The images of electioneering that political parties naturally prefer the media to broadcast are not the unscripted interventions by angry members of the public confronting party leaders on the street, situations where the politicians rarely come off best; more favoured are the stage-managed set-pieces with party activists who enthusiastically applaud every utterance of their leader, choreographed events widely circulated to give the uninitiated viewer the impression such gatherings embody the particular leader’s nationwide popularity – even if they’re rooted in the kind of realism one would find in a West End theatre staging an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical.
When said angry member of the public doorsteps a politician in front of cameras, both know the confrontation will be the leading headline on the day’s news bulletins; the member of the public may feel it’s their only opportunity to express their anger with a specific issue relevant to the politician in question – whether Blair and the NHS, Brown and immigration or Tim Farron and Brexit – or they could just be simply seeking their fifteen minutes when they know the cameras are rolling. Either way, the politician’s dread of such a stunt has reduced their willingness to go on a walkabout, even if some (I’m thinking John Prescott) are more than capable of handling themselves. It’s far easier to stick to the party events that have a clearly defined running order and no room for spontaneity.
Theresa May taken this tactic to a new level so far, reflecting her deserved reputation as something of a control freak; it’s impossible to imagine her standing on a soap-box in a market square ala John Major’s inspired gimmick during the 1992 General Election campaign, for that would require her coming into contact with the public, a species she appears allergic to. A May press conference yesterday saw complaints on Twitter from the veteran thorn in many a campaigning politician’s side, Michael Crick, who claimed only pre-arranged journalists with pre-arranged questions were allowed to speak. Perhaps Mrs May’s speedy jaunt to Washington when the Donald had barely got his hands on the keys to the White House taught her a few lessons in how to house-train the press.
A cosy chinwag on the cosy ‘One Show’ sofa with cosy hubby was a preferable comfort zone for the PM, selling the image of the ‘everywoman’ to those sections of the electorate who willingly sit through such banal mental chewing-gum without being compelled to take an axe to their TV set; she was well aware it was not the kind of environment whereby she’d be quizzed on the subject of food banks, for example, thus exposing her utter cluelessness on the reasons for their existence again. A photograph of our incumbent PM recently appeared on social media in which she was attending a meeting in the Harehills area of Leeds, a neighbourhood containing a majority Asian population; it was blatantly obvious not so many (if any) members of that community featured on the photograph, however. Chances are, if the locality had been represented there, it might not have received Mrs May that enthusiastically.
It seems to be fear of close scrutiny, thus shattering her carefully constructed facade of ‘strength and stability’, that’s driving the Prime Minister’s fervent determination to control every aspect of her role in the campaign; from her refusal to be involved in any TV debates to the manner in which she forced the media’s complicity in yesterday’s press conference, one suspects if the PM was faced with a question she hadn’t already prepared an answer for she’d stick her fingers in her ears and babble incoherently until the nasty journo had gone away. She evidently prefers for that scenario not to arise, so she avoids its possibility.
When announcing the General Election, Theresa May made it clear she regarded any opposition to her policies as borderline treason, which seemed a strange stance to take when head of a democratically-elected government; but maybe the fact her administration wasn’t elected by the public has played its part in this apparent demagoguery. Moreover, that she is also confronted by the weakest example of HM Opposition any Prime Minister has probably had to face in over thirty years has perhaps bred a belief that opposition is ineffective and essentially unnecessary. The ridiculous lead the Tories have over Labour in the polls has convinced her she’ll win without breaking sweat, so why bother breaking sweat at all?
Corbyn is a more visible presence, though he too is prone to performing at events at which he is top of the bill – and his team seem keener on keeping him away from fellow Labour MPs than the public. His Tory opponent, however, may find her policy backfires somewhat; her lead might seem unassailable, but preferring to present herself to the public as a distant dictator who won’t engage with them in the kind of impromptu fashion that any seasoned parliamentarian should be able to navigate projects the image of someone who holds them in contempt.
As a postscript, however, a fillip for May came today with the news that those nice people at the Clown Prosecution Service won’t be bringing any charges against the Tories implicated in the abuse of electoral expenses two years ago. What a mighty independent crusader for justice the CPS is! To imply it buckled under pressure from Downing Street would, of course, be a most unjust accusation, what with its track record being so impeccable. What can go wrong for Theresa Jong Un, eh?
© The Editor