Some of you may already be fed up with the General Election but the Commons only officially closed last night and Johnson will head to the Palace and officially launch the Tory campaign later today. Clearly a number of the other parties have already launched their campaigns. So what have we learned so far?
I have a few quick observations which we can unpick over the next five weeks. I am also grateful for some great suggestions from friends about some other angles i should cover – including what the experience is like for candidates at a local level. Having fought 5 General Elections with a 3-2 win ratio I think I now about the mixed emotions of winning and losing!
Polls Already showing some sign of minor movement
I started off by giving a health warning about Polls. That remains. Don’t get too excited just yet. There is a long way to go. But even in the first week as an election is called the Hypothetical Question – “if there was General Election tomorrow how would you vote for” requires a bit more of an honest answer! So it’s early but there is some sense of a squeeze on the minor parties numbers in some polls. It is way to early to say we will get back to the dominance of the two main parties in 2017, but it is a trend we need to watch carefully. Perhaps the 4 way splits in English seats may not be as large as first suspected or shown in the Euros.
The parties have an election grid. They are competing to make each day of the election fought on their chosen territory. Labour will try to make sure this is not a Brexit election but one fought on Austerity, the NHS, Education and Green Economy. The trouble with these Grids is they are of course blown out of the water when something like the insulting comments from Rees-Mogg are made. I have listened carefully to the full interview a few times as I am now always suspicious of artificial rows being created by words being taken out of context (more on the Fake News later). But I think you are left in no doubt that he was insulting. To make matters worse local NW Leicestershire MP Bridgen went on Radio4 to help his colleague and only made things worse by suggesting that he would have given a better decision than the official advice.. if you get the chance listen to him it’s cringeworthy. He is a Unifying figure. I haven’t found anybody yet who likes Bridgen.
Quite rightly these comments dominate the news cycle and distract from the Tories message for the day, but they also need more attention on why this populism is bad for public safety..The stay Put strategy has a role to play but as we now know other circumstances with the cladding made this situation different at Grenfall. But we should leave it to the official Inquiry to make these judgements about the future – not for people like Rees-Mogg to clumsily get involved.
My friend Stephen Bush has followed these events in far greater detail than me and makes the pint powerfully that in 9 out of 10 cases the advice to evacuate would lead to more deaths.
One of my biggest problems with Labour over the last two years has been its lack of leadership and muddled approach on Brexit. Much of that problem as far as I am concerned falls at the feet of the leadership and the team that surrounds Corbyn. It is one of my main problems heading into this election.
So desperate for this election not to be about Brexit Corbyn has gone early to set out Labour’s position, create the lines you will hear throughout the election campaign and then hopefully move the agenda onto firmer territory – the NHS, School and the environment for example. I don’t think we can simply talk about Brexit for 5 weeks so they are right to do this. However, does the policy stack up? I am afraid it sounds as though it is full of some of the same Unicorns we have seen for the last few years.
So what would a ‘sensible’ new deal with the EU look like and how could this be renegotiated and put back to the people in a referendum in the timetable proposed? But the fundamental problem for Labour is the inability for Corbyn and many other front benchers to answer the simple question of whether they would campaign for Remain or the so called sensible Brexit they had just negotiated. Watching Corbyn and others squirming on that question in interviews shows their lines simply aren’t good enough on this. For Remainers like me I am still struggling to back Labour’s position. The Lexiteers at the heart of the leadership are still having far too much sway. Corbyn’s ambivalence makes him look shifty.
Tories off to another awful start in their Campaign
I have been genuinely baffled how slow and awful the Tories campaign has been for the first week. They have managed to misstep almost every day so far. You would have thought that they recognised that this was on of the key factors leading to May losing seats at the last election. Whilst they hope Johnson won’t be as unpopular as May by the end of the election I am still convinced that he is not the campaign winner a lot of Tory MPs assume he is. His personality won’t be enough to make up for 5 more weeks of their poor showing so far. Given the media coverage and the confidence shown by Labour and the Lib Dems I’d give the opposition a 4-0 win at the moment on who ‘owned’ the days and the news cycle. I have left out the Brexit party for now. Their poor and lacklustre launch and the sight of Farage being too frightened to fight a seat has reduced their possible impact. But we need to watch this carefully. In this game of 4D chess things could change quickly.
Whilst I am critical of the Tories campaigning so far there is a long way to go and I have also been struck by the number of conversations over the last week with people who start off saying they will never vote Tory, have voted Labour in the past but can’t bring themselves to vote Corbyn. His poll ratings show this and it daily. The small part of the electorate who *love* Corbyn won’t hear a word of this. But it has to be addressed. It real and genuine. I feel and hear the passion from those who are desperate and don’t know what to do! I will return to this as the campaign progresses.
Loughborough – once the Tories have announced their candidate we can have a proper look at the outlook for the seat! Hopefully this should be sorted by the weekend.
These are quick first impressions. I have already found that I am largely consuming the election from outside the internal bubble and it’s a good place to be!