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Coffee House General Election 2017

Labour is starting its hardest election campaign woefully unprepared

19 April 2017

5:01 PM

19 April 2017

5:01 PM

The opposition parties about whom Theresa May complained in her speech launching the snap election are grinding into action. Their size and resources seem to be inversely proportionate to how prepared they are: the Lib Dems say they have already selected around 400 candidates to contest seats, while Labour hasn’t selected any candidates in seats it doesn’t hold.

The party is contacting its 2015 candidates to see if they might stand again so it might mount reasonably well-informed campaigns in key seats (or formerly key seats: a campaign with an ounce of wisdom would have to name seats it already holds as ‘key seats’ while accepting that many of its sitting MPs will just be washed away). This in itself sounds like wishful thinking: many 2015 candidates are still paying back colossal personal debts from the previous campaign, and a good number of them were sufficiently bruised by that campaign, in which the party dramatically pulled out resources from seats as it wrote them off, to need a few more years to forget how terrible it was before they even consider standing again.

The party’s campaign headquarters is playing catch-up. This is partly because the leadership has not been at all clear about what it wants with staff. There is a tendency to keep ‘bad news’ from Corbyn.

Labour’s regional campaign structure is in much better shape, but its staff are still rather exhausted after multiple battles including two leadership contests and the referendum, as well as local battles between MPs and hostile local parties or Momentum factions. Its MPs, meanwhile, were not prepared for an early contest. The moderates’ principal way of dealing with their grief at what was happening to their party – setting up multiple WhatsApp groups in which they alternately sent one another humorous emojis or told each other to ‘f*** off’ – hadn’t involved much consideration of how they might act as a group when a snap election was called. MPs only really started discussing this yesterday.

The Lib Dems are in a rather different position. Oddly they are benefitting from the demise of a principle which they championed when in government: that of fixed-term parliaments. The party had been selecting candidates astonishingly early, given it hadn’t expected an election until 2020: a number in the South West have been in place since early 2016. From last summer onwards, candidate selections were anticipating an early election. This might have been just a lucky coincidence for a party which continues to show almost delusional levels of optimism about its prospects. But it’s a lucky coincidence which means that the second largest party in Parliament is starting its hardest election campaign unprepared, while a party everyone could quite easily forget is even more eerily upbeat than usual.

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