• Author:Ben Jones
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The circus gets ready to leave town

In two days, we go to the polls and thankfully put an end to this dreadful, miserable election campaign.

I am voting for my local Conservative candidate in the hope that Southport goes blue for the first time since 1992, overturning a Lib Dem majority of 1322. I am hoping that Theresa May returns to No 10 as Prime Minister with an increased majority. I hope the results support my view that this country will not elect a government on the sort of anti-business, anti-aspiration, economically illiterate prospectus being put forward by the once great Labour Party, now reduced to a protest movement with a leader who is fundamentally unelectable in an election outside his party. I have these hopes but the fears that naturally arise when the polls and the recent media coverage suggest we are facing a deeply uncertain result and outcome. Thankfully, we will know soon enough – the waiting is nearly over.

In the meantime, I wish to reflect on the campaign. I would call the most depressing in living memory, but of course it is only the worse campaign since the last national election – 2016’s hopeless EU referendum campaign.

Firstly, hats off to Jeremy Corbyn. He has far exceeded the expectations that were set for him, including mine. He has of course spent most of his time in safe Labour seats, surrounded by adoring crowds, reprising his leadership election campaign and dare I say, preparing for his re-election campaign after June 8. The visuals of his campaign have therefore been projecting a sense of a grassroots movement supporting him – a groundswell of public goodwill ready to sweep him to power. When in more traditional settings – such as the Andrew Neil interview or his performance on Woman’s Hour or Question Time – he has been exposed as not on top of the detail and not ready to govern. So too Dianne Abbot. Enough said.

His voting record and history of campaigning against the police, security services, Trident and UK foreign policy as well as his views on shoot to kill, terrorism and terrorism legislation haven’t sat well (for mainstream, centrist voters) in a campaign overshadowed by the horrendous events in Manchester and London Bridge. That said, he’s had a good campaign and will be happy. If I was a Labour supporter, my concern in message terms would be that he has spent the campaign talking to his base, preaching to the converted and offering very little to those who have voted Tory in the past. All the lessons of New Labour’s election wins have been ignored in favour of a purer offer to the electorate.

The Tory campaign has given lacklustre a bad name. I hope that Theresa May is much better at governing than she is at campaigning. It has been hard to watch at times. Actually, most of the time. Although I agree with many of the policy positions, the messaging and packaging has left a lot to be desired. Only in last Friday’s Question Time special have I seen the Prime Minister at her best.

Her selection of seats to visit has however been interesting. The long list of Labour held seats she has campaigned in suggests that – rather like in 2010 and 2015 – the renowned Lynton Crosby polling machine has the Tories well ahead and in the business of building on its current majority not trying to hang on to what it holds. The Tory campaign has been high on perspiration but very, very low on inspiration. Messaging has been too vague and workmanlike. Too many platitudes and cliches. Not exciting enough as a big picture or compelling enough as a detailed programme to capture the public’s attention. There has been no grand vision. Nothing optimistic except for a positive spin on Brexit and the opportunities it offers. I am not advocating a David Cameron “it pumps me up” moment; but in a campaign built around one person it is has been a misjudgement to place so much emphasis on someone who is plainly uncomfortable talking about herself, her feelings, her emotions and her vision. The Prime Minister wants to be seen to be someone who gets on with the job which is fine, but part of the job is persuading people to give you the job in the first place.

Tim Farron’s national political career ended when he took on Andrew Neil last week – it was like watching Real Madrid playing The Rose and Crown. He will surely be looking for other work on Friday especially if, as now looks increasingly likely, that their EU second referendum position has failed to cut through and they lose seats. He has spent too much time talking, talking, talking and pleading with the electorate. Overall, he has tried too hard and failed to meet the standard of third party leadership and campaigning set by Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg.

The polls have been all over the place and the media have done their usual thing of creating a narrative which suits their purpose; building excitement, suspense and controversy. The story of a big Tory win and Labour’s unelectablity got boring after the first week or so and so they gleefully have tucked into a story of narrowing polls, Tory turmoil and Labour surging. It all has the feel of Brexit when in the media echo chamber they operate in they all were saying the same thing, ignoring the reality found on the ground. We will see who is right on Friday morning but the feedback from campaigners is more likely to offer a picture of what is really happening than in the world on Twitter, the BBC or the written press.

Once the results are in we will know whether the much-discussed realignment of British politics we have heard about for the last few years is dead. It has all the feeling of an old-fashioned UK two party general election, with Labour and the Tories fighting it out (leaving Scotland aside, with its unique, near one-party state).

As a former football manager once said; “I never make predictions and I never will”. I however do make predictions and, as Paddy Power will testify, getting it regularly wrong doesn’t stop me!

By Friday morning I think we will see  a Tory government returned, with a majority of around 65. Labour will get around 33% of the vote, solidifying Jeremy Corbyn’s position – although in the real world that is a failure. That then begs huge questions for Labour moderates on their next move. The Lib Dems will lose seats  down to 5. The SNP will lose a handful of seats but will stay about 50. UKIP will sink without trace – good riddance. The Greens will probably hold on to Caroline Lucas’ seat but no more. There will be small changes in Northern Ireland with Sinn Fein picking up Fermanagh and South Tyrone and South Belfast will change hands (although not sure who to!) and in Wales the picture will be pretty much as we are now, perhaps with one or two Tory gains.

Overall, the campaign has brought lots of heat but not much light. After having dominated public life for the last few weeks, the circus will shortly leave town. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. It looks like we will be stuck in the middle with Theresa May. If I’m right I will be happy – but happier still that the campaign will be over.



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