May miscalculates - Corbyn Succeeds

by Scott McDonald

Conservative Prime minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election on 8 June 2017 was based on a number of political miscalculations. These miscalculations included:

  • The huge Tory lead in the polls and Jeremy Corbyn’s poor ratings suggested that she could win by a landslide. This was encouraged by the mainstream media and believed by many.
  • The Parliamentary Labour Party with no confidence in their Leader, often presented as unelectable, even by his own side would mean a poor, weak and divided campaign. A divided party with a weak, embattled leader is usually regarded as not popular with the public.
  • Tarring Corbyn as a friend of terrorists would work with the public.
  • May thought the election would all be about Brexit with her being presented as the only one strong enough to properly negotiate a good deal for Britian.
  • She would stand above the petty fray of electoral campaigning and debate and act Prime Ministerial. Hence the decision to avoid television debates and speak only to audiences of invited supporters.
  • A snap election meant that the manifestos had to be produced hurriedly and on this occasion, did not need to be substantial. Her calculation must have been that this didn’t really matter in a short campaign all about Brexit.

However, it all began to unravel very quickly.

Jeremy Corbyn had an excellent election campaign, touring the country and speaking to large crowds in public places unlike Theresa May, who spoke to small private groups often in warehouses. The underestimation of Jeremy Corbyn began to be revealed as the campaign developed and the broadcast media, due to electoral rules, had to give him more exposure. Jeremy Corbyn’s personality and politics contradicted the media’s characterisation of him. And, then there were more gaffes: when the thin Tory manifesto announced, what became known as, the “dementia tax” and the Tories were forced to retreat on the policy, May’s pathetic attempts to deny any change in policy undermined her slogan “strong and stable” and led to the charge of “weak and wobbly”.

On the other hand, the Labour manifesto, usefully leaked, and so giving two bites of the cherry, proved to be extremely popular with its commitments to end austerity, nationalise the railways, build council homes, stop aggressive foreign wars, end student fees, and to pay for it by taxing the rich.

The election debate became about other issues concerning people rather than simply Brexit. However, one calculation that May would have made and got generally right was that UKIP voters would mainly desert to the Tories.

Theresa May’s refusal to take part in television debates turned into another own goal as she increasingly looked scared of appearing before the public rather than Prime Ministerial. Corbyn grew in stature as May’s credibility diminished. Running a presidential-type campaign had become counter-productive for the Tories.

Corbyn’s response to the Manchester bombing in linking the cause of terrorist attacks to that of wars in the Middle East resonated with the public. In his speech following the terrorist attack, he said that, “We must be brave enough to admit the ‘War on Terror’ is simply not working.”

Incensed Tory and right-wing Labour candidates, egged on by the Tory media, branded the speech “appalling” and “offensive” and claimed that it was out of touch with the mood of the country. How wrong they were! Rather than running away from the issue, given the attack on him as a “friend of terrorists”, Corbyn had taken a calculated risk and it worked. People are not stupid and can see that these appalling wars of destruction, with tens of thousands of innocent people killed like those in Manchester, does not make us safer.

Ironically, the Tories, usually presented as the defenders of law and order, were exposed as the cost-cutters of the police under May when she was Home Secretary. The London terrorist attack further exposed the Tory cuts on public services. The response of the Emergency services, including firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses and police to the Manchester and London terror attacks made the case all the more powerful for an end to the Tory cuts.

As Home Secretary, May’s abysmal record of failure on the Tory promise to bring down immigration numbers also worked against her.

Jeremy Corbyn’s success

The Tories may have won a majority of seats in the House of Commons but the election result was regarded by everyone as a victory for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. The Tories who had gone into the General Election with a small majority now found themselves without an overall majority. Theresa May, in order to stay in power, chose to do a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Her much weakened authority was further undermined.

Following the General Election the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy happened and in the immediate days following the fire the different approaches of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were stark. May didn’t meet the victims of the fire on her visit to the borough and she stood charged with a lack of compassion. Under pressure she consented to a meeting with residents, not at the scene of the tragedy, but at 10 Downing Street.

Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, visited and met victims and residents, showing compassion and understanding of their plight. His statement about the acquisition of empty properties in the borough to house the victims, who had lost everything, was met with applause whilst the Tory media and their apologists derided the idea as illegal. Many of the victims of the fire have still to be properly accommodated.

It was a humiliating few weeks for a Prime Minister, who had expected to return to Downing Street with a landslide. The slogan “a strong and stable leadership with Theresa May” became the mantra posed against a Parliamentary Labour Party in which the majority had no confidence in their Leader. Seven weeks later, after May’s calling of the General Election, at the first Prime Minister’s Question Time, Jeremy Corbyn entered the Chamber to the unimaginable sight of a standing ovation from the Labour benches, and was able to state that the Labour Party stood ready to form a “strong and stable” government with him as Prime Minister.

Lame Duck Prime Minister

Theresa May is not only regarded as a lame duck Prime Minister but a prisoner, as the Tory Party have yet to sort out who might replace her and do not want an early election. Mrs May must have welcomed the Parliamentary summer recess like no other MP. She could stay out of the public glare for a few weeks and avoid any more embarrassing incidents, further gaffes and humiliations. On her summer walking trip in Switzerland Theresa May would lament her decision to call a snap General Election. She had presented it as being necessary because of the small Tory parliamentary majority and the need for a clear and strong mandate to enter the Brexit negotiations. Her miscalculations had ended in humiliation. Theresa May is in the words of George Osborne, “a dead woman walking”.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn took once again to the campaign trail visiting marginal constituencies, largely unreported by the media no longer constrained by election rules. Despite those who did all they could to oust him and continue to plot against him and his policies within the Parliamentary Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn’s position as Leader has been strengthened. No one, including the Tories and their media, can now say that he is unelectable.


Washington January 2017: Britain's new and delighted Prime Minister, Theresa May meets the USA's new President Trump