Theresa May’s dire election campaign trashed her own “brand” as badly as Gerald Ratner ruined his family jewellery firm, a leading Tory pollster and peer has declared.
In a frank analysis of his party’s performance at the polls, Lord Hayward said that the election result, plus the Brexit vote and London Mayor election, also proved that the Conservatives can never again rely on “fear” tactics.
The veteran pollster and former MP, who first coined the phrase “shy Tories” to explain the party’s surprise 1992 victory, compared the Prime Minister’s campaign to Ratner famously undermining his own company.
Gerald Ratner wiped millions off the jeweller’s value after describing one of its products as “total crap”, adding some of its earrings sold were “cheaper than an M&S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long.” He was forced to quit and the company had to change its name.
Hayward said May’s election campaign – which saw her U-turn on social care and fail to engage with the public – was similarly disastrous.
“The Tories have to ask how they could destroy a brand (Theresa May) only marginally more slowly than Gerald Ratner,” he said.
May called the snap election for June after a series of polls gave the Tories a huge lead, but Jeremy Corbyn confounded the predictions to increase Labour’s seats for the first time since 1997 - and deprived her of her Commons majority.
It emerged on Thursday that the Tories raked in nearly three times as much in donations as Labour, but still lost the campaign. The £26m raised worked out as £2m for each of the 13 seats the party lost to Corbyn.
In an article for ’Order! Order!”, a magazine for former MPs, Hayward said the 2017 election was “the least expected result of my lifetime”.
“Everyone, including much of the Labour Party, has to understand what is the attraction of Jeremy Corbyn and/or his message (for which read Donald Trump in 2016),” he says in the piece seen by HuffPost UK.
“There are however probably two clear ‘answers’ from this General Election. Firstly, single issue campaigns (Richmond Park 2017 [where the Lib Dems won on an anti-Brexit vote]) cannot last throughout seven weeks.
“Secondly, nor can campaigns be based on fear (London mayoralty and European referendum) alone.”
Zac Goldsmith was trounced by Sadiq Khan in the London Mayoral election in 2016 after running what even some Tories felt was a negative and borderline racist campaign targeting his Muslim opponent’s background.
And in the EU referendum, voters were not swayed by George Osborne’s ‘Project Fear’, a move to scare them into thinking they would be worse off if the UK quit the bloc.
Hayward credited the “Corbyn surge” to a record turnout in the youth vote combined with a big shift in support for Labour, as well as a return to the two-party system of the 1950s.
He added two possible reasons which may have prevented pollsters from picking up the jump in Labour support, and which ‘require further investigation’.
“Do we mostly canvass older voters when we call and therefore missed the shift of the younger generations (crucial given the age/voting differential in this election)?
“At the end of the campaign did the tragedies on London Bridge/Borough Market and the associated argument on police numbers encapsulate the ‘austerity exhaustion’ message because it was new, in a way that the NHS failed to do so because it was not?”
Hayward, whose expert analyses of local and national elections are often pored over by the media, added that the 2017 poll created a string of micro-marginals that made the next election difficult to predict.
“The Tories didn’t lose the election, they lost it against expectations and only then in certain parts of the country.
“In London, Bristol and the public sector towns and cities of England and Wales the Tories went backwards - heavily.
“They won, not only in Scotland, but also in the south west of England, in much of the Midlands, South Yorkshire and the North East. Such are the cross flows of the election that Labour now hold Kensington while the Tories hold Mansfield.”