Ok, so what’s going on here? Polls are turning dramatically against the Tories and although they still have the sort of lead that would give them a majority not much different to 2015 the two campaigns are moving in radically different directions, both in terms of the offer they make to Britain and in their levels of public support.
All of the momentum is with Labour and it’s underestimated leader and the next 10 days are likely to see them rise yet further. The Paxman interviews and accompanying town-hall featuring just Corbyn and May is the Prime Minister’s most high-risk event of the election. Andrew Neill is a tough interviewer but at least offered May the relative security of being pre-recorded in a small studio. Nevertheless, she harmed her credibility as Strong And Stable with anyone who witnessed her shambolic and highly unstable performance during her low-temperature grilling, whether on TV or on the various clips that showed up on social media in the following days.
The town-hall event forces her to do something she does even less than interviews with journalists: talk to the public. While the audience will be carefully selected, the chances of angry confrontation are high. If she glitches so obviously in a one-on-one setpiece, how will she react to Suzanne, a nurse who has to use a foodbank to feed her family, asking her how life will improve if she votes Conservative? Does she reach for the safety of anti-foregner rhetoric or lie about the amount of money her government will put in to the NHS? What other option does she have? She’s defending a government of failure and decline and standing as the stable candidate while seeming to have a severe and highly localised palsy attack every 30 seconds.
Whatever her answers, she will have been softened up for a wrestle with the returning big-beast of the political interview, Jeremy Paxman. It’s difficult to know what Paxman’s approach will be. He will presumably understand his own power to potentially humiliate May. Does he throw caution to the wind as someone who no longer relies on having to do this for a living and bow out with one final glorious dismantling of a person he must know to be a fool?
More likely is that he will accept his establishment position and back off rather than risk a catastrophe for the party of the establishment. He won’t need to try too hard however, with May’s allergy to public exposure sure to do further damage to her reputation and her polling.
That credibility won’t come back. If May does win a majority, she’s has been too badly damaged to expect a full five year term, or anything near it. And the fact that she specifically asked for a whopping majority, could 10–20 seats be seen as anything other than a rejection of her request. She couldn’t resign but would have to hobble on, forever known as May the Rejected.
Corbyn has a number of assured interview performances secured so far this election and it is clear that his appeal has a cross party element, with middle class Tory voters not unpredictably warming to his honesty and authenticity, particularly when shown in contrast to the evasive and unpleasant May.
From the Tory leadership ‘battle’ we learned that Theresa May is childless and to that I can only say good, she would have been a terrible mother.
The town-hall may prove to be Corbyn’s greatest strength. Here, his uniqueness as a man far more comfortable talking to ordinary people than in the House of Commons, will further reassure those older middle class new swing voters that he’s who he says he is. A strong double showing is not too difficult to imagine and appearing before May works in his favour.
In the last days of the election, expect Corbyn to appear at ever larger rallies as he looks to motivate his vote either directly or through their improving social media output.
May will continue to look dour and serious for these serious times but will otherwise avoid further serious scrutiny as she has her entire career.
Her career so far has a number of parallels with that of Gordon Brown; their long uninterrupted control of a government department; both socially awkward and avoidant of media appearances; an engineered, unchallenged rise to the Prime Ministership; PM at a time of crisis, financial for Brown, political for May. With this election their careers diverge. This is the election Brown didn’t call.
So what are the possible outcomes from here? A large Tory majority seems unlikely. The successful voter registration drive and the surprisingly coloured rainbow coalition Corbyn is putting together should mean a solid turnout for Labour.
The IRA appears to be all the Tories have on him and that is highly contestable and of interest to a limited number of people who aren’t likely to support Labour anyway.
What would winning look like for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn? Any election that stops a Tory government would be an extraordinary triumph, perhaps the most remarkable of all of the democratic earthquakes of the post-Great Recession. An overall majority is impossible but a supply and demand pact with the SNP would be an interesting new paradigm.
Such a result isn’t impossible with renewed polarisation between the two major parties in England but it would take Jeremy Corbyn winning on May’s terms. He wins when enough people decide he looks more like strong and stable.
If this mid-election promise for optimistic politics proves to be a footnote to a thumping Tory majority secured through targeted Facebook ads and the last corrupt manipulation by an almost dead print media then this election will be the last contested by the left in Britain for some time. But that they showed an alternative vision to neoliberalism won’t be forgotten by younger generations.