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Elections, leadership and the ever-shifting polls
The UK will be voting for a new government this week. A month ago, it looked like a guaranteed landslide for the Conservatives. They were 20 points ahead of a Labour party that was turning further left and whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was very unpopular with his parliamentary colleagues and regularly criticized in the press as being vague, extreme and out of touch. Meanwhile, Theresa May, the Conservative Prime Minister, was charging ahead with the Brexit preparations and appearing to be rather like her forebear, Margaret Thatcher. Indeed, the party faithful must have thought it was some kind of second coming.
Yet so much can change in just a month. Now, with the election on Thursday, the Conservative lead has collapsed to just three points.
What happened? In the recent terrorist attack in Manchester where Theresa May got plenty of air time and gave very Churchillian 'we will fight them on the beaches' speeches. While Jeremy Corbyn also condemned the acts, he was less visible and has something of a history of connections with terrorists. It should have been a massive political boost for the Conservatives, yet after a slight poll uptick, it faded back down.
The bottom line cause of the Conservative collapse is hubris. When they saw that they had a 20 point lead, they thought they could have a quick landslide election and then do whatever they liked, ignoring the dissenters within their own party who had of late been a rather annoying moderating force. They thought their 'Hard Brexit' position would see them through after last year's referendum vote and the general acceptance now that Brexit is real. 'No deal is better than a bad deal' they kept repeating as they took a strong competitive stance. This, however, seems to have made the electorate rather nervous and Corbyn's collaborative approach seems more desirable. They also got tangled up in social policy where a promise that payment for care of the elderly could be paid through house value after death. This got called 'the dementia tax' and is hugely unpopular, especially with young people who would inherit massively less if their parents have high end-of-life care costs.
Also, Theresa May rather oddly refused to appear in a seven-way party leader TV debate. Unsurprisingly, she got ripped apart on the show and roundly criticized in the press. It's actually not surprising given her rather nervous appearance on other shows where she ignored questions and repeated unconvincing catchphrases, while rather facilely using the interviewer's forename at regular intervals. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, was relaxed and impressive, answering questions and challenging some of the stereotypes. For example he explained his meeting with terrorists as seeking peace and certainly not giving approval. Whoever has been coaching May should be fired, while Corbyn's coach deserves a big bonus.
Thursday will now be a rather interesting day and not the pushover that the Conservatives once thought. Indeed, there is the possibility that either they will lose or the situation will end up with a hung parliament, where no one party has a majority. According to the polls, they should still win, but at best will be with far less MPs than they once thought they'd have. A key variable will be how many young and old people turn out, which is a major area in which different polls differ. The majority of the young prefer Labour, while the majority of the old prefer the Conservatives. A strong young turnout will be very bad news for Theresa May.
So let's wait and see. My prediction: a hung parliament.