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Those who live by the sword. . .

09 June 2017


Holding on: the Prime Minister, Theresa May, having retained her seat in the General Election, looks on at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead, where her result was declared

Holding on: the Prime Minister, Theresa May, having retained her seat in the General Election, looks on at the Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead, wh...

NONE of the explanations offered for the General Election result can be strictly accurate, since it was based on millions of individual decisions, influenced by hundreds of different factors. All the main parties, bar the SNP, won and lost seats. But if you are going to base your campaign on personality, you had better make sure that you have a personality to sell. Theresa May’s awkwardness in front of the media was compounded by a fatal flaw in her strategy. She went to the polls seeking a larger majority in order to have a freer hand in the Brexit negotiations — but in order to secure more votes, she needed to take them from two wildly dissimilar groups: disaffected Labour voters and UKIP followers. Anything she said to attract one group would alienate the other. And so she ended up saying nothing at all. She was not alone in this: the Conservative Party manifesto was a dreadful confection of vagueness. Even someone without Mrs May’s natural reticence would have struggled to exude the openness and confidence needed to attract the electorate while wearing such a tight political gag. Thus Mrs May’s political opponents were able to represent her decision not to appear with the other party leaders as fear of exposure and disdain for the voters. It was notable that, by contrast, the Conservatives did so well in Scotland under the outspoken and likeable Ruth Davidson.

On the Labour side, people who might well have been horrified at the prospect of a Labour government were none the less happy to vote for their local candidate, including many sitting MPs who had fallen out with Jeremy Corbyn. And by focusing on Mr Corbyn’s personality, the Conservatives forgot that it was this factor that largely won him the Labour leadership in the first place. When Labour began to gain in the polls, it was too late to tackle him on his party’s policies, so the attack dogs just went in harder. Ancient accusations against him as a “friend of terrorists” were transparently desperate, and overlooked the fact that the latest attacks took place under a Conservative Government. On this issue at least, the electorate is wise enough to recognise that there is little politicians can do against the present threat beyond supporting the police and security forces — and the Conservatives, for once, are as vulnerable as Labour on this front.

The Lib Dems, despite their few gains, had a disappointing night. In his short farewell speech, their former leader Nick Clegg echoed the fears about a divided nation that have been voiced by many Christians, even before the current campaign: “We saw that in the Brexit referendum last year, and we see it here again tonight, polarised between Left and Right, between different regions and nations and areas of the country, but most gravely of all, this huge gulf now between young and old.”

In the end, the public likes a politician who listens to its concerns. The seeking of a greater majority was perhaps interpreted as a move to shake off that responsibility, signalling an intention by Mrs May’s “team” to govern without reference to those who differed from them, as was apparent in the attempt to keep Brexit decisions from Parliament. Nobody voted for a hung parliament, but after the inevitable period of uncertainty, it could well be the result that pleases voters the most.

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