I had a relative call me recently and ask, “What the **** is a Snap Election?” Now, this may seem a simple question, and possibly even laughable, but it does seem to sum up many of the concerns I have about the rush towards what will be yet another contentious and polarising election. A simple definition of course is that the imminent general election on the 8th of June is simply one that has been called earlier than expected – with at least the intention of deciding a pressing issue.
Oh, wait? Didn’t we just have one of those? It lead to something called Brexit, and we’ve had lots of talk about how it’s given a huge mandate to the Conservatives to proceed with triggering the process of leaving the European Union. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that a few times in the last year or so. There were a few inconvenient hurdles that had to be leapt to make sure that it was all done properly rather than muddled through, but we definitely had given a mandate to the British Government to get on with it.
Apparently not – in a move that surprised pretty much everyone around the world, let alone just here in the United Kingdom, Theresa May, the Prime Minister, broke a promise to seek a vote before 2020 and decided to seek an exception to a law passed in 2011 that scheduled an election every five years. Her motives for doing so are pretty straightforward:
The Conservatives, for all the rhetoric about the “Will of the People”, have only got a small working majority, and with what is shaping up to be a contentious two years of negotiation lined up they, and the Prime Minister who has firmly staked her reputation to the success of the procedure, need to strengthen that majority. Polls have been suggesting that the Conservatives have a lead in popularity right now as voters flee UKIP and return to the fold. A victory next month will lend Mrs May a legitimacy she obviously feels she needs.
And that last sentence there contains the word that concerns me. No, not legitimacy but will. The gently leaked and then analysed Labour manifesto is a welcome waft of fresh air that totally contrasts with the Conservative agenda, and is unashamedly left wing. Despite the loud scoffing in the right wing press however, there’s very little in it that is controversial. If anything, it is populist and speaks to the concerns of a very broad range of British voters, myself included.
Many parts are aimed at unpicking unpopular and inefficient railway privatisations, or remedying housing pressures brought on by the sale of social housing. Poll after poll in recent years has shown that the British public backs the measures talked about pretty much universally. It has been called the most populist and strongly supported manifesto since Blair’s 1997 manifesto.
By contrast, the Conservatives have areas of manifesto that also talk about things the public cares deeply about. Education, the NHS, fox-hunting, and Brexit are all still highly emotive, and a great many people oppose the Conservatives and their intentions in these areas.
The problem is, I fear that the Labour Party is about to lose, heavily. It sounds totally counter-intuitive to say that the British public is about to vote for a party espousing values and policies with which they roundly disagree, but bear with me. The robotic and continued insistence on “Strong and Stable” is seductive, especially when compared to the loud sounds of dismay within Labour around perceptions of Jeremy Corbyn that are only amplified by the right-wing press at every opportunity.
This means that rather than voting on facts and policies that are specific and quantifiable, people are leaning in to the perceived certainties of comforting phrases like “enhanced prosperity” and “lower crime”. These are statements with which pretty much everyone agrees and hopes to see achieved, and in matters like this we’ve already seen that political results currently swing towards those who can project an image of stability and competence in those fundamental areas.
Theresa May seems to understand this better than Jeremy Corbyn, which is why the loose and woolly Conservative platform seems to be performing better than the precise and informative Labour manifesto. The attack language of the right all seek to identify Labour and the Left as fantasists and unrealistic; that for all you might like what you’re hearing from Labour, you know they can’t deliver it. It is an acidic approach that Labour seem to have been unable to combat, and I suspect any change now is too little, too late.
The British public wants stability, so they’ll vote for the distasteful but competent Conservatives rather than the chaotic Labour party, no matter how much they like their policies.
Please, prove me wrong next month.