If I was to believe my Twitter bubble over the past few days I’d be thinking something astonishing was about to happen. Labour tribalists are all aquiver. Jaded, dispassionate cynics are waking up and smelling the coffee. Even the BBC’s correspondents, having casually written Corbyn’s Labour off weeks ago, are forced to admit things are getting closer. Too close for Tory HQ, where the apparatchiks are giving headless chickens a run for their money as they press the panic button. Can Labour really pull off the biggest election shock since 1945?
The answer is still a short and simple no.
In 1945 there was no polling. Even though the polls got it badly wrong in 2015 (understating the Tory vote note) they can’t be that wrong. Its true there’s been a dramatic shift since the local elections, and more particularly since the Tory manifesto was launched. The Tory lead has been almost halved, from overwhelming to merely comfortable. Most of the change came in the week after the 18th, when there was a small fall in the Tory ratings but a larger rise in Labour’s.
It seems that those who were don’t knows but previous Labour voters at the beginning of the campaign have now overcome their qualms and are swinging back behind Labour. Previous Ukip voters, although still heavily Tory, are slightly more likely now to return to Labour. At the same time Corbyn’s strategy seems to be enthusing younger voters, where Labour support is consolidating.
Policy is less important as an attractor or repellent than image. The superficiality of the Tory reliance on parroting ‘strong and stable’ and contrasting May with Corbyn hasn’t worked. Even through the distorting mirror of the media, people can spot May’s flip-flopping over care for the elderly. She just doesn’t come over as ‘strong and stable’, proving that marketing myths have to have some credible core in order to work.
Tory panic is now displayed in their strategy for the remaining days. All they can come up with is a renewed attack on Corbyn while ratcheting up the abuse. They’re now using their tame press to imply he supports terrorists, re-running the British state’s war with the IRA and ridiculing his personal qualities. The aim is not to convince waverers so much as shore up the Tory vote and prevent further defections. This is a high-risk strategy as it depends on ensuring the same questions aren’t asked of Theresa May.
The key polls come this weekend when we’ll know whether the gap continued to close this week. At present the few polls published with fieldwork since the 25th suggest it’s stabilising. In order to win however, Labour needs, both this week and next, to gain support as it did last week. This is unlikely as it nears its historic recent peak. (Last week it was five points higher than Miliband’s score in 2015).
Therefore, it now depends on the Tory vote slipping. But here Labour faces a long-term problem in the proportion of over-65s who intend to vote Tory. A solid 60% or so of pensioners are sticking stubbornly with the Tories. This lump remains unmoved by May’s U-turns, more expensive social care, the collapse of the NHS and the promised end to safeguarding their pensions, having done relatively well out of recent Tory Governments. Thirty years of neo-liberal conditioning, relentless authoritarian British nationalist brainwashing and the lack of an alternative have done their work well and produced a politics of deference and a collective resignation that results in a perhaps wearisome but nonetheless dutiful Conservative cross on the ballot paper.
Labour’s only chance lies in previous non-voters confounding the pollsters and turning out to vote in larger numbers. Or in tactical voting.
A three or four week election campaign is hardly enough time to convince the poor and dispossessed to stop voting against their own interests. Or to persuade them to give up their cynicism about a political class (Tory, Labour and Lib Dem) that has royally stuffed them for the best part of 40 years. It’s going to take more than the patience of St Jeremy when being savaged by Oxbridge-trained journos to overturn that. Why should they believe that Labour has suddenly changed its spots and offers a credible alternative? Indeed, if the polls can be believed, non-voters in 2015 are as likely to be intending to vote Tory now as Labour.
As for tactical voting, this will only have a marginal impact of a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies in the absence of any encouragement from the Labour and Lib Dem party leaderships.
Things might have been different. There’s a lot of what ifs floating around. Such as …
- What if the parliamentary Labour Party had united behind Corbyn last year instead of using the Brexit vote to stab him in the back?
- What if Labour could have become less arrogant and tribalist, able to move into the twenty-first century and recognise the need for a new politics, one more open to other forces?
- What if Labour had embraced proportional representation?
But it hasn’t. So it won’t (win, that is). And of course, had it done these things Theresa May would never have been advised to call an election in the first place.