At the beginning of the month few of us knew what we were in store for – one thing is for sure, for the politicos among us we can’t complain of being bored. The big news at the start of April was the aftermath of article 50 being triggered and the SNP’s demand for a second referendum on independence. Ironically May’s refusal to allow a Scottish vote on the grounds of instability was soon followed by a general election call from May because of the need for stability?
Since then May and her Conservatives have been very confident of their victory; so much so that many have questioned whether she’s been planning an election or a coronation. Their strategy has been very clear – to paint this election as one on Brexit and the lack of leadership from the opposition. Given Jeremy Corbyn’s lacklustre performance as leader of the Labour party it is not surprising that the Tories have chosen this often effective campaign technique. Have they made a mistake though?
Let’s have a look at last week’s PMQs (the final of the 2015-17 Parliament); the choreographed questions about leadership from the eager Tory backbenchers were not the only clue to May’s election strategy – so was the focus on Wales. She mentioned Wales three times; firstly attacking Labour’s record of government there (with particular focus on the NHS), and then twice in relation to questions about Brexit. Wales, like the majority of England voted to leave to the EU and therefore it is not surprising that the Conservatives are going after the Welsh vote. Especially as the Labour vote has been declining there in recent years only bad worse by Corbyn’s leadership.
However, while this might be a clever strategy, other aspects of her approach to this election may come back to bite her. For example, she has made this election very personal; not only about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership capabilities but also Lib Dem leader Tim Farron’s religious views. Now while I believe Corbyn would be a disaster for this country May runs the danger of ‘bullying’ him too much to the point the public start to feel sorry for him, very similar to what happen with Gordon Brown back in 2010.
Furthermore, there are three other issues that could cancel May’s coronation. Firstly, there has been her refusal to guarantee the triple lock on pensions – this is a question that hasn’t gone away and many Tory seats rely on the usually guaranteed OAP vote. Secondly, there is the fact that 30 of her MPs are currently under investigation by the CPS for election expenses fraud – if they are prosecuted, this scandal (potentially as big the expenses scandal of 2009) could blow up just before polling day. And thirdly, there are rumours circulating today that Theresa May and Jean-Claude Junker had a rather heated encounter last week as the pair disagreed over timetables and May’s apparent reluctance to accept how complex the Brexit negotiations would be. May’s primary selling point has been her ability to steer Britain though Brexit and in her words make a success of it; if this rumour is true it brings serious doubt into her ability to achieve a smooth transition.
As a final point in the last week the Conservatives’ 23 point lead (YouGov) has been slashed by 10 (Sunday Times) with all opposition parties (apart from UKIP) gaining popularity; which goes to show that this election is not a done deal.