The Conservative campaign team has become increasingly nervous in the past few days. They are pouring money from their wealthy donors into ‘dark’ ads on Facebook and new attack leaflets in response to tightening poll figures.
But since this vanity election was called to try and govern for the next five years with no Opposition, based on the hubristic belief that a huge majority was guaranteed, what has gone wrong with the Conservative campaign?
Theresa May has tried to make this election a presidential contest with the sole focus on her rather than her party or any policies. The problem with making the entire campaign about May repeating the infamous empty slogan ‘strong and stable’ is that unless the facade of strength and stability is maintained the entire strategy begins to unravel. As the mask slips, so do the poll numbers.
Repeating ‘strong and stable’ in an awkward, stunted and clearly scripted manner becomes ridiculous when the person saying it u-turns on the centrepiece policy of their manifesto at the first signs of pressure and scrutiny. It is further undermined when that candidate refuses to defend their record and policies against the other leaders in public debates and only meets ‘ordinary’ members of the public who have been fastidiously vetted by her team in advance of a visit.
Complemented by u-turns on the General Election in the first place, the original switch from Remainer to Brexiteer, and the u-turn on national insurance contributions in her first budget, this all leads to the public beginning to see through the misleading strategy.
The voters are starting to ask questions. If she cannot face other party leaders, how can she hope to face the leaders of 27 EU countries? If she can be outmanoeuvred by Jeremy Corbyn over a one-off television debate, how can she hope to handle skilful European negotiators? If she cannot stand up for her own record and policies, how can she stand up for an entire country? If she won’t put herself in front of me, the voter, why should I vote for her?
On the doorstep people are asking questions, and expressing frustrations, about a variety of issues: austerity and crippling cuts, the NHS, education and the underfunding of schools, the social care crisis, tuition fees and the cost of being a student, the lack of affordable housing, the inaccessibility of childcare, the insecurity of so many jobs, the low wages paid by too many companies, and a myriad of others.
Theresa May has chosen to ignore these issues and attempt to make this election a presidential contest cum second Brexit vote.
But when the strategy relies on purporting strength, and you then reveal your weakness, it falls down.
When the strategy relies on purporting stability, and you then reveal unconsulted, poorly thought out and ultimately abandoned policies, it fails.
And when the strategy relies on presenting yourself as a leader, and you then reveal your total ineptness and lack of leadership qualities, it flounders.
The public already know she will continue to cut school budgets in real terms, continue to cut our NHS, and continue to allow low-wage, food-bank, child-poverty Britain to thrive. But now her self-perceived strengths and selling points – summed up as ‘Theresa May, Theresa May, Brexit, Brexit, Brexit, Strong and Stable, Strong and Stable’ – have unravelled.
With every day of the campaign the Prime Minister is giving voters less and less of a reason to vote for her.
The polls are tightening, Conservative MPs and activists are becoming increasingly frustrated and the momentum is clearly against the incumbent.
Theresa May called a snap election because she wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. The next week could feel like the longest of her life.