Too Many Will Be Tempted to Vote Tory on June 8th – But Corbyn Can’t See Them
“Shame on you if you fool me once, shame on me if you fool me twice”
It’s a saying the Labour Party ought to heed.
In 2015, it seemed inconceivable that the Conservatives would win a majority. Labour had every reason to fight for a lead, to trumpet their policies, even to inscribe them on giant stone slabs. Few could have predicted the overseers of austerity coming out on top. In 2017, however, Labour can’t afford to be so blinkered. Gross naivety is forgivable the first time, but not as a repeat offence. If they sail into the upcoming election without having learnt the lessons of the previous one, the fallout will be squarely on their shoulders.
Corbyn and his circle might not hear them past the fingers currently jammed in their ears, but 2015 taught us some harsh truths. We learnt that, while polls can err, they rarely do so in favour of left-wing parties. We also learnt that elections are about image, leadership and message discipline, rather than policy alone. Harshest of all, though, we learnt that more people can be persuaded to vote Conservative than we’d ever realised.
That isn’t something I enjoy admitting. Personally, I don’t believe anybody who lacks inherited wealth or has ever relied on public services has any business voting Conservative. But, like most modern-day left-wingers, the world as I’d like it to be and the world as it is are two different things. And unfortunately for Corbyn, this election is being fought in the world as it is.
In the world as it is, trotting out well-received policies like free school meals or a £10 minimum wage isn’t enough. People vote for the whole package. They vote for parties that feel coherent and unified. They vote for parties with a consistent message (even if those messages are built on falsehoods). They vote for leaders who seem capable of leading.
Sometimes, people just vote for the lesser of multiple evils. For many, the Tories are this. Few are loud and proud about voting for the Nasty Party – much of the surprise in 2015 came from this ‘shy Tory’ phenomenon – but with Labour’s civil war at a stalemate, the Liberal Democrats discredited by the coalition years, and UKIP appearing like rudderless xenophobes post-Brexit and post-Farage, many feel they have no other option. The Copeland by-election was a prime example. There, Labour were unseated for the first time in 34 years. Had the Tories been embraced as beloved champions of working Britons? No, but they still got enough votes.
we’re all swingers now – lifelong party loyalty is fading
I’d love for the Conservatives to be widely recognised as the inequality-championing, services-destroying force that they are. But they have a history of getting away with things like austerity – think 1992, when they were re-elected after Thatcher’s downfall, or in 1987 after recession and the miners’ strike. Through it all they present themselves as trustworthy – in 2010 they were “cleaning up Labour’s mess”, in 2015 there was a “long term economic plan”, now May is proclaiming her “strong, stable leadership”.
The baselessness of these claims is almost beside the point. It’s patently obvious that Labour’s investment in schools and healthcare didn’t cause the Lehman Brothers in New York to collapse, while a quick fact-check proves that austerity has done nothing to decrease borrowing or narrow the deficit.
Repeat a lie often enough, though, and it becomes fact. Hurl enough mud at the opposition, and things like the junior doctors’ strike drift out of the spotlight. I’m not, of course, suggesting Labour resort to dirty tactics themselves. But they need more than an unfounded conviction that eventually everybody will realise they’re right. Most people aren’t pouring over Westminster minutes or the financial nitty-gritty. Narrative means as much as fact, and Labour need to realise this fast.
36% of votes hardly resembles a majority, but in Parliament that’s exactly what it is. A few thousand votes is all it takes, and as Radio 4 recently put it, we’re all swingers now – lifelong party loyalty is fading. This means there are plenty of potential Conservative voters out there. They are voters scared of rocking the boat; voters wary of the bearded socialist the tabloids hate so much; voters who’d prefer a party that, regardless of inner divisions, at least present themselves as having a plan for Brexit. They’ll put aside distaste for the Nasty Party and even their reservations over the NHS, and resign themselves to Theresa May.
Corbyn is proving himself incapable of seeing these people. If he cannot find a way to communicate with them and offer them a coherent, inspiring message before June 8th, it will be to everyone's peril.
About the author
Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.
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