Thursday’s election is difficult to call in many constituencies; Jeremy Corbyn has mobilised the youth but it is unknown whether he has mobilised them enough to go out and vote; while discussions of a hung parliament were not on the cards when Theresay May confidently called the election in April. With a day left to go in this campaign, Patrick Dunleavy outlines what he considers are the most important lessons of the past six weeks.
- Don’t send an untried leader into a general election campaign
The Conservatives short-circuited their initially planned leadership election campaign in 2016, persuading or arm-twisting every rival candidate to withdraw. So they chose Theresa May in spectacular ignorance of her abilities to connect with ordinary voters – which GE2017 has shown to be pretty well zero. My highlight of the mistaken Tory campaign was watching May talking to a huddle of 50 cloned Tory activists isolated in the middle of an enormous Scottish warehouse, full of packing cases stacked to the ceiling. Even most of them looked unconvinced, and worried something would fall on top of them. Meanwhile Philip Hammond (Chancellor of the Exchequer, a fluent and potentially influential figure) was touring the wilds of East Anglia – and every other minister was keeping their head down.
- There is large public support for a simpler social democratic message, one that Jeremy Corbyn successfully activated and articulated
The British left has long said that if Labour stood out clearly for something (as opposed to the dozy managerialism of the later Blair/Brown years, and of Ed Miliband) the public would respond. You have to make public opinion, they argued, not trail along always letting the Tory press set an agenda. Stand firm for anti-austerity, for defence of public services, and for multi-cultural diversity and people will come around. Corbyn has made this happen, through a combination of looking honest, not insulting opponents, and staying cheerful. He may well still lose, but even the dozy Parliamentary Labour Party can never neglect this lesson again.
- Anti-elitism has mileage for the left as well as the right
Labour’s slogan was “For the many, not the few”. It looks naff at first sight, but endlessly repeated it has a certain populist resonance. Many British voters seem to want to repeat Brexit in a new way, by again doing the transgressive thing on offer, and giving the incumbent government a kick in the backside.
Patrick Dunleavy is Co-Director of Democratic Audit, Chair of the LSE Public Policy Group, and a Professor of Political Science at the LSE. His latest (co-authored) books are The Impact of the Social Sciences (Sage, 2014 – free materials here) and Growing the Productivity of Government Services (Elgar, 2013).