General Election 2017 – The anti-drubbing strategy

Not quite a suicide note, but will Theresa May’s manifesto turn epic-sized victory into something rather less asks Steve Beauchampé?

I’ll use a footballing analogy: You’re 4-0 down with thirty minutes remaining and you’re playing for pride, hopefully for a consolation goal. Suddenly, your opponents score an own goal. Then they score another…and spectacular own goals they are too! You’d already had more possession than the scoreline suggests but now you’re running the game, you’ve taken control of it, and the opposition look anything but strong and stable. Remind you of anyone?

Labour are not going to win the forthcoming General Election, but if the Conservatives persist with the policies on social care, pensioner benefits and free school meals outlined in their election manifesto (and let no one claim that party election manifestos don’t matter) they might yet see an anticipated majority of near historic proportions reduced to something more modest, possibly well below a hundred.

Although perhaps I should stop referring to the Conservatives and just use the words Theresa May. Because that’s how she, and by extension they, have sold us this election, and I doubt that most members of the Cabinet, let alone the party hierarchy, had much (if indeed any) input into the policies officially announced last Thursday.

So May and her scriptwriters Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, along with chief election strategist Lynton Crosby, must take full ownership of the increasingly negative fallout and internal party unrest caused by a cheerless document that laid bare the real cost of Brexit, whilst wooing voters with a second decade of austerity:

Up to twelve months unpaid leave to undertake family social care duties (without even access to the already meagre Carers Allowance), a dementia tax more punitive than any inheritance tax ever envisaged by Labour, a downgrading of the triple pensions lock, and the replacement of free school dinners (cooked and prepared by trained chefs using mostly natural ingredients) with free school breakfasts, probably consisting of a packet of sugar-heavy processed cereal, hurried down before morning assembly begins.

No wonder opinion polls have tightened! The Tories (damn, I failed) even had the temerity to complain that they were victims of a scare campaign. Pot, kettle, black.

So how might a social democratic political party with a series of popular manifesto pledges take full advantage of this unexpected gift of the gaffes? Well, not become embroiled in an unnecessary internal row about Trident for a start. What Labour could instead do is turn the remaining seventeen days of the General Election campaign into a relentless examination of Theresa May’s assault on the old and the ill, keeping locked onto the subject, dictating the agenda.

Start by focussing every criticism, every attack on Theresa May rather than on the party she leads. Reinforce this with some effective slogans and soundbites (sorry, needs must, they do work when done well): Your pension – not safe from Theresa May; Your home – not safe from Theresa May; Your children’s nutrition – not safe from Theresa May.

And use every scintilla of a retraction, every Prime Ministerial hesitancy in support of these policies as an example of weakness: Theresa May – not strong but weak, not stable but unsteady: And one for Tim Farron and the Liberal Democrats: Theresa May’s Brexit vision – out of the Single Market, out of the Customs Union, and you, out of a job.

Labour have done remarkably well in defining the terms of the debate for much of this elongated election campaign but now they need to keep the Prime Minister consistently on the defensive until June 8th. If they can, who knows what unforced and unforeseen errors might be induced. As Mike Tyson once observed, everyone has a plan until they get hit.