Friday, 9 June 2017

Weak and wobbly failed. Admitting errors and preparing for a different future

Well, I got it wrong. Badly wrong. I expected that under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour would emerge from the British General Election with its worst result since 1983, while the Conservatives would increase their majority.

By comparison, the actual result was far more encouraging. The Tory Party lost its majority altogether. Indeed, nobody won a majority in the House of Commons. The Conservatives emerged as the biggest party, but lost seats, and can only form a government by making a deal with Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland – who may well prove difficult bedfellows.

Even so, my forecast was entirely mistaken. I’ve fallen victim to the trap outlined by the physicist Niels Bohr: “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. Simple honesty means I have to admit as much.

The results: a lot more red than expected
My first error concerned Theresa May. My view was that while she might be a poor Prime Minister, she struck me as an outstanding politician, able to run a brilliant and effective campaign. In the event it was nothing like that.

She was wooden, she was dull. Above all, she launched a manifesto which seemed to attack the very people who would normally be counted on to vote for her. She refused to debate with her opponents, an apparent lack of courage that clashed with her claim to offer “strong and stable leadership” – a mantra she repeated until it became tedious. It was a mantra undermined by the changes she attempted to make when she realised that several of her positions were putting off some of her core votes. “Strong and stable” seemed to be giving way to “weak and wobbly”.

In that context, it was interesting to hear a young voter tell the BBC that he’d been put off the Conservatives by “the number of times Theresa May changed her mind”. 

On the other side of the balance sheet, I admit that Corbyn astonished me by the quality of his campaigning in the last few weeks. He hit the right note again and again, landing effective and important blows on Theresa May. That was perhaps most notable when it came to terrorism – and there were two attacks in Britain during the campaign – where Corbyn rightly, and powerfully, argued that we were paying the price of cuts to police numbers as a result of the fixation an applying austerity policies.

He certainly needs to be given the credit he’s due. He did well. What he now needs to do is to keep that spirit going and turn his dynamism as a campaigner into equal effectiveness as leader of the Opposition.

Because let’s not get carried away. Labour’s done far better that many, including me, expected. But with 261 seats, Labour won only three more MPs than after the disastrous defeat of 2010. So a better result than forecast but by no means a good result. There are no prizes for coming second in an election. Theresa May will form a new government, Labour will again lead the Opposition.

The difference after this election is that Labour is now only 51 seats behind – a large number but a shortfall that could be overturned at the next election. Which may be soon. Theresa May will be leading a minority government and they are notoriously vulnerable. While I don’t want to rush into any more forecasts having got the last ones so wrong, there has to be at least a high probability that there will be another election within a relatively short time.

Preparing for that will need excellent opposition in the meantime. The spirit that Jeremy Corbyn generated in the last weeks of the campaign needs to be maintained in preparation for the next one. Having done so well recently, Corbyn should be encouraged to maintain that style of leadership – and I’ll be delighted if he does.


Anonymous said...

I have to admit that though not a fan of Jeremy he gets the prize from me for most improved politician of the year, I think he promiss d every thing to everybody which in reality he could never have delivered. As for May she ran a lacklustre show and totally upset her core voters with some very poorly judged manifesto. Crazy situation we find ourselves in week and unstable.

David Beeson said...

He certainly did a lot better than feared, and May did a lot less well than I expected. But we still didn't win, something which we'll have to remember again after the celebrations for avoiding a complete metldown end...