After a slow start and a few missteps, Jeremy Corbyn has had a positive couple of days as Theresa May and the Tories stumbled over tax pledges and their policy on international aid, with the right wing press preposterously making a populist case against investing in development and British interest abroad.
Jeremy the Patriot
Labour have enjoyed some relatively positive reviews since Friday, particularly in the broadcast media if not in the majority of the printed variety. They have benefitted from a conveyor-belt of positive policy announcements and an impressive collection on positively received campaign events. Even if many of these announcements are retreads of previously signalled policies, they have nevertheless done a good job of drawing attention to their platform and even setting the agenda based on Labour messages:
- A £10 minimum wage, crucially with support for businesses to implement such a major change
- Free school meals for primary school children
- Four new bank holidays every year
These are clear, populist policies which would appear to have cut through to an unusually high level for Labour under Corbyn. The policy for additional bank holidays in particular is cleverly populist in that it allows Corbyn to reclaim some much needed patriotic territory (celebrating our great nations) while also promoting the Union (each part of the Union celebrates the national day of each constituent nation). It’s a good policy to get out early in terms of tone, so has longer-term benefit, while also in the short-term managing to lead the news across the networks. That’s a win-win by any standards.
The nuclear option
The underlying difficulties that Corbyn faces in this election were clear, however, in his appearance on Marr this morning as he was relentlessly questioned on Trident. The nuclear deterrent is an issue to which many on the left are blind, because they fail to realise the extent to which it is a very popular policy in Labour heartlands.
An inconvenient truth for the left is that the leadership and activists are often very much at odds with the position of the masses on this. Arguing the unquestionable ethics of disarmament is not going to be a tactic which will bring the votes rushing to Labour on June 8th, Particularly at a time when Theresa May can and will play on the dangerous state of the world in the light of the coming stand-off between Trump’s America and Kim’s North Korea.
What was abundantly clear from this morning’s Marr interview was that Corbyn needs a simple line to cut through on Trident. It could be that he needs to lead a party into this election on a stated nuclear policy with which he disagrees – and that he will continue to argue beyond June the 8th – if he has any hope at all of neutralising this damaging line and maximising the number of seats Labour gain. It’s not ideal but ideal scenarios aren’t a luxury available to Labour at the moment. There is no overstating how much mischief-making the press and the Tories can make with his current position. In light of that, is he really prepared to let his entire platform fall at the altar of something which he is unlikely to have any control over in any case? They mustn’t allow tactics, or even stubborn ideology, to get in the way of strategy if they are to have a hope of victory (of any sort) this June.
Today we see contrasting polls in The Mirror and The Mail which show either:
- that the Tories have shot ahead since the election was called, achieving a mind-boggling 50% in The Mirror’s poll; or
- that the government’s lead has fallen by half over the week, as a result (according to The Mail) of their flip-flopping over tax pledges and commitment to maintaining foreign aid budgets.
The Mail is obviously reluctant to suggest that any of the plunge in Tory numbers could be down to Corbyn’s improved showing. That the poll showing a tighter gap coincides with Tory messaging this weekend that this race is tighter than the polls suggest should make us suspicious.
For the Tories, this election campaign will be based on a Project Fear of their own: that a vote for anyone other than them will result in a “coalition of chaos” led by the Jeremy Corbyn and propped by Greens and nationalists. If the polls give the conservatives an impossible lead, then they find themselves with a more difficult task in really making people afraid when they go to cast their votes come June.
It’s going to be interesting to see how they strike the balance between a lead which looks so large that many may not vote, and a narrowing gap which gives a sense of momentum to the Labour ranks. As I say, the occasional poll which puts doubt in the mind would serve their purposes well in this scenario.
Anyway it’s always a good rule, where polls are concerned, to treat with caution any exceptional poll in the absence of supporting data. Were we to see more polls in the coming days which suggest a tightening of the gap, that would be interesting. But for now, we would do best to treat this as an anomaly…and a suspicious one at that.
A points win for Labour
So as week one draws to a close, I’d give Labour a win on points which is positive and certainly didn’t seem possible as the election got underway. It gives them a foundation, nothing more, for the weeks ahead when they have seemingly impossible ground to make up.
But the Tories have been eerily reserved so far. I expect we’ll see their message honed this coming week as they focus their guns.
And that focus will largely be upon the Leader of the Opposition himself.