GE2017: A campaign of re-heated leftovers

If you’re looking for a good word of the day, try apanthropinization. It means to rise above or resign from one’s narrow concerns and worldly worries. Over the next six weeks of what looks set to be a dreary election campaign we will all be needing some of that.

We’ve moaned about the lack of real choice in politics. Now we have one–between two very different personalities and two very different visions for Britain- yet our reaction is like BBC’s voice of the nation Brenda on being told of Theresa May’s decision to call a poll: “oh no not another one!” Predictions for a record low turnout seem fair.

Even without the oddity that is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, Election 2017 was always going to be cast as a referendum re-run, with the shadows of Brexit and Trump ever present. We will see things that read like manifestos, that sound like pledges, that look like pitches to the nation. But ultimately this will be a phoney campaign about a future event –our withdrawal from the European Union- the shape and outcomes of which are entirely unknown.

We are unlikely to see the heady excesses of the 2015 campaign period- from pumped up Cam to the spectacular blunder of Ed Stone. But in other respects, 2017 will continue a trend towards retail politics: who has the best single line slogan wins. Some of the strongest prospects lie with parties like the Lib Dems who have (a) not much to lose and (b) boiled down their offer to a simple prospect of being the anti-Brexit pressure group. Their voters know what they’re buying.

By recruiting the services of campaign guru Sir Lynton Crosby we can expect the Tories to have a line that evokes fear of instability, something that worked well in 2015 but less well in the London mayoral election in 2016. The challenge for the Conservatives will be discipline. In order for the line to work they need to envisage the real possibility of Prime Minister Corbyn, an image that many just find laughable. If May doesn’t enlarge her party’s majority it will be down to Tory complacency.

Despite all the internal strife in Labour in terms of message it is surprising just how little has changed over two years. In analysing how it is Labour’s 2015 message didn’t resonant as powerfully as hoped US strategist David Axelrod summarised the party’s pitch as ‘vote for us and get a washing machine’. Corbyn is equally wishy-washy and transactional. At least futile efforts to re-launch Corbyn as friend of entrepreneurs bigging up innovation and the gig economy has been abandoned. He should be allowed to fail on his own terms.

As Trump showed it is possible to rise above the critical media filter and speak directly to supporters on social media, many of which have never voted before. The message may be provocative and divisive but it can still set the terms of the debate. As Dawn Butler’s disastrous interview with Radio 4’s Eddie Mair showed Labour is failing to do this. Butler pulled a rare feat of making Corbyn look media savvy by comparison. What was wrong with the interview goes to the heart of why Labour is losing the debate. Its messengers are not in control of their message.