On one of the worst election campaigns I’ve ever experienced – and I went through 2001!
At a national level, the campaigns of the top two parties have been absolutely woeful. The greater fault obviously lies with the Conservative top brass because they were the ones that called the election – to the surprise of their own party. So soon after the county council and mayoral elections showed a contempt for their own frontline activists, and to call it slap bang in the middle of exam season disenfranchised every student and young person with exams to prepare for. It automatically meant that young people would not be able to campaign. And it was young people that swung the vote for Daniel Zeichner here in Cambridge and away from Julian Huppert in 2015.
The less said about Corbyn’s communications team lead by Seumas Milne, the better. For all of the sins of the print media, they’ve made far too many basic errors – such as not ensuring they had shadow ministers available for set piece prime time media slots (eg early morning, early and late evening) where they could criticise government policy in front of thousands – sometimes millions of viewers.
The past few days, the print media has been in full-on frenzy mode, seeking to repay Theresa May’s manifesto writers for the clause scrapping Leveson II. The thing that stands out with this manifesto is how so few people contributed to it. Hence the first real ‘wobble’ was the so-called ‘Dementia tax’ which went down like an iron brick, and allowed Labour to recover.
At the same time, so many of the senior Conservatives have been absolutely non-existent in the media.
Others include Justine Greening (Education), Elizabeth Truss (Justice), Greg Clark (Cities/Business), Sajid Javid (Communities/Localgov), to name but a few of them.
I still expect the Tories to win outright
Part of this is due to the interaction between the broadcast media and the print media. The proprietors and editors of the print media all too often set the political agenda, the broadcast media then respond based on the headlines on the front of the newspapers and thus the debates are framed with that in mind, rather than reporting on the news that is actually happening.
Robert Harris on Newsnight this evening did a brief report on control-freakery in politics and elections. He didn’t pull his punches.
“But what about Labour’s big rallies?”
Older people remember 1983. Will history repeat itself? (i.e. where, despite the big rallies, the electoral arithmetic did not add up for Labour – not least because of the SDP split in 1981). If anything, it took too long for Labour to get into its stride. Labour too has had too many of its big guns staying away from the limelight and focusing either on their own constituencies, those of close party allies (Emily Thornberry has been in Cambridge at least three times in the past few weeks), or sticking to social media.
Labour’s campaigning star of the show by a country mile has been former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner. The shadow international trade minister has been holding Liam Fox to account in one of the Prime Minister’s more controversial Cabinet appointments. Indeed, some in Labour circles insist on referring to him as ‘the disgraced former defence secretary’. Former Mayor Gardiner (I can call him that – local reporters always look for the local connection!) has – to the delight of Labour supporters been pulling up broadcast journalists over their shortcomings. Nick Robinson takes a hit here.
…and here’s Adam Boulton taking a verbal hit too.
One of the things the TV News has been saying in recent days is how there seems to be a swing back to the old polarised Left-Right politics as both Labour and Conservatives have headed towards their core votes.
“What about the Lib Dems?”
Cambridge has hosted party activists from across the country as they campaign for Julian Huppert – more than a few camping over tonight and tomorrow to get the vote out later today. It has been the same with Labour locally as well. The numbers that both parties have pulled in here has been quite something to observe close up.
I get the sense that Tim Farron’s campaign with it’s strong pro-EU message has not delivered nearly as strongly as he and his party would have hoped. Accordingly, looking at social media activity as a guide, I get the sense the party is concentrating its resources much more precisely than in the previous two general elections. I asked their party president Sal Brinton – a former Cambridge councillor now in the House of Lords about the pressure that the Lib Dems are under to make up some of the ground they lost in 2015 when she visited their campaign HQ set up in a local church hall in my neighbourhood.
Much as I’d like to see them getting over 20 MPs for the sake of plurality in politics and in Parliament, I fear that it is going to be a struggle for them. But they need to get into double figures for the broadcast media to treat them as a major party again – if only for the Question Time appearances.
“What about the Greens, the SNP and Plaid in Wales? And UKIP?”
Given the charging of Conservative candidate in Thanet – contested by Nigel Farage last time around, it remains to be seen what the reaction of the voters there is. Ditto in Douglas Carswell’s former constituency of Clacton where he’s not re-standing.
For financial reasons – ie the ‘short money’ they get from Parliament, The Greens need to get a similar number of votes in total that they got in 2015 – 1million. They’ve made some high-profile withdrawals in a number of constituencies to give other parties stronger chances of defeating the Conservatives on the principles of progressive alliances.
“At least 22 Greens stood aside to increase the chance of a progressive candidate beating the Conservatives. The Women’s Equality Party stood down for the Greens in five seats, while the Lib Dems stood down in one.”
I’m sure there will be a handful of seats where standing down will be the difference between a Conservative being returned or not returned. Beyond that, the Greens have been throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at Bristol West, banking the support that Caroline Lucas has got from the Liberal Democrats and the Women’s Equality Party in Brighton Pavilion, and a weaker Labour campaign this time around. Problem is that in Bristol West they are contesting an incumbent Labour candidate. They are also putting resources into the Isle of Wight. Three MPs would be beyond their wildest dreams – but is possible.
The SNP remain rock solid as the other parties have struggled to recover. Both the Liberal Democrats and The Greens are standing in substantially fewer constituencies this time around – both Jo Swinson (LD), and Patrick Harvie (G) being their headline candidates. Again, for plurality of politics I’d love to see them both returned by their electors. It’s very difficult to read Scotland from down south here – in particular the state of the once-mighty Scottish Labour Party. Compared to the titans of the mid-late 1990s – Gordon Brown, John Smith, Alistair Darling, Robin Cook, George Robertson (noticeably all men – again reflecting badly on the party hierarchy of the time) it’s difficult to see the current generation being more than a shadow – as reflected by having only one MP in Scotland in the last Parliament after dominating for decades.
Again, Plaid Cymru are difficult to read from the Lib-Lab bubble of Cambridge. While I think party leader Leanne Wood is wonderful, it’s hard to judge whether her TV appearance here in Cambridge for the leaders’ debate actually made any impact in Wales.
“And Northern Ireland?”
All too often thrown in the ‘too complicated’ pile in Westminster, promises of extra spending by weak Conservative governments in the 1990s to gain extra unionist votes became something of a stereotype – something that others have mentioned may re-occur should a Conservative government need shoring up.
The big complexity is the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland post Brexit. The other thing that I have found incredibly irresponsible by Conservative strategists is the inflaming of Northern Ireland’s past during the troubles of 1969-1998. Re-opening old wounds in such a gratuitous manner was something I found despicable. The sensationalised captions of ‘Ooh – look who Mr Corbyn met!’ looked all the more ridiculous when photos of their own senior politicians – and senior royals (including The Queen) had also been filmed and photographed meeting the same people.
“The impact of the terrorist attacks?”
Very difficult to judge. Once the election is over, party leaders will need to get together and agree a protocol of what to do on campaigning & suspensions when such things happened. This election campaign understandably caught everyone unprepared.
My tweet via Puffles to Alicia Kearns, standing for the Conservatives in Mitcham and Morden.
Normally in such crises, electorates are expected to turn towards the politicians and parties that are seen as strong on defence and security – traditionally the Conservatives. But with the Prime Minister as Home Secretary for six years from 2010 oversaw cuts to police and security spending, her opponents have gone after this in a very big way – certainly far more stronger than I had originally expected. That said, many of her opponents online were publishing video footage of speeches & event Q&A sessions warning of the impact of cuts to police and security budgets. Here’s Barry Gardiner again.
“How has the campaign been locally?”
I’ve kept Cambridge at an arms length as far as hustings have been concerned, though went along to the ones organised by the Cambridge Junction, and the joint Cambridge News and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire one. Given the huge number of hustings in Cambridge in 2015 – over 30 nearly all of which were standing room only, many people here would have had some familiarity with both Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner, both having to defend their own records in Parliament. This is where Stuart Tuckwood for the Greens came in as a younger, newer breath of fresh air politically. And he seemed to be winning over more than a few floating voters at the hustings. Here he is responding to my questions on public transport and air pollution.
Whether it will be enough to hold of the squeeze on the Greens’ votes at the past two local elections remains to be seen.
Being familiar with three of the four candidates and the arguments, I thought I’d cover the hustings in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire on the grounds that hardly anyone else covers them from a reporting perspective. They didn’t disappoint.
Although both the surrounding constituencies are safe-as-houses Conservative, I can see South Cambridgeshire turning marginal as the population increases on the back of rapid growth in housebuilding and transport infrastructure. The question is which political parties can sink their roots into the new communities first and fastest.
“Impact of social media and video?”
Always hard to tell, but my Youtube stats (not including the FB ones) are impressive in the 30 days leading up to the election.
Over 6,000 views and over 25,000 minutes of video footage watched – as headline figures I can more than live with that. Obviously what I don’t have is the regional breakdowns and demographic breakdowns of who is watching how much and where.
Most candidates still not making full use of mobile video
Both Stuart Tuckwood for Cambridge Greens and Dan Greef for Cambridge Labour have been the two candidates to have made the most of mobile video. I declare an interest that both have commissioned me to make videos for their campaigns, but had they only used my videos and nothing else, then they’d still be at the same point as most of their opponents. The difference between those two and the rest is that they have been making short videos for their Facebook pages for fun using their mobile phones. Mr Greef’s videos are here, and also Mr Tuckwood’s videos are here.
I don’t think any candidate locally has succeeded in integrating their digital activities with their social media activities. In the grand scheme of things it’s still a numbers, door-knocking and canvassing data game. Today is the acid test where the data collected from six weeks of intense canvassing, leafletting and door-to-door knocking is used as campaigners seek to ‘get their vote out’ – ie encourage residents who said they supported specific parties to actually go out and vote. Otherwise, in the grand scheme of things such support is worthless. That’s the risk with Corbyn’s big rallies – can he convert such huge turnouts into votes, and votes into seats in the way his predecessor Michael Foot was unable to do in 1983?
We’ll find out in 24 hours time…