I am trying to remember if there was ever a worse Conservative election campaign than this current dog’s breakfast — and failing. Certainly 2001 was pretty awful, with Oliver Letwin going rogue and Thatcher sniping nastily from behind the arras. It is often said that 1987 was a little lacklustre and Ted Heath had effectively thrown in the towel in October 1974. But I don’t think anything quite matches up to this combination of prize gaffes and the robotic incantation of platitudinous idiocies.
To have suggested that the hunting with dogs legislation might be subject to a free vote in the House of Commons was, whether you are pro hunting or against, a move of quite stunning stupidity. Why alienate that 84 per cent of the electorate opposed to fox-hunting (Ipsos-Mori, 2016), especially when some of them (including me) are quite passionately anti-hunting and might be tempted to change their vote? And when you already have the pro-fox-hunting votes in your grasp? It makes no electoral sense.
Still more remarkable was the decision to force demented people to sell their own houses, if they can remember where they are, to pay for their own care. Followed very shortly by an embarrassing U-turn.
This was passed off by the Tories as an example of pristine honesty, of nettles being grasped in an admirably transparent manner. But, like much of the current Tory campaign, it smacked to me of two things — complacency and arrogance. It suggested yet again that Theresa May called this election convinced that almost nothing she could do or say would prevent the inevitable landslide.
I think she was horribly wrong about that. I just pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that she was not so horribly wrong that we wake up on 9 June to find that Diane Abbott is the Home Secretary, Emily Thornberry in charge of Trident, all part of a Labour-Lib Dem-Tartan Munchkin Alliance, aided by that sinister reptilian Green woman, Lucas, and Natalie Wood or whatever her name is from Wales, look you.
That scenario is still unlikely, but I will bet it is not half so unlikely as many of you, or Theresa May, believed when the election was called. Back then the headlines were talking of a Labour and Ukip wipeout and a landslide for the Tories.
I never remotely bought that notion, no matter what the polls said. I have been banging on for ages about how the Labour vote, especially in the north, is a lot ‘stickier’ than the pollsters think. My guess was that May would win a majority of 30 or so, but that was before Conservative Central Office took out its hardy shotgun and began blowing off both of its feet. I may have to revise that figure downwards. Either way, and those gaffes excluded, here’s why I think the Tory lead in the polls has been halved — yes, halved — despite the fact that the Labour party is led by Chauncey Gardiner out of Hal Ashby’s wonderful satire Being There.
First, the election was not wanted and is deeply resented beyond the Westminster bubble. The only people who actually enjoy elections are journos and the politically active: that leaves 97 per cent of the population who are somewhat averse, especially after a bruising referendum last year. May is resented for having foisted the election upon us, and people may be inclined to punish her for it, either by staying at home or voting against. The most salient comment of this election may have been made on the day it was called, by Brenda of Bristol: ‘Oh no, what’s she done that for?’ People suspect that their lives are being disrupted for Theresa May’s political and personal gain. And they’re not wrong, are they?
Second. Jeremy Corbyn is not notably less popular in the Midlands and north of the country than Ed Miliband was. And he has had a good election so far. The Labour vote remains buoyant and is growing. Don’t forget that the populist revolution we have seen here and in the US and in Europe does not come exclusively from the right. Corbyn presents an anti-establishment populist left-wing agenda, much as did Syriza and Five Star (and the SNP, come to that) and he offers it to an electorate which has a certain appetite for such radicalism. If he changed his tune on immigration he could conceivably win.
Third. Theresa May has the personal warmth, wit, oratorical ability and attractiveness of an Indesit fridge-freezer which has been faultily connected by a man called Trevor for five quid, cash in hand, and which is now full of decomposing Findus Crispy Pancakes. There is no vision, there is no chutzpah. Just the bland repetition of meaningless phrases. Corbyn is a far better campaigner.
Fourth. Yes, the Labour front bench has the collective IQ of a fairly small bowl of krill. But the Conservative front bench is pretty thinnish, too, isn’t it? Would you book Amber Rudd or Philip Hammond to deliver a rousing speech at your company’s annual shindig? I’d rather listen to a tape of Greylag geese squabbling over mating rights.
Fifth. The Ukip vote will migrate to the Tories en masse — but in the south, where they don’t need it. Far less so in the north and Midlands, where they do need it. There, many will remain with Ukip, especially if Paul Nuttall ramps up the anti-Islam rhetoric in the wake of the Manchester atrocity. Of the rest, a fair few will go back to the habitual berth of the Labour party.
Sixth. I had not expected the Lib Dem vote to disappear. But given that it does seem to be disappearing, it won’t turn up in the pockets of Conservative candidates. Almost anyone but — and most likely Labour.
I’ve always thought that calling the election was a mistake predicated on misplaced confidence. Today, I’m even more convinced of that view.