The disarray of the so-called “natural party of government” is clear for all to see, writes Lindsey German
It was always going to be lose/lose for the Tories in last night's debate. This is a government very much on the defensive, frightened to send its own strong and stable leader, but replacing her with another callous and robotic Tory. One of the high points of the night was Amber Rudd's demand to 'judge us on our record' which was met with gales of sceptical laughter. What came across very clearly was that the Tories and UKIP were very much in unison, not just on immigration but on praise for big business and keeping corporation tax low. It was instructive to see Amber Rudd and Paul Nuttall in so much agreement so much of the time. When asked where the Tories' leader was, Caroline Lucas pointed at Nuttall.
The other party leaders were (with the exception of Farron, although even he played a poor hand well) by and large good. Caroline Lucas was spot on about war and Muslims, and Leanne Wood was also effective. Jeremy Corbyn was good on corporation tax and on issues like food banks. I thought he was weaker on wars and terrorism, and on immigration than I would have liked. In this respect, the smaller left parties sometimes put better positions. Although the delightful Amber Rudd denounced their agreement as a 'coalition of chaos', the fact that the Greens, Plaid and SNP trained most of their fire on the Tories, not Labour, was welcome and an indication of how left-of-centre parties could work together.
I was surprised to hear the Today programme's take on it - that Rudd had effectively man-marked Corbyn. That wasn't my impression, nor that of the audience. You've got to love the Daily Mail accusations of audience bias. The crowd was actually selected by ComRes and was therefore balanced in terms of political opinion. What the Mail can't stand is that maybe political opinion is moving away from the Tories. And that if there is bias, it is not always of the bigoted Mail variety.
May is well and truly frit
The fact that Jeremy Corbyn agreed to debate on television and has challenged May to do the same is hugely important. It makes it clear that he is not frightened of debate. We can only conclude that she is. In the words of her predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, May is frit. Her excuses for not debating are truly pathetic, ranging from nobody wants to hear politicians debating to the claim that she is talking to electors all the time. This is laughable. She turns up, surrounds herself with supporters, tells everyone she is strong and stable and then clears off again. She was in and out of Plymouth before 9 yesterday morning. Her audiences are hand-picked. I cannot really envisage her debating face to face with anyone, because she has resisted it for so long. This is a dreadful situation for a politician, who wants to win office, to be in.
On the other hand, it has raised levels of admiration for Corbyn even from some sceptical sections of the press. I should think there are two groups of people getting very fed up with May, much as they may dislike Corbyn. One is the political journalists and pundits whose predictions have all been confounded and who are now beginning to turn on her. They thought this would be a smooth transition to power and we could all sit back and wait for business as usual in British politics to resume. They totally misunderstood the reasons for Corbyn becoming leader, and that the Brexit vote wasn't just about Brexit but a range of different issues. They are blaming her. The second group are those in her own party who went along with the snap election, expecting that a May win would allow them to introduce a whole range of measures which have nothing directly to do with Brexit but which are a continuation of the war on working people that has been such a feature of Tory rule. The fact that they are now losing support in the polls means they too are blaming her. The Tory party is vicious to its failed leaders, so unless she does very well, expect civil war to break out. I see that already the Tory posters are putting 'Conservatives' in much bigger type size, and downsizing 'May'. Now she is seen as a bigger liability than her party.
Back to the seventies?
Are we in hung parliament territory? That's certainly what it's beginning to look like. What would a hung parliament mean - that is one where no one gets an overall majority. It would firstly be pretty unstable unless there was a formal coalition, for example between Tories and Lib Dems as in 2010, or hypothetically between Labour and SNP. It is perfectly possible for either Labour or Tories to form a minority government where they rely on other parties to support them on particular issues, but obviously, they find it impossible to put their full programme through parliament. This usually leads to another election within a fairly short space of time.
This election has some of the same features as the first 1974 election when Tory Ted Heath called it during the miners' strike on the theme of 'who runs the country'. The answer came back that it wasn't him. He tried to form a government and failed. Labour had a minority government and went to another election in October of that year, winning a small majority. May definitely has lost support in the course of the election, as Heath did, but how much is impossible to tell. We have a week to maximise Labour's chances, and everything is moving in our favour.
No country for old men
Even if May wins, what future can there be for a party with so little support among young people? Whatever the differences in the actual polls, they all show Labour well ahead among young and middle-aged people, and far behind the Tories among pensioners. This is one reason why the Corbyn campaign has some of the character of insurgency, marking it out from the usual run-of-the-mill campaigning. Huge crowds for Jeremy yesterday, even when he couldn't turn up in Stroud and Bristol. Crowds again outside the debate in Cambridge. On the other hand, most people wouldn't get out of bed to see Theresa May. I would worry if I were them.
Where are those money trees? Amber Rudd could tell us
What a bloody cheek Amber Rudd has to attack Labour spending plans for relying on a 'magic money tree'. This is the woman who has been embroiled in her own financial scandals, who sits in a cabinet where every one of its members is a millionaire, and who has presided over the growth of record levels of inequality in Britain. The Tories and their friends, the investment bankers, the hedge fund managers and the wealthy landlords have access to orchards full of money trees. Now people want their fair share.
How terrifying this is for the Tories.
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’.
More articles from this author
- The nasty parties unite to stop Corbyn - election briefing 12 November 2019
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November
- Why have the Greens joined an anti-Labour alliance? - election briefing 8 November
- The mask keeps slipping - election briefing 7 November
- Rees-Mogg: the ugly face of class privilege - daily election briefing 6 November
- The battle that will shape a generation – weekly briefing
- Trump’s coming to London during the election