Some 7 weeks ago in my last contribution to this column – though it seems an age away now – I likened MPs voting for an early election to turkeys voting for Christmas. I said however, that we would have to await the election result to know which MPs were the turkeys. Well, with the Tories having lost seats, and Labour having gained them, we now know the answer.
The Prime Minister’s campaign lacked a strategic object: She set out her aim in Downing Street when she announced the election, saying that it was to secure a position that would enable her to negotiate our departure from the EU from strength. She then published a manifesto however, which failed to sustain that stated aim. It contained 85 pages, offering a range of inducements from free school breakfasts (for which the costs had not been accurately calculated), to a major change to the agreed government policy on funding social care, which was quickly dubbed the ‘dementia tax’. The PM then had to trash her own brand of ‘strong and stable government’ when she carried out a U turn from that manifesto policy.
I was taught at Sandhurst that the first principle of war is the ‘selection of the aim’, and the second principle is the ‘maintenance of the aim’. Applying that to politics, the PM selected and set out her aim quite clearly in her Downing Street briefing at the outset. Her failure was in the maintenance of that aim: the disastrous manifesto distracted attention from her objective.
This was compounded when events intervened in the form of the terrorist outrages, and the PM was not particularly successful at articulating a defence of her policy and achievements on policing during her time as Home Secretary.
In addition to the failure to maintain the aim, the PM’s performances lacked charisma and authenticity. Altogether, it was a dreadful campaign. Yet, more people voted Conservative than have done so since 1992, and the PM secured the highest share of the vote since Mrs Thatcher in 1983.
The triumphalism of Labour needs to be tempered by the fact that, notwithstanding their gains, after 7 years of Conservative austerity and a shockingly bad Conservative election campaign, they are still some 60 seats behind the Conservatives: they didn’t even come close.