In the mad kaleidoscope of election issues, three things stand out so far: The basis on which the poll has been called, and the importance of young people and housing to the outcome.
The rhetoric used by Theresa May, first in her Easter message, and then in calling June’s General election was deeply disturbing. The frankly unsupportable talk of unity, leadership, strength comes from the Orwellian playbooks of Erdogan and Trump.
Others have been quick and erudite to highlight the sinister tones in her comments. Nicola Sturgeon departed from her planned remarks to speculate that the election was a Machiavellian device to avoid her Parliamentary majority disappearing by dint of electoral malpractice lawsuits. Others deliver equally damning verdicts – the PM is “using the language of the hard right to define the very identity of Britain and create a one-party UK”, creating an “elective dictatorship” by 2022
But we always knew it would be like this, didn’t we? Since the 2015 election, the euro referendum and Clinton’s defeat. The writing couldn’t be any clearer or larger upon the wall. Rapacious and rampant chauvinism. An ineffective opposition still less resistance, in no small part because we have trashed Politics the brand. Whenever May pushed the button it was going to feel this bad.
In so many ways, it is surprising we have not come to this point before. The Prime Minister is indeed blessed for she could rule for as long as she desires. Opponents to her right and left in disarray, as the ever-insightful Lodestone agency describe. The political centre ground a vacant space ripe for occupation. But of course we see ever more clearly that the PM has no interest in that middle ground.
A hard Brexit, harsher austerity, increasing poverty, less social mobility, the destruction of our social fabric. The General Election arguably makes no difference to the landscape. Except of course it probably removes a public vote around the time of Brexit itself. It distracts, massively, from the new burst of poverty-creation as former Chancellor Osborne’s new restrictions come into force. It gives Labour little time to mobilise after a not-bad couple of weeks in terms of policy announcements and media coverage.
Pundits and editors have written off not just Labour but any opposition. I think bookies’ odds of 5-1 on a hung Parliament aren’t bad, but then I look at those on a Tory win and that sinking nauseous feeling returns. The best worse-case scenarios have Labour down to around 160 seats. Worse than 1983. Much worse. How bleak might it be? Canada’s Conservatives in 1993? No, surely not.
But take a deep breath and turn and face the storm. Defeat becomes a forgone conclusion only if we let it become so. There are good reasons for believing that all hope is not lost.
First, the arguments. From a Progressive Alliance to maximise the anti-Tory votes in key seats to the witty, direct argument not to indulge May in her election plan. This shows that there is energy, nouse and intelligence out there.
Second, the media. The right-wing press are rabid. Headlines of “remoaners” and “saboteurs” are invitations to lynch-mobbery. Mrs May has said “no” to TV debates, but from being empty-chaired to the huge swathes of social media channels, she isn’t in control here.
Third, the electorate. Despite the fabulous (and continuing) efforts of many, including Bite The Ballot, younger people did not vote in anything like same numbers as their older compatriots in 2015. In fact, the figure was slightly down on 2010. But the 17 year olds angrily denied a vote in last year’s referendum, have the opportunity of one now. And anyone (of whatever age) sceptical about the ability of voting to achieve change will surely have been disabused of that apathy. Above all else we must find a way to increase young voter turnout. The average number of young non-voters has been calculated as 11,000 per constituency – enough to overturn most MPs’ majorities
And those renting accommodation are a huge source of potential change. The premise of Generation Rent’s survey work from 2015 is still valid; there are enough renters in enough constituencies to determine the outcome of the election. The current government’s record on housing is far from robust. Will policies announced recently engage renters still largely struggling to find decent affordable accommodation and landlords, within reasonable reach of employment, education and/or family? Thinking big on this issue has the potential to engage hundreds of thousands of voters. Or, as they are disproportionately young, nudge those likely to vote to a position of certainty.
The government knows there is a significant youth non-voting prize. Last month junior minister Jo Johnson wrote to the Higher Education Funding Council urging their support for student voter registration initiatives, yet “young voters back Labour” (yes, I know the two are not exactly the same) – for the opposition , the importance of more of this demographic turning out cannot be overstated.
As the Tories poll lead narrows and broadcast media is compelled to give Labour what many feel is a better/fairer hearing, it seems the bookies’ confidence may just be misplaced.