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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Leaders do battle as parties are airbrushed out

By David Hough

The British Presidential election will get underway in earnest this week as the parties publish their manifestos. At the end of last week, the draft Labour one was leaked, and other than a few tweaks, this seems to be the version that’s due out on Monday. The politicos read it, or at least bits of it, those vaguely interested read the carefully selected synopses in their daily paper, or most viewed website, and the rest of the population just carried on regardless.

I’m not going to say anything about it today, and will wait until they’re all published by the end of the week, and make some comparisons, as each of them tries to persuade us to vote for them. In the opening sentence, I described this as the ‘British presidential election,’ and that is what it has become. It almost doesn’t matter what is promised, pledged and finessed, hardly anybody will read them.

What has happened this week is that the campaigns have become almost entirely focused on the party leaders. By this I mean Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, as all the others have been virtually brushed out of the campaign.

The crushing defeat the Liberal Democrats suffered in 2015 has meant much less coverage on this occasion, while UKIP’s leader, Paul Nuttall’s appearances make Theresa May seem like she’s out there frantically trying to be on the television 24 hours a day. Since the advent of 24-hour news channels, the broadcasters have changed the way politics is watched, and heard to. You would have thought that more time would have been made to enable politicians to get their messages across, so the public better understood the issues.

Unfortunately, the opposite has happened, and we have been inflicted with ‘sound bite’ politics, and it has been getting worse. Unless you really are interested in the arguments, most people will just catch the odd bit of a speech on the news, and hear the slogans the parties are using. This is why ‘Strong and Stable,’ is having such an impact, and ‘For the Many, Not the Few,’ though to a lesser extent.

The Labour slogan worked well in 1997, when people were wanting to hear the message, but in 2017, the short sharp Conservative one has much more resonance. Both slogans seem designed to be personifications of the image of the leader each party wishes to promote. Mrs. May as someone who will bring strength, especially when dealing with European Union representatives over the UK’s withdrawal, and brig stability as Britain faces the challenges ahead.

Part of the message that Jeremy Corbyn promulgated when running for the Labour Party leadership, on both occasions, was that he cared more about the lives of those forgotten by the governments (including the 1997-2010 Labour one), and had regaled against the way the ‘masses’ had been forgotten. Therefore, ‘For the Many, Not the Few,’ is the perfect slogan for what the Labour Party is trying to sell Mr. Corbyn as, a political leader who really does care about the huddled masses.

There is anecdotal evidence that Conservative candidates in some areas are promoting themselves as Theresa May candidates, and we’ve all seen the placards with the Prime Minister’s name in large writing, with the Conservative Party name and logo barely visible underneath.

This is quite remarkable when you consider how little Mrs. May is being seen on the campaign trail. She’s being filmed doing a little door knocking (not very well organized by CCHQ as nobody seems to be in), and a few unthreatening television interviews, such as last week’s appearance on The One Show with her husband. She has also made the customary round of factory visits, and when challenging questions are asked, she does sometimes look uncomfortable. There have also been stories saying that only selected journalists are permitted to ask questions, and Michael crick alleging (probably because he misunderstood what he was told) that questions had to be submitted beforehand. Mrs. May is not a natural campaigner, regardless of her abilities in other areas.

Mr. Corbyn, on the other hand, is out and about, attending mass rallies in places up and down the country. These rallies seem to be mainly attended by his fiercest supporters, but that they are there, means others can attend if they wish.

‘The Corbyn Factor’ is a very interesting one. The Conservatives seem to want to make the campaign about Mr. Corbyn (when they’re not talking about Mrs. May), as they think that he is Labour’s biggest liability, while many of his supporters are happy about this, as they believe the more people see of him, the more the public will like what they see. Which of these is correct we will discover in just under four weeks, when either the Conservatives have a substantial majority, or the polling companies give up on political polling, and just revert to asking us whether we like the new brand of baked beans.

The Presidential campaign is therefore well underway, and it won’t get better over the final weeks of the campaign. The nature of our electoral system, coupled with the unending media coverage we have now, will ensure that this situation will not improve any time soon. On a final note, all nominations closed on Thursday, and if you go to your council websites you will be able to find all the candidates in your constituency.

David was Labour PPC for Rayleigh & Wickford in 2015