Forget Theresa May's rocky campaign, now is not the time for amateurs

Rupert Myers
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Theresa May Tours The UK On The Final Day Of The Election Campaign
Strip back the choice voters face to what really matters, and it becomes a no-brainer (Source: Getty)

This has not been the easiest of elections for the Conservatives.

A media narrative formed during the campaign which has harmed the party’s image, and particularly that of the Prime Minister.

For years, the press have attacked, mocked, and ridiculed the leader of the Labour party. Labour performed so woefully in the pre-election polls because Jeremy Corbyn was always abysmal at holding the government to account, a fact obscured by his performance in this campaign. Therefore, at the outset of this General Election, the decision to call it seemed like a masterstroke for Theresa May, a chance to annihilate Labour as a political force.

Today, the country goes to the polls, and the Conservatives’ lead has been diminished. Voters have seen the Jeremy Corbyn that the press had obscured, and he has become more popular as the smaller parties have lost support.

The Conservative party’s artificially high poll lead has narrowed, and in doing so it has made May appear weaker.

In that context, it would be easy to claim disappointment with the party’s performance, but in truth the fundamentals of this election have never altered. As we head towards Brexit – the greatest peacetime challenge that this country has faced in living memory – the country will vote for professionalism and stability, and it is right to do so.

Corbyn was always the more seasoned campaigner, having won two leadership elections against the best that his party could throw at him. May was crowned in an uncontested fight, and lacked Corbyn’s decades of experience in addressing public meetings and rallies. It is no surprise then that May failed to meet the ridiculously high expectations of excitable Tories at the beginning of this campaign, and that Corbyn bested the lamentably low expectations that the public had set for him.

Corbyn may be the more naturally comfortable campaigner, but he has shown himself over the last two years to be incapable of either party management or leadership of the opposition. It is a damning indictment of his career that his peers in parliament have overwhelmingly opposed his leadership in two successive contests.

During the Brexit referendum, Corbyn was desperately bad, and at their meetings across the dispatch box, Corbyn has rarely managed to trouble the Prime Minister. He may be able to attract large crowds of acolytes from the hard left, but Corbyn has proved himself time and again to be weak on defence, economically questionable, and a poor judge of character when it comes to those he chooses to promote.

Voters will reject Labour for a number of reasons, but one of them will be Corbyn’s unsuitability for the job of Prime Minister, particularly given his alarming history when it comes to the treatment of terrorists.

If the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum have taught us anything, it is that it is not enough merely to point at the alternative choice and to criticise it. Like Trump and Brexit, Corbyn offers voters hope, and in response the tone of the Conservative campaign has been too pessimistic.

Generally, Conservative messaging has been poor: no truly stable or strong person feels compelled to explicitly boast that they are strong or stable. Both parties have suffered embarrassments, from Diane Abbott’s interviews to the u-turn over the dementia tax. But beyond the stories of incompetence and underneath all the noises of the campaign, there really is no contest in this election.

Strip back the choice voters face to what really matters, and it becomes a no-brainer.

Corbyn is a backbench rebel MP described in 1996 by the Guardian as a “a fool whom the Labour party would probably be better off without.” His antics with regards to the IRA were criticised as being a “childish sideshow” by the paper, and it is telling that many of Corbyn’s worst errors of judgement were not committed when he was – say – an undergraduate, but as an elected member of parliament.

By contrast, May has a track record as a dedicated public servant who ran one of the most demanding departments in government. As people go to the polls, they would do well to remember that, rather than to seize upon Labour’s opportunistic attacks in the light of terrorist incidents that the security services are still investigating.

From the risk of terrorism to the demands of negotiating Brexit, this is a time for a grown-up in government. Jeremy has had a good campaign, but it cannot be allowed to erase memories either of his past as an MP, or his leadership of the party.

This is not a time for amateurs. Theresa May has been poorly served by her team, and she will need to make changes if she wins, but win she must, for the sake of all of us.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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