If she intends to keep that particular promise, may I politely suggest she does it from a location not so remote that broadcasting is actually impossible? Although perhaps her most ill-chosen remark was this pearl of wisdom:
“I hope people feel with me that what they see is what they get.”
They might well feel that. What the voters have so far seen of Theresa May might well be exactly what they get.
Something of very little substance.
Going by the first week of the campaign proper, Corbyn’s chances are already infinitely better than many expected. They’re also improving with every PR bullet May and her media team fire into their own feet.
Is the 2017 General Election in the bag for either main party?
No, not by a long way.
Is Corbyn a ready-made electoral disaster area?
Is Theresa May providing ‘strong and stable leadership’ even within her own election team?
Doesn’t look like it, does it?
The Tory leader May or May not prove herself the most damaging weapon Labour has.