This election is not a battle of equals

Whatever your politics there will only be one winner, says the co-founder of Proximity London.

Last week I read a thoughtful piece by Giles Kenningham in Campaign headlined "This election is about who controls the news agenda".

Giles has impeccable credentials as a former head of press for David Cameron. But I can’t help feeling he is wrong this time round.

When there’s all to play for, he may well be right. But this election is not a battle of equals. This election is May vs Corbyn (even Tory placards have "May" on them with "Conservative" in tiny writing), and whatever your politics there will only be one winner.

In fact, so confident are the Tories of Corbyn’s unpopularity, that far from controlling the news agenda, they are handing it over to the hapless Labour leader. 

The election, if it is about anything at all , it is about who can best negotiate our Brexit. Who do you trust to fight our corner?  

They know that the more he opens his mouth (as he did on Marr last Sunday about Isis and Trident), the more voters will realise he’s not up to it.

That’s why the Tories have made no substantive policy announcements, will put next to nothing in their Manifesto and why May can afford to swerve journalists, the public and the television debates.

Cameron v Miliband was a fairer contest. Miliband had some reasonable ideas that even May is now adopting (eg capping energy prices). If it were a boxing match, the referee would already have stopped May v Corbyn.

The election, if it is about anything at all (and commentators like Philip Collins in The Times doubt it is), it is about who can best negotiate our Brexit. Who do you trust to fight our corner?

But that agenda was forged last summer. Nothing else really comes into play. Not only that, the public’s perception of Corbyn was fixed in the first weeks of his leadership, as it is with all leaders (Miliband never recovered from the bacon sandwich).

In his early days Corbyn failed to sing the national anthem, appeared to snub the Queen, prevaricated over shoot-to-kill and talked about yielding sovereignty of the Falklands to the Argentineans. Oh and he had to explain "our friends from Hamas" and his past support for the IRA.

Miliband never recovered from the bacon sandwich

All that might play to liberal-minded Islington but it doesn’t to middle, northern and provincial England. Whatever Corbyn does over the next six weeks, he’s already been defined. And the Tories will waste no opportunity to remind us of his past utterances on foreign affairs, immigration and security (as their first campaign film does) leading vast swathes of the electorate to agree "he’s not the man to stand up for Britain".

Not only has Corbyn’s image been defined but history tells us that campaigns do less than we might believe to shift opinion.

It was not a late swing for the Tories that won them 2015 but the fact that all along the pollsters’ methods failed to account for likely Tory voters.

Even phenomena like Cleggmania in 2010 registered no more than a blip (the Lib Dems ending up roughly where they were at the start of campaigning). I’d be surprised if the final vote on 8 June is very far off where we are now.

That’s not to say there is nothing left to play for. Inertia might play a big factor. If the result is a foregone conclusion, why bother?

So it is in the Tory interest to make the outcome appear less certain than it actually is. Their advertising will have to focus on getting people out. But to suggest that this election will come down to news management, the campaign or the Manifestos is wide of the mark.

Like it or not, and I don’t, May could go on holiday for the next two months and she’d still win easily. The damage has been done.

Chris Barraclough is a freelance writer and creative who co-founded the agency Barraclough Hall Woolston Gray which later rebranded to Proximity London.

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