Almost two weeks in, and before the short campaign has even started, people are starting to wise up to Theresa May’s conjuring trick. Last week, Philip Collins of the Times tweeted ‘I am usually a strong defender of politics but this empty, choreographed, stale, boring Tory campaign essentially implies we are all idiots’ (which was retweeted four and a half thousand times). This was then followed up by a performance on Marr that Fraser Nelson judged to have ‘perfected the art of saying nothing’.
At the same time, people are still picking holes in the Labour effort. On Thursday, a video emerged of Jeremy Corbyn heading to address a crowd, before he was spun around by a lackey in order to face the gathered cameras. The joke being, of course, that Corbyn is so incompetent he doesn’t know which way he’s headed. Yet the incident is also typical of something else at the heart of the Labour leader’s campaign. Corbyn wants to take his offer to the people – they might reject it, but they’re going to hear it.
And love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Corbyn has taken the snap election announcement in his stride. In the past couple of weeks, he has been to Aviemore to champion the unions and a £10 minimum wage, to Cardiff to attack ‘cosy’ tax rates, and to Harlow to promise the construction of a million new homes in 5 years. Meanwhile Theresa May has been on a carefully controlled tour of target seats, executed with submarine-like stealth. The stage management became palpable when she was caught on camera saying ‘I’m pleased to come to… err… this particular town…’, suggesting that she didn’t know where exactly she was.
In stark contrast to the honest rhetoric of her opponent, May has withheld her cards from everyone. She has already ruled out a leadership debate with Corbyn, and generally sounds more like she’s selling furniture than governance. Strong and stable, strong and stable, strong and stable. As Sam Leith noted on Coffee House Shots this week, this is a form of messaging designed for the casual viewer, not the pundit – and intended to reinforce a vapid promise, rather than something tangible. Undoubtedly Labour are doing it too – I’ve heard the words ‘rigged economy’ plenty of times – but it is always preceded or followed by something substantive (or delusional, depending on your perspective), unlike the wilful diversion of ‘strong and stable’. It is perfectly possible to believe that the Tories are making the best political offer, whilst resenting the manner in which they are going about delivering it.
There is a credibility to the way in which Labour are campaigning. MPs are defending marginal seats when they know the tide of opinion is against them. Jeremy Corbyn is taking the Labour policies of his dreams to the British people, and seemingly enjoying every minute of the experience. Despite the ideological division within the party, politicians and activists are united by their commitment to the campaign.
The Tories would like to go to the polls tomorrow, in order to capitalise on Labour’s unpopularity. But given there is still a month to go, they are deliberately employing tactics of obfuscation and confusion. Theresa May could do a lot worse than take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book and tell the country – with something resembling passion – why she ought to retain the top job.
Katy Balls and James Forsyth ask whether the Tories are getting complacent:
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.