A Government in power for over half-a-decade with a 12.4% lead over the opposition in the opinion polls; everyone expects the Government to win the upcoming General Election and plans are already afoot within his own party to replace the opposition leader once the anticipated defeat occurs. With such a comfortable lead for the Government, the result seems a foregone conclusion as pollsters’ predictions are taken for granted. But this is 1970 and Harold Wilson’s six-year tenure as Prime Minister is poised to come to a surprise end. The pollsters got it wrong, as did the Conservative Party inner circle, not to mention the Labour-voting electorate, whose complacency convinced them their man would be back anyway and therefore wouldn’t necessarily require their vote if they couldn’t be bothered.
I only exhume this historical event from their archives due to the latest forecast of Labour’s expected annihilation at the 2017 ballot-box just over a month from now. When polls suggest the Tories could end up with as outrageous a majority as 150, the sense of the job being done before the current Parliament has even been dissolved is bound to affect the electorate to a certain degree. Some Tory voters may figure their vote isn’t essential when their party will win anyway, whereas some Labour voters may figure there’s little point in voting when it’s evident their party will be obliterated. Moreover, UKIP and Lib Dem voters may also feel their vote won’t count when Theresa May is guaranteed to remain PM.
After the last General Election, when the polls were way off the mark in their predictions, there is no longer the faith in polls that there perhaps was in the run-up to previous General Elections; but persistent exposure to them via the media does still impact on thought processes before voting. Wales has now been earmarked as the 2017 equivalent of Scotland in terms of Labour disasters, with the Tories predicted to take more seats there than at any time since their main opponents in the valleys were the Whigs; some claims estimate they could win as many as 21.
Following the moderate revival of Conservatism north of the border – seemingly offering the only alternative to the SNP – the Tories are also confident they can regain some of the ground there that they lost back in 1997. Latest polls put Conservative support in Scotland at 33%, enough to give them 12 seats. 10 of those seats would have to be won from the SNP, whereas in England and Wales the Tories are now predicted to capitalise on the fall in UKIP support as well as taking 65 seats from Labour. If, as these polls suggest, the Government will end the General Election with around a horrific 400 seats, what is the point even bothering to vote? It’s a done deal, isn’t it?
Yes, Labour won a record-breaking 418 seats in 1997; but that victory came on the back of the Tories being in power for 18 years, with John Major’s popularity as low as the standing of the various prominent members of his Cabinet who had been embroiled in ‘sleaze’. Today, the Conservatives have effectively been in charge for seven years (give or take the odd Lib Dem), and though the problems facing the country now are far more substantial than they were twenty years ago, a change of leader last summer and a clear-out of the Cameroons from the Cabinet has helped distance Theresa May and her chosen few from some of the damage done by the previous administration. Equally, the fact that Jeremy Corbyn can’t even count on the support of half of his MPs doesn’t exactly fill the electorate with confidence in his ability to lead the country.
On paper, many of Corbyn’s policy proposals are ones few would argue with; there is a vast disparity between the haves and the have-not’s that has gone unaddressed by Government for a long time, and Jezza is eager to finally address it; but Corbyn as a leader just doesn’t convince beyond those within the Labour Party who put him where he is – twice. I’ll concede there is an argument that the disproportionate left-right balance within the press doesn’t help his cause, but then I don’t think he and the people he’s gathered around him help it either. Unfortunately, being a media salesman for one’s policies is part of the process in this day and age, and – for all his innumerable faults – Blair was a salesman par excellence; he sold his product to Labour and Tory alike in 1997 with the aid of a hungry team behind him whose decades in the wilderness had given them a ravenous appetite for power.
By contrast, Jezza’s raggle-taggle band of YTS MPs, old lags like Abbott and Thornberry, and mediocrities like Starmer have been cobbled together because many of the more prominent Labour MPs won’t countenance working alongside him – a disastrous scenario for the party that both sides are to blame for. Intransigence might make for a principled politician in terms of one prepared to resign their post on the strength of their beliefs, but when it comes to two wings of the same party it’s not really a recipe for electoral victory.
In 1970, the most notable absentee from Ted Heath’s newly-formed Government was Enoch Powell, arguably the most popular MP in the country at the time but one whose controversial standing on certain issues kept him out of the Cabinet. Some even attributed the unexpected Tory triumph to Powell’s popularity; yet if one were to look at Labour’s prospects in 2017 from a similar perspective, there may be plenty of figures outside of Corbyn’s cabal who wouldn’t get a look in even if Corbyn won, but none of them can command the level of support or influence Powell could; and none could hand Corbyn victory even if they didn’t view doing so as damaging to their own chances of eventually leading the party.
The paucity of talent in Corbyn’s team is evident, but it’s not as though the notable Labour MPs barred from it inspire much optimism either. Most have carved out a sideline career as omnipresent Labour representatives on the likes of ‘Question Time’, ‘Newsnight’ or ‘The Daily Politics’, but none have what it takes to be a viable successor to Jezza, let alone one who could return the party to power. The omens aren’t great for any sort of alternative to the policies Theresa May and her Government will continue to pursue; and however much she may differ from her predecessor, the general approach is unchanged. For those who don’t comfortably slot into any of the demographics earmarked as important by the Tories, things can only get worse.
© The Editor