Theresa May’s campaign was an insult to the British people. She should be ashamed.
Theresa May staked the fate of the nation on a game of Russian roulette, and promptly shot herself in the face.
If Labour’s 1983 manifesto was ‘the longest suicide note in history’, what can we say of the Conservatives’ 2017 campaign? It was the most astounding feat of sheer lunacy. The most utterly pointless and elaborate lesson in self-sabotage. Something akin to inviting a game of Russian roulette and refusing to let anyone else have a go.
I’m left to wonder whether it wasn’t deliberate. Surely no one could have accomplished so much havoc and chaos by accident. Dick Dastardly would have run a better campaign.
One might have expected an apology after such a display. One might have expected some contrition, some humility. Theresa May began her tenure at Downing Street promising to deliver on the mandate afforded by our vote to leave the European Union. She had a small but workable majority and, with the exception of some token opposition from the Lords, faced few obstacles in Parliament. The decision to pass Article 50 was quickly ratified.
She enjoyed an extraordinary lead in the polls, and yet presented herself as an unfussy, no-nonsense, serious, dull but dutiful political leader. There would, she said, be no snap election. She wasn’t there to make a point, she was there to do the job.
And then, something happened. Some secret signal, some movement in the waters. She suddenly became concerned about opposition! Someone, somewhere, was trying to obstruct Brexit! (The most convenient of convenient excuses. The truth lies in the shambles created by Hammond’s attempt to raise NICs, when he ran into one of the many stupid commitments left over from the Cameron manifesto.)
And so she broke her promise. She decided to go to the public. Thus began one of the most dispiriting, the most humiliating, the most risible election campaigns in British political history.
We should all be offended. Who, exactly, does she think we are? What does she take us for? There were no ideas, there was no vision, there wasn’t anything bold or new or meaningful. We were told, by her surrogates, that she would not take us for granted. This despite the huge lead in the opinion polls. Yet how could anyone respectful of the intelligence and integrity of the voting public dare orchestrate such a squalid campaign?
So complacent was the May Team that they thought they could win a landslide on the strength of an empty three-word slogan. Strong And Stable. Strong And Stable. Strong And Stable, on repeat, like an unreleased B-side from an old Daft Punk album. So confident were they that victory was guaranteed, that it would be a coronation, they scarcely bothered campaigning at all.
In fact, no. It was worse than that. People made much, in the last days of the campaign, of Corbyn’s skill, his mastery of the unorthodox. But his campaign was relatively conventional, for at an election you expect political parties and their leaders to offer something new, something good, something people can believe in, or at least consider.
It was the May campaign which broke the rules, which defied the orthodox. She began with a bizarre appeal — I’m serious, she said; the others are chaotic, they’re messing around. Elect someone who will get on with the job. This from the woman who stopped doing the job in order to ‘fight’ an unnecessary election! Undermining trust, testing the boundaries of belief. A curious way to begin.
Then, mid-way through the campaign, they tried something truly avant garde. Whilst everyone else was busy doing the usual thing, trying to sure up their base, maybe making overtures to marginal constituencies, the May Team set about alienating as many voters as they possibly could. Again, this was evidence of tough leadership. Making the hard decisions. Strong and stable leadership in nobody’s interest. It was bold, it was brave; it takes guts, doesn’t it, to be the first government in living memory to state explicitly that you plan on making your loyal supporters poorer.
And the ignorance of it. The tactless, tone-deaf bravado. The lies. Strong and stable as she takes one position, strong and stable as she changes her mind. A Bloody Difficult Woman (which is true, I suppose, but only if you add the qualifier: ‘to get on a debate stage’.)
Seven years of austerity, crippled public services, and she was strongly and stably offering nothing. Strong and stable as she attacked Corbyn’s record on defense, strongly and stably not talking about her record as Home Secretary, strong and stable as bombs hit Manchester, strong and stable as she promises that nothing will change, that we’ll all carry on as normal; strong and stable when, as though to prove a point, the normal thing happened again in London.
A strong and stable gambler, this no-nonsense machine. At a time when the stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, she went all in and lost.
Much was made, during the campaign, of the relative quiet on the Brexit front. Politicians and media commentators were surprised; wasn’t this supposed to be the Brexit election? No, they all agreed; somehow, for some reason, Brexit wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t a Brexit election at all. Even as the Tory lead began to narrow, when everyone was saying the Tories should really make Brexit the central issue (that’s where they were strongest, after all), it was generally agreed that they had failed. They’d still win, but it was nothing to do with Brexit.
It was nothing to do with Brexit until, all of a sudden, it was. The Tories had ‘lost’ an election which had nothing to do with Brexit because, by some miracle of Remainer calculation, it was all to do with Brexit after all. Clearly, it was decided, this result is a verdict: we have to stay within the Single Market. This is rank dishonesty. It amounts to a betrayal. And yet it was inevitable; Theresa May has allowed it to happen.
And where now do we stand? Outside Downing Street this morning, Theresa May spoke of the need for ‘a period of stability’. I quite concur, but doesn’t it sound familiar? Isn’t that what she promised us before? Isn’t that what she sacrificed when she called her election? Can we believe her, having witnessed so many flaps, so much malfunction?
She has spent much of the day in conversation with the DUP, that redoubt of unreconstructed Orangemen. The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, was the genius behind the Renewable Heating Incentive, a policy so breathtakingly stupid that the term ‘scandal’ is a euphemism. This is a woman, head of a nasty party, whose sole political achievement is the creation of a scheme which literally amounted to burning money.
It is easy to be glib and triumphalist. So easy, in fact, that many devotees of Labour have quite forgotten that, no matter how remarkable their gains, they went up against the most inept and incompetent Conservative campaign it is possible to imagine and still came second. It may not be so easy next time.
Regardless, I cannot see much cause for celebration. Well, Nick Clegg was dethroned; that’s something. But the election campaign was an insult to the British people. The result is about the worst imaginable, and Theresa May is to blame. She should apologise, and show some shame.