So should it be him or her? The authentic, genuine Jeremy Corbyn, so different to other politicians, who has lately junked principles that he has held for decades in order to win power? Or the “strong and stable” Theresa May who has in a matter of weeks probably done more to undermine her own government than another recession?
Most voters will have made up their minds long before now. Despite this obvious reality, the two public relations campaigns are spinning into delirium, with each of them making ever more frantic and outlandish calculations. Are there really still voters around who are undecided enough to be swayed by yesterday’s “news” that Corbyn had once shared a platform with the jihadist group Al-Muhajiroun? Or by Nicola Sturgeon’s “dead cat” revelation during the STV leadership debate that Labour had privately committed to a second independence referendum? The horses seem to have saved up all these tricks and spurts of energy for a time when, as far as the voters are concerned, they are effectively past the finishing line.
The terrorist attack on London Bridge this Saturday was exploited by both leaders with an eagerness that would cause even Nigel Farage to shudder. The blood was barely dry when May robed herself in COBRA and unveiled a “four-point plan” on the steps of Downing Street. Amidst the deaths and injuries May saw a fortuitous advertisement for how at home she supposedly is in the role of prime minister. All that Corbyn needed to do to gain immediate public esteem was to not respond. Instead, he undertook the bizarre, Farage-ist ploy of demanding May’s resignation on the tenuous grounds that her government had cut police numbers. It was not clear from Corbyn’s statement whether May would be entitled to become prime minister again, four days after resigning, upon winning the election.
It is all adrift, all ever more feverish and incoherent. Why was a haunted-sounding Boris Johnson ever allowed into the studio of yesterday’s Today programme? He babbled and blustered and, as the strain deepened, even gibbered. His charm was meant to be the Tories’ great campaign asset. The interviewer, Mishal Husain, had to repeatedly remind both Boris and his audience that “you’re the foreign secretary… you have a big job in government.” Boris is possibly not the best person to front the Tory contention that Corbyn is too weak and clownish to be in high office.
But why the undisguised panic and the contentless interview? Is it meant to galvanise complacent voters into rallying against Corbyn? I would suggest that this might not necessarily fly.
The story behind May’s stupendous collapse in authority over the previous month is that negative campaigning seldom works. May has been campaigning on the unique selling point that she is not Jeremy Corbyn, just as Hillary Clinton wasn’t Donald Trump and the EU wasn’t as bad as a Brexit. Leading figures in last year’s Remain campaign freely admitted that the EU was in dire need of reform, but the case that they set before the public was nevertheless that “there is no alternative” to Brussels. The TINA argument was originally devised by Margaret Thatcher in the days when the economy could plausibly make many people richer. When the context was instead the economic anaemia across the EU, you can see why people weren’t racing out of their houses to vote for it.
Emmanuel Macron won through negative campaigning but he was standing against an actual fascist. During the Scottish referendum, Better Together almost lost a gigantic lead through negative campaigning. Ardent scaremongers today face the problem of diminishing returns. Voters have seen that Donald Trump is just another schmuck and that he has not lived up to this apocalyptic hype about him being the anti-Christ. They have seen that Brexit did not do what it said on the tin and that its financial meltdown is being constantly postponed. When Tory strategists attempt to weave another bogeyman out of Corbyn, a politician who has hardly ventured far from the mainstream, voters will be more likely to tune out than turn out.
There is a general consensus amongst opinion pollsters that May will win the election on Thursday. The huge hole in this is precisely how. If it was illegal to publish opinion polls, most people would be probably assuming, simply from the atmosphere of the election, that Labour were on course to form at least a minority government.
The biggest statistic of the campaign is 0.3%, the amount by which the economy grew over the last quarter. After seven years of austerity, is this it? Moreover, May characteristically evinces a “crisis, what crisis?” stance over the implications of this number. There was a telling moment in last week’s Question Time when she was confronted by a nurse who was complaining that her wages were too low. May’s rejoinder was sympathy and “there isn’t a magic money tree.” You can’t go around talking to people like this and expect to win an election! The Question Time audience are not children – they know that May does not grow money on a tree. They also know that the whole point of being prime minister is that you are meant to grow the economy and create the wealth to pay nurses a proper wage. May does not only look helpless when it comes to this but oddly uninterested.
The populist parties, UKIP and the SNP, have been written out of the election by virtue of sounding querulous. There has been a subtle adjustment in politics and their great noise is now a distant booming. They are remote from power, a spoiled ballot for people who want to register a self-indulgent statement of discontent rather than determine the future of the country. The latest poll indicates that Labour is already ahead of the SDP [sic] amongst younger voters. Empires rise and fall and anthills come and go.
So what about Brexit? As a Brexiteering blog, Tychy should surely approve of a “strong and stable” presence at the negotiating table? I actually think that Labour and the Tories are equally slippery on the forthcoming negotiations. This election has confirmed that May lacks the basic strength of character that these negotiations require. A rumour circulating at Westminster that the tenacious Brexit secretary David Davis is to be dismissed after the election was printed in the Times before being squashed. It all demonstrates how untrusted and untrustworthy May is. The Times ran with the story because it is not entirely inconceivable that our paranoid and risk-averse prime minister might really knife her readiest Brexiteer.
I wouldn’t trust most of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, with their confused and delayed acceptance of the referendum result, to make a cup of tea let alone a Brexit. Even so, Corbyn personally takes the most progressive line on immigration from any mainstream political leader in living memory.
Brexit is in truth not an event but a process. If the politicians try to chicken out of Brexit, it will be down to the people to screw them to the sticking place once again. The whole lesson of the EU’s history is that politics cannot be privatised or contracted out to faraway representatives, whether they are in Westminster or Brussels. The people will have to own Brexit, through continued democratic vigilance.
So is it him or her? Oh it’s him, I think.