With less than a fortnight till the election, campaigning got blown off course by the London terror attack. But while it pushed security up the agenda, the focus remains on a mega-poll promising the Tories an easy win. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, this will alter the parties’ direction in coming days.
After the outrages in London and the Manchester Arena during the 2017 campaign, Jeremy Corbyn highlighted police cuts on Theresa May’s watch – and that may have helped deprive her of her majority in parliament.
But the outcome’s unlikely to be affected that way this time, as the emphasis will remain on persuading waverers to abandon traditional loyalties, and instead vote tactically.
And both main parties recognise the shifting allegiances brought about by Brexit make their job harder than it’s ever been.
During quieter times in the trenches, the chaps would stand to at dawn each day for what they called ‘the morning hate’. Sometimes taking pot-shots at one another, to relieve the tedium. Then they’d all sit down to brekkie.
It’s much like that at this stage of an election campaign. Once the parties have got their headline-grabbing manifesto launches out of the way they just squabble about who is and who isn’t appearing on telly and radio. And plod on with the dreary round of constituency visits.
Same speeches, day after day. Same gestures, same jokes, same old same old. In the end one backdrop blurs into another and commentators struggle to fill their columns.
Of course the odd hit hurts. Like the Chief Rabbi tearing into Labour over its failure to root out antisemitism. Powerful and disturbing, but the accusation’s been around a fair old while, same as charges of islamophobia levelled at the Tories.
Happens the anti Labour thing hit the headlines at exactly the moment Jezza was due to launch his ‘race and faith’ pledge. Timing? Discuss.
But that very day Bojo was wooing the agricultural vote by helping to shear a sheep. Also risky, given stories swirling around for years about old Etonian Tory prime ministers getting up close and personal with farmyard animals.
For the record, btw, David Cameron has flatly denied popping his you-know-what into a pig’s mouth as part of a uni initiation ceremony. Heaven forfend, but tongues will wag. Human ones, that is. Can’t speak for little piggy’s.
No question, though, everyone was talking about Bojo’s pitch for power. Definitely more under than overarm, as it turned out.
Annual extra spending over the next few years below three billion pounds? Yet this would somehow magic up masses and masses of extra bobbies and nurses. And, oh, let’s not forget, loads of new hospitals too.
Scratch the surface and think about it. Makes the Wizard of Oz look like King Kong.
The long and (extremely) short of it is that all he wants us to care about is getting Brexit done.
That, of course, and getting potholes filled in. An extra five-hundred-million pounds a year, he says, and it’s job done.
Not quite the same thing, but the Lib Dems do at least want to legalise pot. Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got much to say on either topic. Though one of his hobbies, bizarrely, is photographing manhole covers.
Not a lotta people know dat. But it is true.
Also true is his promise to shell out nearly eighty-three billion pounds over the next few years. Which makes the Tories’ offer look the odd fifty-pee piece you might find lodged in the back of the sofa.
Little wonder the respected think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinks they’re both having a laugh. On the grounds that Bojo will have to shell out more than he says, while Labour simply can’t spend that much that quickly.
But they’d try, obvs. And Tory fingers are crossed that such full-blooded socialism will put off so many punters they’ll flush Jezza down the lavvy of history.
And, for sure, last week’s YouGov poll, carried out according to the complex format that correctly forecast the hung parliament last time round, gives Boris Johnson a yummy majority of sixty-eight seats.
Seeing as everyone else got it wrong back then it’s little wonder this prediction is being taken seriously.
But, strangely perhaps, Boris’s right-hand man Dominic Cummings finds it worrying. He reckons things are a great deal tighter than they seem, and a hung parliament is still very much a runner.
Maybe he’s just being an Eeyore. Loads of people loathe him anyway. Think he’s a scruffy, scraggy oik. Expletives deleted here.
However, there is a counter-argument to the Jezza for the junkyard line of thinking.
It goes like this.
The best, the very best he can hope for, is a hung parliament. This is surely as obvious to undecided voters as it must be to him.
That said, the idea of everybody being taxed into oblivion to pay for grandiose projects goes in the bin. They’d have to be ditched because any Labour government would depend for survival on help from other parties.
Besides which, moderate-minded MP’s on the Labour back benches would be flexing their muscles in no time. Threatening rebellion if he even tried to push through radical policies.
If that thought strikes enough voters who really want to remain in the European Union but really don’t like Labour then who knows? They might, just this once, go with the reds anyway.
Ok, Jeremy Corbyn continues to vacillate over EU membership. But he is at least promising to try for a softer way out, then hold a second referendum.
And here, suddenly, it gets interesting.
Tony Blair reckons this weirdest of weird hoojamaflips isn’t really a general election at all, but six hundred and fifty mini-elections.
And one seat-by-seat analysis suggests it would take less than a third of Remainers voting for whoever’s fighting their corner to deprive the Tories of a majority in parliament.
Admittedly this figure comes from number-crunchers working for a group campaigning to keep UK in the European Union, but if it’s anything like right it’s scary for Bozzie. Of course he’ll try harder.
And, good for the goose, good for the gander, Jezza’s guys are going to lean on leave-minded Labour voters in their own constituencies. To make sure they don’t abandon the cause and go Tory, just to see Brexit through.
It’s like herding cats. Both main parties know they’re up against people minded not to vote for the person they want, but against the one they don’t want. This is not called the nose-peg poll for nothing.
Finally, with Donald Trump checking in to UK this week, and Boris Johnson trying to avoid him – for fear he might scare the Tory horses – it’s worth quoting a previous president.
‘You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’.
Not only did Abraham Lincoln use that line, he also proved the point, by getting assassinated.
Don’t suppose it’ll come to that on December 12th, but it’s a dead cert the election will displease a lot of people for a lot of time, whatever the outcome.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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