What a difference a week makes in UK politics
This Thursday the weary residents of the UK go to the polls. It is only two years since the last general elections, the first time since 1974 the vote has been held in such close succession. For many this will be the third time they will be visiting the polling booth in the space of a year. The past year has brought incredible political energy and excitement to what is normally, for many, a dull, drab and boring affair.
From the Brexit vote to the fallout from the election of US President Donald Trump, UK politics has been buffeted by a series of unexpected crosswinds. All these events have led to a situation where voters face very clear and distinct electoral choices: A pro-cuts, pro-Brexit, Conservative Party; an anti-cuts, pro-Brexit, left-wing Labour Party; or the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.
There is a saying that “a week is a long time in politics.” And this has been a particularly tumultuous campaign for Prime Minister Theresa May, the Conservative Party leader. She started the campaign as the clear frontrunner, ahead in the polls by a wide margin; this election was really hers to lose. Her gamble in calling the election, initially hailed by many as a genius move, is now in danger of seriously backfiring.
This is due to a number of factors. To begin with, she underestimated the grassroots popularity, resolve and campaigning acumen of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader.
Corbyn, who famously became Labour leader with very little support from the party establishment, has proven himself an adroit and tenacious campaigner. He has appeared to be more in touch with ordinary voters than the sometimes melancholic Theresa May. His anti-establishment message has been honed by years of experience of being on the political sidelines and championing unfashionable causes. This has meant that any perceived weakness in the Conservative campaign has been relentlessly seized on by Labour.
A series of tragic terror attacks, the unpopular ‘dementia tax’ proposal, and a strong campaign by the opposition leader have all led to an extraordinary tightening of the polls ahead of Thursday’s general election.
The Conservatives also suffered a major setback with the announcement of the so-called “dementia tax.” This proposal would require elderly people receiving social care to fund the entire cost, until they reached their last £100,000 ($129,000) of assets, which they would be allowed to keep. Predictably, there was huge backlash on this. Despite attempts by the Conservative high command to manage the subsequent outrage by voters worried about the impact that ill health would have on their finances, the announcement damaged the party immensely.
Perhaps more significantly, the two terror attacks the UK tragically endured over the past couple of weeks — in Manchester and London — have exposed huge flaws in the country’s security and intelligence services. Many in the UK are deeply concerned about the fact that May, as home secretary for six years and prime minster for less than 12 months, oversaw huge cuts to police services in the UK. There has been universal outrage at the underfunding of the security services; many commentators, politicians and activists have been writing angrily about how May is unfit to be leader of this country because the cuts made the UK more vulnerable.
So it is clear that a combination of the dementia tax, the tragic terror attacks and Corbyn’s campaign have led to an extraordinary tightening of the polls. Against the backdrop of Brexit and the US led by Trump, passions are running high, and we can expect much more debate and fluctuation in the polls.
According to the latest poll by Survation for Good Morning Britain, Labour is only 1 point behind the Conservatives. At the start of May, the Conservatives had a 17-point lead. With only one day to go before the poll, the elections are now wide open. What a big difference one week makes.
• Muddassar Ahmed is managing partner of Unitas Communications Ltd., a London-based strategic communications consultancy. He tweets at @unitascomms.