If there’s one worthwhile thing this Conservative government has provided us, it’s the masterclass they’re currently giving on how not to run an election campaign.
Theresa May’s campaign has been one of incompetence and ineptitude. And although Corbyn – and Labour – have surpassed all expectations, that only tells half the story.
I viewed this election as an exercise of damage limitation for the Labour Party. That is still most likely the case, but if we are to be surprised on Thursday, it will be an election lost just as much as it will be an election won.
May and her team have continuously fumbled the ball. From her inability to act human whilst interacting with the public – and the press – to their self-harming manifesto. None of this is to mention recent prime ministerial blunders, such as failing to condemn Donald Trump for reneging on Paris, and appearing pathetically weak in doing so.
Besides the fact that May opportunistically flip-flopped and called an election that will take place a mere 11 days before the EU wants to start Brexit negotiations, her strategy of avoidance has not worked. Whilst the Conservatives haven’t lost a great deal of support, if you’re not gaining ground, you’re losing it, and that’s why they’re vulnerable.
The rhetoric of her campaign has been entirely wrong. Sound bites can be a politicians most effective aid, but when you actively avoid answering questions, and instead offer only empty platitudes, they start to work against you.
Not to mention the ill-advised attacks on Corbyn. When you’re 20 or so points ahead of your opponent, don’t sling mud, you don’t need to. Focus on your campaign, your message. Act as if they aren’t there. Make them irrelevant and look forward, not back. But the Conservatives just couldn’t help themselves, they just had to stick it to Corbyn one last time. Stick the dagger in and twist.
Then you’ve got the decision to skip the BBC Leaders debate. Boy was that stupid. Yes, it could be argued that May would have had a target on her back, and that when you’re already the Prime Minister, there isn’t much to gain – but much to lose – from TV debates. However, May’s non-appearance has created a catalogue of issues for her campaign.
It would seem that her staff are attempting to protect her from self-inflicted damage, or that she doesn’t trust herself. Hardly confidence inspiring stuff from our likely next Prime Minister and thus leader of the Brexit negotiations. Apparently May has the nickname ‘Submarine’ within the Conservative party because when things get difficult, she goes undetected beneath the surface. Again, not exactly reassuring.
Because May didn’t attend the debate, that is now the story, which is much larger and more problematic narrative than a less than stellar debate performance would have been. She’s opened herself up to a variety of legitimate attacks. Such as, “she’s a poor public speaker and debater”, “if she can’t stand up to ‘weak’ Corbyn, how can she stand up to the EU?”, “she never answers the question” and so on and so forth. Even if the public didn’t share those views before, it’s now much easier for May’s opponents to shape that perception of her.
Given a poor debate performance, you can still get out ahead and control the story from the front. But by not turning up at all, May and her team now have zero control over the narrative and cannot effectively dispute the above allegations. If she could, she would have been there in the first place.
Plagued by hesitance to interact with the public, and gaffs when she does, May has done nothing over the past two months to strengthen her Brexit negotiating position, ability to govern, or the self-held view (by her, not me) that she’s a ‘strong and stable’ leader.
The Prime Minister is a politician who has build a career from inaction and finessing the public by saying close to nothing at all. How do you think she won the Conservative leadership? A Brexit compromise candidate, a silent Remainer. Nobody’s first choice, but nobody’s last. She didn’t inherit her position from a world-class fuck up, but they were all she had to beat, and now that she’s up against an opponent with integrity and resolve, she’s being left exposed.
If Theresa May loses on Thursday, this will be her legacy. If she wins, it will not be because of her election campaign, it will be in spite of it.