A week is often said to be a long time in politics and years can seem like decades. Ed Miliband lost the 2015 general election, with many analysts concluding that this was because he was too left-wing. With the results of yesterday’s election, only a fool would believe that now. It is quite fascinating reading the 2015 manifesto, which some claimed to be too left wing. Here is a look at several elements:
- A commitment to not to raise the basic or higher rate of income tax, national insurance or VAT.
- Cut and then freeze business rates and maintain the most competitive corporate tax rates in the G7.
- Freeze energy bills until 2017 and give the regulator the power to cut bills this winter.
- Help rail passengers and commuters with a fully funded fare freeze.
- A mansion tax on properties worth over £2m and a levy on tobacco firms to help fund the NHS
- Cap profits for private firms on NHS contracts.
- Ensure migrants will not be able to claim benefits until they have lived in the UK for at least two years.
While there were certainly some more left-wing ideals in there, such as the mansion tax and increasing the top rate of tax, most of the polices above are not radical (indeed, some were even stolen by Theresa May). No nationalisation, no free tuition, no increase in corporation tax. After Labours loss in 2015, it was then understandable that the PLP wanted to make sure the next election was won. They needed a new Blair. A new centrist who can swing those swing voters in the right (or left) direction.
And then comes Jeremy Corbyn, an old school Labour politician who barely managed to make it onto the ballot paper. With many of his own party considering his views stuck in the 70s, the man was disliked (to say the least), by the majority of his own colleagues. His leadership was constantly under threat, with a challenge in 2016 and bookies having the odds in favour of him being out by the end of the year. The general public were not particularly favourable either, with 66% wanting a new leader by the 2020 election.
Within the realm of politics though, the most disliked politicians are often the ones who survive through a strong cult following and Corbyn was no different. Members of the Labour Party voted him back in with ease during the leadership challenge, despite him polling poorly outside of the party. With support for the Labour Party hitting new lows, there were continued calls for him to step down, even accusing him of threatening the future of the party itself. Meanwhile Tories cheered him on, thinking Jeremy Corbyn was a gift from Jesus Christ himself.
There will be no Tories cheering today. With many polls having the Conservatives on a 20 point lead several months ago, Jeremy Corbyn may have not won the election on paper, but he has won it symbolically. To narrow the lead to such an extent shows the true momentum that Jeremy Corbyn has caused. In such a short amount of time, he has shown that the ideas of a big state and higher taxes are not politically suicidal thoughts in the UK anymore.
Until now, Labour has had a problem since the global financial crash. While it is reasonable to debate whether their spending plans put us in a poor position to cope with the crisis, any economically literate person will know that the idea of Labour causing the crash is absurd. However the Tories have latched onto Labours apparent financial incompetence, with the message of the 2015 election drilling heavily into the idea that Labour would wreck Britain’s recovering economy. This message has been fuel for the Tories and Labour has had an image problem ever since, with Labour trailing significantly behind in surveys when people are asked who they trust with economic management.
It one sense, it seems then bizarre that a candidate such as Jeremy Corbyn, who plans on spending more money than any recent government, has managed to gain seats in the 2017. While it is only fair to give Corbyn credit where due for having a successful campaign, this is not the only reason for his success. Theresa May has had a truly diabolical campaign. There are several reasons for this, of course alienating her core voters with her social care reform (i.e the dementia tax) did not help her, nor did her unwillingness to debate Jeremy Corbyn face-to-face. However there is one massive problem that Theresa May and the Conservative party have: people simply don’t trust them. With her several U-Turns, her soundbite-driven speeches and utter vagueness about Brexit, there is every reason to lose faith in her. Nor does it help that her predecessors, Cameron and Osborne, cut public spending to the point that people have started to question the future of our hospitals, school and defence against terrorism. ‘Straight talking’ politics is as big as ever and not just limited to the left: Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are examples of how this type of politics exists on the other end of the spectrum.
If the Conservatives want votes, they are going to need a leader who people can relate to; a leader who can argue their points without simply attacking their opponents. They also need to show the public that Conservativism isn’t about trying to make life difficult for the poor or draining public services of funding.
What is certain though, is that while both parties still struggle with image problems, the Conservatives are feeling the burn.