Can they really make June the end of May?: The Sound of Far Off Shouting From Way Down South…

I have tried to avoid the day-to-day poll fascination that has occupied this blog in previous years, but in the wake of the attack in Manchester an interesting trend has appeared regarding voter intention across the UK for the General Election on June 8th. What makes it interesting, is firstly that it was conducted by YouGov, and we have a regular record of the vote going back to just before May called the vote in April, so a good means of direct comparison. Secondly there is the timing: it was held over Wednesday and Thursday of this week – in other words, clear of the Manchester attack and the first day of response to it, so it can be used as a means of assessing if the predicted ‘Manchester Attack Effect’ has taken place…or what the nature of it might be.

When YouGov polled in April, they showed the Conservatives with a 24 point lead over Labour. As of 25/5 (see above), it was down to 5 points – apparently the damage was even greater on Monday before the Manchester attack, so the 5 points was a ‘recovery’ for May.

Conservatives 43% (-5)
Labour 38% (+14)
Liberal Democrats 10% (-2)
SNP / Plaid Cymru 5% (n/c)
UKIP 4% (-3)
Greens 1%

The collapse in May’s support is testament to what one observer described as the Conservatives trying to erect a personality cult around someone with absolutely no personality – it also reflects how increasingly mocked she has become, the more she has tried to stage manage her rare appearances, and consistently fails to answer any questions that are actually asked of her…to nothing less than a comedic degree. The footage of her abyssmal performances now fill a not insignificant chunk of YouTube.

More seriously, the juxtaposition with the Manchester attack (and the subsequent London Bridge follow-up only a couple of days ago) has had an impact on Theresa May that is likely the opposite of what the attackers had hoped. I remember seeing a similar manoeuvre, made by those who supported violence in the hope of radicalising Muslims for jihad, on October 29th 2004, four days prior to the election between John Kerry and George Dubya Bush. I had just got off the flight from Glasgow at Logan Airport in Boston, and was walking through a narrow corridor towards passport control. At one particular dog-leg in the passageway, there was a huge widescreen television present, and it was broadcasting a hot news item: Osama bin Laden had just delivered a message (via Al-Jazeera) urging the American people not to vote for Bush, criticising him for negligence and his subsequent response. I was arriving to campaign for Kerry, but as soon as I saw that, I knew that the election was over – the US public would likely react predictably to being told what to do by a non-American. Sure enough, Dubya won a few days later – which was almost certainly bin Laden’s objective: it was more in his interest to have someone likely to react aggressively abroad, than an intelligent diplomat in the Whitehouse. I felt the same way with the Manchester attack – scheduled just before the election, with the aim of provoking a radicalising response from a right wing foreign interventionist government.

And yet, that was not what happened.

Instead, the attack called into question May’s competency as Home Secretary in cutting 19,000 police from England and Wales – so that she needed to deploy troops on the streets as replacement police officers during the subsequent emergency. [In contrast, in Scotland – where police numbers have been maintained by the Scottish Government – this was not necessary.] One senior advisor to David Cameron commented that in the light of this Theresa May should be resigning for her failure as Home Secretary, rather than seeking election as Prime Minister. A harsh judgement indeed from one’s ‘own side’ (if such a concept actually exists within the Conservative Party).

So instead of the perhaps hoped-for boost to her ratings that the attackers may have planned for – and that any Conservative Government would have expected in the wake of a terrorist attack – Theresa May’s rating and lead plummeted. Desperate to defend their chosen anointed one, the Telegraph and Mail ran stories trying to attack the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he pointed out that foreign intervention in Iraq by the UK had made the UK a more likely target for terrorists (this should not have been contentious, as it had been publicly confirmed by two previous heads of MI5 – but this is an election campaign, when the journalistic memory grows more desperately selective with the approach of polling day)…yet Corbyn’s support (particularly amongst the more resolutely cynical of his party’s supporters, and the 18-24 year old demographic) continued to rise.

Now, only a couple of days before the vote on Thursday, a poll has emerged showing a Conservative lead of only 1% over Labour. In the mix with a load of ‘final final’ polls from the disparate group of companies trying to redeem their tarnished reputations from the 2015 General Election, it now becomes simply a question of decibels: as ever, the closer to polling day, the more loudly the different parties shout their narrative, supported by polls that show everything from a 1 to 12 point lead for the Conservatives, and consequences ranging from hung parliament to Conservative landslide respectively, and all becomes a noise. The louder you shout, the more chance you have of selling your narrative, and convincing the public that yours is the winning side that they want to be on. James Kelly has noted a seeming disconnect between the high level Conservative ‘message’ (which, lest we forget, is supported by the huge majority of current Labour MPs who actively oppose their own leader – because he is not a New Labour Blairite) that Labour is about to be hammered into oblivion, and the lack of ANY polling supporting this narrative from ANY of the companies. In 2015, a few wise observers (take a bow, Wings Over Scotland) had been predicting for well over a year that regardless of how well Labour was polling, they would never be elected to government, simply because the number of people that thought Ed Milliband could be Prime Minister was way too low…especially against Cameron’s incumbency effect. In contrast this time, as much as Corbyn still has not great ratings in this regard, he is against an incumbent Prime Minister who has laughably unravelled since the launch of the campaign. It is a different proposition – if people can hear that, above the shouting…

In 24 hours the polls will have closed – but the bulk of the results are merely about defining the context within which the second independence referendum will take place. Hardline Conservative – likely to refuse and therefore provoke the Scottish Government to call one anyway – or heavily chastened by Labour inroads, and the possibility of horsetrading. The starting pistol fires soon…

“ So the European Broadcasting Union [@EBU_HQ] has found the UK press the least trusted out of 33 countries. Again. This wouldn’t matter much, we’re used to it, it’s not a surprise. …the failure of the British press is a dire cultural and political problem we’ve just become used to. …Now Corbyn is neatly aligned with terrorism and Theresa May is steadfast and strong. The election is over. There are soldiers on the streets and propaganda in your newspapers. There is little more to say.” (Mike Small, ‘Media, Terrorism, Democracy’, 25/5/2017)

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