This was not supposed to happen. A few weeks ago, the question was how low Labour could go. It looked realistic to think in terms of the opposition under Jeremy Corbyn – the IRA-supporting, far-left, West-hating narcissist who has taken control of Labour – getting a vote share down in the low twenties.
Since the campaign began, the opposite seems to have happened. The Tory lead has shrunk in polls to around half its peak. The latest YouGov poll for the Sunday Times puts Labour on 35% and the Conservatives on 44%. It is one poll, but others point in the same direction.
Why is this happening? Here are some initial thoughts:
- The return of two party politics, meaning Tory/Labour in England and SNP/Tory in Scotland. The widespread expectation at Westminster that the Remainer Lib Dems would surge a bit has collided with the voters who are not having it. Leader Tim Farron doesn’t work no matter how hard the Lib Dems try to sell the poor chap. His party has a pitiful “yesterday’s men” feel about it. UKIP is getting hammered post-Brexit, with the Tories taking their voters. This has narrowed the field and made the choice binary. It has elevated the Tories to the status of a 45% party, which represents an astonishing turnaround compared to twenty years ago, and it falters Corbyn too.
- Concern about the Tories being untrammelled and too cocky. Those early poll leads were extraordinary. Voters don’t, pollsters say, tend to think in terms of suppressing majorities or electing an opposition. But, something is moving some Labour voters who don’t like Corbyn back into the Labour column. My guess? A feeling that it is unhealthy for the Tories to have it all their own way.
- People like ridiculous free stuff and Labour is getting some hits in on the Tories. The Labour pledge to scrap tuition fees (utter madness that would impoverish the nation’s universities just when we need them with Brexit to power ahead) is popular, as is rail nationalisation. Younger voters are too, er, young to remember the 1970s and the British Rail sandwich.
- The fading salience of the 1980s. I still find it shocking that Labour has a leader who was on the side of the murdering bastards of the IRA and the Soviet Union. He was. And his ghastly crew were too. Voters old enough to remember the Troubles and the Cold War bring up his dodgy associations and it makes some older Britons genuinely angry. But not everyone feels the same and the charge may lack the power it once did. Voters below the age of 40 came of age during or after the Good Friday agreement (1998) and the Northern Ireland peace process led to people such as Martin McGuinness (an IRA commander) being given ministerial office with government drivers, and meeting the Queen. Corbyn backed the IRA. But the British state put IRA men on the national payroll.
- The Conservative manifesto. There will be hell to pay afterwards in the Tory tribe if May somehow ends up with a majority not much bigger than David Cameron won in 2015. Tory activists and MPs will want to know how on earth the decision was taken to experiment with the notion of “stealing” the capital of elderly persons who own their own homes. Who approved it? Who warned? Most of the controversy about “Red Tory Theresa” and all that will have passed voters by. The care policy seems to be different. It seems to have broken through, and how. Whether you agree with it or not is neither here nor there. Personally, I don’t see why the coming generation leaving school now should be clobbered to pick up the care costs of people who have enjoyed the good fortune of forty years of booming property prices. But the British are not entirely rational on the question of inheritance and care. That means it all has to be approached very carefully – with a Royal Commission perhaps – and lots of planning, or the risk is that people will during an election mishear it or hear it and hate it. Indeed, Tory candidates report worried older voters bringing it up on the doorstep. Moving boldly onto this territory in the middle of an election is astonishingly “brave”, or reckless. Inheritance is an elementary concept in the Tory tribe and among non-Tory voters too. Accumulation of assets, after a lifetime of hard work and not claiming a penny, is regarded as a virtue. Of course this stance is deeply hypocritical, in that we often want someone else to pay, to protect what we will pass on. The claim that the 75 year-old “paid in” all their lives is bogus. They paid general taxation which was spent at the time, often on stuff from which they directly benefited, such as on the NHS or protecting the country. Still, try telling people that during an election. Good luck. The British have a hypocritical and contradictory attitude on this subject? Well, yeah, it’s Britain. That being the case, for the Tory party to launch this policy mid-election is the equivalent of playing with matches in a firework factory.
What will happen? The Tories are still miles ahead and they are up against Jeremy Corbyn, a man wholly unfit to be Prime Minister. Theresa May looks to be on course to win well. To that end, this poll trend may even help the Conservatives because their efforts to make voters take seriously the prospect of a Corbyn premiership look less ridiculous if the lead is in single figures.
Still, it is not going as planned. For all the highly experienced help they have on hand, Team May is in charge and has never run an election campaign before. It shows.