As the Tories flounder towards Plan B, Corbyn strides into the mainstream, notes Lindsey German
With just a week and a half left till polling, it's not a bad time to draw up a balance sheet of where the campaigns are. On any objective assessment of the nature of the campaigns, Labour is way ahead of the Tories. Despite Theresa May's self-proclaimed virtues of being strong and stable, she is nervous and brittle. She also strikes me as not a very good or sensitive politician, even on her own terms, but is rigid, dogmatic and authoritarian. No wonder she fears live debate and contact with voters. In fact, she seems to have avoided the latter since a woman with learning difficulties confronted her in Tory Abingdon a couple of weeks back. Attempts to use the most dishonest politics over the Manchester bombing - repeating the outright lie that Jeremy Corbyn blamed this on Britain, when he actually said that British foreign policy made these attacks more likely - do not seem to have had the effect desired by May's campaign strategist Lynton Crosby.
The social care policy is now being denounced by nearly everyone in the Tory camp, but they are stuck with it as an issue. Labour, on the other hand, has produced a very successful manifesto, which spells out clearly a number of policies which would benefit working people, such as nationalisation, more money for the NHS and schools, and an end to tuition fees for students. It commits to providing free fuel for pensioners and free dinners for primary kids.
The televised debate (which of course wasn't a debate) last night demonstrated the problem. She is just awful - I don't mean just the policies but her demeanour, the dull but aggressive tone in which she lectures the rest of us, the very obvious 'values of the vicarage' on show. This is despite getting a very easy ride from Tory Jeremy Paxman, unlike Jeremy Corbyn, who was constantly interrupted. But he coped with it well, while May faced the studio audience which was almost laughing at her.
Hardly surprising that Corbyn's personal ratings have dramatically increased since the start of the campaign, while May's have correspondingly slumped. Pollsters and commentators are at a loss to explain this. Some of their attempts are risible. We are told that people are voting Labour despite Jeremy Corbyn, that Labour's vote is very resilient (didn't they know this after the best part of 100 years), that people don't like the Tories so will vote Labour (who knew?). Tom Baldwin - former director of communications to Ed Miliband - has declared that because of the assumption that Corbyn could not be prime minister, there has been less critical scrutiny of Corbyn than there was of Miliband. You wonder what planet he has been living on.
So the Tories have a much worse campaign, a much worse leader and policies which are already denting their popularity. Unfortunately, they may still win, but there is time to even turn that around. The truth is that the pollsters themselves are very nervous about their poll findings. The closest polls this weekend showed a six point gap between Labour and the Tories, the widest one, 14 points. The latter would mean a Tory landslide, the former a majority of two. The ones which show Corbyn closer are based more on findings about how likely people are to say they will vote, rather than on past voting patterns. I think we should assume that - whatever the final outcome - more young people are likely to vote than in 2015. This is based on three assumptions. There has been a big late registration to vote, which will be mostly young people. There was a much higher turnout in the referendum of 2016 than the 2015 election. And, Jeremy Corbyn will enthuse and motivate more people, especially young people, far more than Miliband did. If these assumptions are correct, and of course they are just that, then the vote will be much closer than most are predicting.
It wasn't meant to be like this. What mistakes the Tories have made. They have plastered Theresa May's name all over her campaign coach, thinking that her popularity would carry the day, only to see it slump. They have invented policies which hit at the heart of some of their traditional supporters, especially pensioners. They thought that they could just make this a Brexit election, go on about strong leadership and attack Jeremy Corbyn. It hasn't worked. They will spend the next ten days trying to go back to Brexit, enhanced by more personal attacks on Corbyn - especially around terrorism. Seems to me that isn't going to work.
A lot to cover up?
I think Jeremy Corbyn has been absolutely right to raise the political issues surrounding the Manchester attack, and it has been quite disgusting how his words have been misinterpreted in a completely wilful way, especially by May at the G7 summit. In any serious democracy, the scrutiny should not be on what Jeremy Corbyn said about the IRA 30 years ago, which Andrew Neil kept harping on about, but about the knowledge that MI5 had of Salman Abedi and others from Libya in the run-up to the bombing, and what government ministers knew about it. For example, it has been reported that the FBI warned security forces here that Abedi would launch an attack back in January but he was not kept under close surveillance. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, late of the right wing Henry Jackson Society, claims that she does not know what MI5 knew about Abedi. Can that be true? If so what do they talk about in those Cobra meetings? The Tories may succeed in hardening some of their own support over the question of terrorism, but it is clear that there are many people highly sceptical of the government's view. Let us not forget that Theresa May was Home Secretary until last year.
Confounded by the polls: the backstabbers
When deputy leader Tom Watson tells the Tories to stop attacking Jeremy Corbyn you know something is up. After all, this is the sport he has excelled at for the past two years. It is worth remembering not just Tory expectations on day one of the election but those of right wing Labour MPs, who all said Corbyn was a disaster, refused to back him in any way, were certain a Tory landslide was inevitable, and made clear that their local campaigns would not mention Corbyn. They are now having to eat their words. The success is coming not from their brilliant local campaigns, of which there is little evidence, but the national impetus caused by guess who and the team around him. Even in Scotland, the most difficult area for Labour after 2015, he is drawing big crowds.
Some Labour MPs have apparently been telling voters to vote Labour because Corbyn can't be prime minister. Now apparently these voters are telling people that they may not vote Labour because he might win. I honestly find this hard to believe. But whether it's true or not the responsibility for this lies with the appalling behaviour of so many of these MPs. Whatever the end result, who can deny that it would have been better without the frenzy of backstabbing which has greeted the twice elected leader at every turn? I hope too that after the election there is some honest accounting about these people's role.
Merthyr rising still
Spoke at the Merthyr Rising festival on Saturday about fake news. Merthyr Tydfil is a town with a tremendous working class history going back 200 years and it is this that the festival celebrates. Once a major centre of mining and steel, the festival is organised by socialists and trade unionist to assert a great tradition. It took place in the Red House, the old town hall where socialist MP Kier Hardie addressed crowds from the balcony. There was great enthusiasm for Corbyn, and the disdain I also found in Cardiff last week for those in Labour who want to run their own campaign. Despite this, I think the Corbyn message is getting through.
If we're debating Ireland let's get the whole picture
The attacks on Diane Abbott continue. Two particularly stand out. One is that she allegedly supported the IRA 30 years ago. Actually, as with Corbyn, the position she had is more complex than that, but in any case, there is a good justification for a political critique of those who attacked the IRA. The support from the Tories for allowing the hunger strikers to die in 1981, the refusal to acknowledge them as political prisoners, the shoot to kill policy of innocent civilians, the connections between Loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces, are all written out of history. This is a disservice to political discussion and debate, and is a cheap debating trick which serves the right, such as arch Tory Andrew Neil. While Abbott and Corbyn are quizzed closely on what they said before many of their voters were born, no such intrusion is demanded of Michael Fallon about his support for apartheid South Africa, Amber Rudd's financial dealings, or any number of Tories' opposition to LGBT rights.
We are also told that she is the worst candidate ever for Home Secretary. What, really worse than Jacqui Smith or Charles Clark? Or the hapless David Waddington who presided over the Tory poll tax? Or even Theresa May herself, on whose watch the notorious immigration vans patrolled the streets? It couldn't be that some people when they say worst mean black, could it?
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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