General Election 2017

Strong and stable? Weak and wobbly. Team May clobbered by hubris.

BY Iain Martin | iainmartin1   /  22 May 2017

If the cap fits…

The Tory leader has a announced a u-turn, promising a cap on contributions to social care costs, only hours after a series of early morning election meetings from which the advice from experienced strategists will have been pretty clear. The original Tory policy on social care in last week’s manifesto may well have been just and right, meaning right for an evening discussion at a pointy-headed think tank deep in SW1, but honestly that’s hardly the point. This is a general election, for goodness sake. And the Tory leadership somehow decided to experiment – free-style – with challenging their own voters gut instincts and fears on inheritance, wealth and health. I described it yesterday as playing with matches in a fireworks factory. It’s worse than that. It’s smoking cigars in a petrol station while the tankers refill. It’s taking the pin out of a grenade  in a weapons factory.

The result of 72 hours of pressure, from a Labour opposition that has shown it can still mobilise in media terms when it needs to, is a deeply embarrassing u-turn. The Prime Minister denounced “fake claims.” That is legitimate, incidentally, as the dim Jeremy Corbyn did misunderstand the policy in interviews he gave. The whole point is, however, that it was the Tory campaign that created the scope for confusion and voter panic that fed through to Tory candidates on the ground. This was a self-inflicted shambles.

What does this show?

1 Team May is way too narrow in its composition and has fallen for the hype. She relies on a tiny group of people – mainly Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, the joint chiefs of staff – who rather brilliantly helped get her where she is today. But the “100% with us or against us 100%” approach has been tried so many times in recent decades. It always fails in the end, especially with the media and even with the voters.  It didn’t work for those in Team Blair, and Team Brown, and elements of Team Cameron, who tried it with journalists, and it won’t work now. Politicians are like buses. There will be another one along in a minute. Political advisers even more so. (Journalists hop on and off the bus, although ideally they travel separately in a taxi.) May needs a rethink of how her team functions. She demonstrated with this u-turn and the rethink on holding an election that she can adapt.

2 Strong and stable? Weak and wobbly.

3 General elections are really difficult to do well. Someone has to be fully in charge of a party’s campaign, and even then it can be tough. By committee just doesn’t work. Leaders can never, ever, run a campaign themselves and must be stopped if they try to. They’re the retail face on the road and the arbiter on big calls. But that’s it. Campaigns need a boss. This one has too many.

4 Government is different. The boss there is the Prime Minister, but if the set-up around her is too dysfunctional then government, which is rough enough as it is, will not work. Number 10 will need to be restructured once this car crash is over. The power structure will have to change, if May wants to avoid further policy missteps and u-turns.

5  The Tories and Team May needed this shock, but don’t let anyone tell you they planned it. This is a shambles

6 George Osborne is having a terrific time as editor of the Evening Standard. He tweeted the news of the u-turn first. He has some experience of this stuff.

7 Hubris always gets leadership groups in the end. If the economy or a scandal doesn’t first.