It may well be that the current concern over the Labour Party’s surge in the opinion polls will be remembered as one of those panics (“wobbly Thursday” from 1987 comes to mind) that occur from time to time in many election campaigns. Maybe.
Nevertheless, it might be helpful if the Tories started to get their act together, as this brutal piece by The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson makes very clear.
The public like [May’s] style, but her shambolic U-turn over the so-called ‘dementia tax’ has given everyone cause to doubt whether she is as ‘strong and stable’ as she says she is. In fact, she can look indecisive and a bit dozy. She repeatedly promised us that she would not hold a general election, but then did. She made National Insurance increases the cornerstone of her first Budget, only to abandon the idea days later when she worked out that it violated her manifesto pledge. And she made the abolition of the cap on care home fees the single most significant announcement of her manifesto launch, then abandoned that as well when working out that critics would lampoon it as a ‘dementia tax’…. People have not forgotten about the debacle.
And nor should they. As I see it, proposing the dementia tax was (and still may be: we still haven’t been told what the new cap will be) shockingly bad policy. Mr. Nelson disagrees about that, but we both agree (albeit for differing reasons) that announcing it in the way that she did was politically disastrous, an error then compounded by her refusal to put a hard figure on the cap she later conceded. If you are going to do a U-turn, do it promptly and do it properly. May reacted quickly enough to the mess that she and her advisors had made, but then failed to finish cleaning it up. By not specifying what the cap would be she has let unease linger with voters while simultaneously leaving an impression of weakness and indecision.
This is the sort of mistake that Hillary Clinton (a name beginning to circulate in discussions about May’s prospects) would have made—and we saw where that led.
And the fact that the campaign has been more about May than the Conservative Party comes with very specific perils.
In this ridiculously personalised campaign – she always asks us to vote for ‘me and my team’, rather than her party – the personal credibility of the leader matters more than ever. And if the leader is in the habit of accidentally firing tornadoes at her own credibility, then this matters too.
And then, beyond the dementia tax, there was the rest of the Conservative manifesto. It had its moments, but for the most part, as a centerpiece this shabby and oppressive little sermon was worthy only of a funeral pyre.
Not since Labour’s 1983 ‘Suicide note’ has a manifesto launch done so much to cheer the other side. I’m not sure quite what the thinking was behind those fervent disavowals of right-wing politics and the embrace of bad Labour ideas, but if the aim was to lure Labour voters then it doesn’t seem to have been a great success. The Labour recovery – Corbyn surge, even – is nothing short of extraordinary.
Does this matter for Americans?
I’m afraid so: It is difficult to overstate just how much of a menace Corbyn would be. The domestic policies of Labour’s most high profile Chavez fan would be bad enough. But from an American perspective Corbyn’s arrival in 10 Downing Street would wreck its cooperation with Britain and (at the worst possible time) represent a major blow to NATO. If there’s a consistent theme that runs through Corbyn’s foreign policy (other than a psychologically interesting sympathy—one he shares with Lenin— for the thugs and hard men), it has been anti-Americanism.
In the end, I don’t think that Labour wins. Voters consider that May would make the better prime minister by almost 2:1 and, as The Spectator’s Tom Goodenough notes:
On the question of who ‘do you trust to make the right decision about keeping Britain safe from terrorism?’, the answer is never in doubt: 55 per cent say Theresa May; only a third say Jeremy Corbyn.”