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The Spectator Podcast: General shambles

The Spectator Podcast: General shambles
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On this week’s episode we look ahead to the General Election, now just days away, and ask whether Theresa May might conceivably have blown her chances, or if Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister is still as unlikely as ever. And, for some light relief, we also be consider the role that handwriting plays in our digital society.

First, the British public will be heading to the polls in just a week's time, so we took a moment to reflect on the campaign so far. In his cover piece this week, James Forsyth decries the state of this election, saying that it has left Theresa May, particularly, in a weakened state. James joins the podcast along with Tim Shipman, the Sunday Times political editor and author of All Out War.

As James writes:

"At the start of this campaign, May looked comfortable in this company. The polls suggested that she would get a higher vote share than either Thatcher or Blair and win a majority to stand any comparison with their landslides. As the campaign has gone on, this has looked less certain. The 20-point Tory leads at the start of the campaign are a distant memory. They’ve been replaced with polls suggesting May’s majority could be smaller than David Cameron’s. The Thatcher and Blair comparisons are no longer flattering."

And Tim agrees, saying:

"I don't think it's probably been a disaster for Jeremy Corbyn, whose goal is to get a bigger vote share than Ed Miliband and hold onto the leadership of the Labour party... What it reminds me of is a US Presidential election, where the candidates are exposed to the public, warts and all, and the public gets a sense of people in a campaign, in a way that they don't from just tuning in and looking at the television news a couple of times a week. Theresa May was not tested in that way during the Conservative leadership campaign."

But whilst Theresa May's popularity is slumping, Jeremy Corbyn is enjoying an unlikely renaissance. The Labour leader is closing in most polls, including a shock YouGov offering which says we're headed for a hung parliament. In this week's magazine, Chris Mullin compares Corbyn to Harry Perkins, the protagonist of his novel A Very British Coup, and to discuss Corbyn's Prime Ministerial ambitions, Nick Cohen and Katy Balls joined the podcast.

Nicks tells the podcast that:

"Conservatives who have focused on Jeremy Corbyn's undoubted failings and deformations have rather missed the point – you've got to offer something else as well. And I don't think Theresa May has. I don't think she can really explain why she's called this election. And, in that sense, Labour could shoot up."

And Katy says:

"Corbyn started off with such a low bar that he basically just had to get a fluent sentence out where he didn't sound like he wanted to betray his country, in order to exceed expectations. That's meant that in all his media performances, he comes across as quite likeable and that's amplified by the fact that everyone's been told he's not likeable."

Finally, we took a short break from election fever, to talk about something completely different: handwriting. When people mark their X on the ballot paper next week – sorry, moratorium on election talk from here – they will be practising an ancient art that is dying in the computer age. Or so David Butterfield argues in this week's magazine, and he joins the podcast along with Simon Jenkins. As David writes:

"Does anyone still care about handwriting? Although it was for centuries the medium and motor of daily life, handwriting has become, like public libraries and secondhand bookshops, a rare sight. One in three British adults now uses pens only to sign their names. Starved of opportunity, most people’s writing has regressed into a near-illegible scrawl. When even the leader of the opposition confesses that he can’t read his own writing, something is up. So should we cut our losses and follow Finland, which since 2015 has taught keyboard lessons in lieu of handwriting?"

The Spectator Podcast will be appearing in its regular Thursday slot throughout the election campaign, but we'll also be providing you with daily editions of Coffee House Shots, our political podcast, so do subscribe on iTunes to get our take on the latest twists and turns as soon as they happen.