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Presumption Of Victory Will See Theresa May Defeated - Well In This London Bubble, Anyway

15/05/2017 12:01 BST | Updated 15/05/2017 12:01 BST
POOL New / Reuters

The last time I met Theresa May I told her what a shoddy campaign her party was running.

It was polling day in May, 2015 and the Tory candidate for Maidenhead was wandering around the end of my road - many miles from her own constituency - targeting wavering voters. It had been the first time anyone from her party had knocked on doors in our Chiswick ward.

The only evidence that the Conservative candidate and former MP, Mary MacLeod, had not been kidnapped by aliens were her frequent tweets standing next to David Cameron and George Osborne looking serious. That door-knocking laziness was one of the reasons Labour grabbed her seat by 465 votes, a rare victory that day for Ed Miliband.

I have no doubt that our brief conversation - polite, to the point and honest - had a transformative effect on Mrs May. After all, the Prime Minister has expressed a strong desire to get out and meet voters rather than conduct an anodyne five-week public relations stunt.

Yet that is what it has become - a highly controlled, repetitive, bland PR campaign, brilliantly orchestrated, slavishly followed and no doubt driven by the fact that the Tories know they're going to walk it.

In our little corner of West London, however, where extraordinary wealth sits across the road from incessant struggle, where I and most of the people I know live in a cosseted metropolitan bubble, something interesting is stirring. And it's something that marketers, journalists and PROs seem to understand with far greater clarity than politicians.

I predict, and hope, that constituencies like mine - Brentford and Isleworth in West London - give the Tories a bloody nose on June 8. Don't get me wrong, I want Jeremy Corbyn and his team to be utterly humiliated so that the Labour party can begin its slow, painful resurrection (again). But when victory is presumed and dominance so total that you don't have to try anymore, people tend to behave unpredictably.

The Tories have once again selected the strangely absent Mary (whose two new favourite words are 'strong' and 'stable') to win back the seat from Labour's Ruth Cadbury, a local woman who has spent years in neighbourhood politics and benefits from an illustrious family history (yes, that Cadbury).

I've no idea whether Ruth likes or loathes her leader, nor whether she's ever raised local concerns in the House of Commons. But she's out there and taking nothing for granted, listening and debating, expressing not a little humility at her leadership's crass incompetence.

I suspect that Mary probably correctly assumes that she's going to win because of her leader's strength and stability. Yet every time I talk politics with friends and neighbours, I've had these responses: 'She doesn't say anything', 'Who is she?', 'Where is she?', 'She seems aloof', 'I'll probably vote for her but she's pretty hopeless.'

Whether you're a voter or a consumer it's the same. If our custom is taken for granted and a brand doesn't make efforts to engage with us in a meaningful manner, if it assumes our loyalty can be counted upon because, well, the competition is so dreadful, such complacency will begin to tarnish the offering. Rivals with greater purpose will thus be energised because the incumbents arrogantly refuse to acknowledge that their dominance is only momentary.

Thomas Cook, Marks and Spencer, British Airways, WH Smith - the list of brands seduced into thinking that engaging with the customer was less important if they enjoyed total market share is endless. All took the loyalty of us, their customers, for granted. They did what they liked regardless of whether we liked it because they knew that their faster, slicker, more reliable car would win. Until, quite suddenly, asleep at the wheel, they crashed.

Leadership is not always about leading. It is about listening, about engaging, about learning. It's about knowing that your tenure is so fleeting that unless you forge meaningful connections with the people who helped you triumph in the first place, you will be doomed. It's about sometimes relinquishing control to be better leaders.

I happen to think Theresa May will make a fine Prime Minister and though she will surround herself with obedient acolytes in office, I hope she will not feed off the obsequious chumminess that her predecessor enjoyed and which for a time bruised her own ego.

In our deeply tribal corner of West London, bordered by dual carriageways and the Thames, by multi-million pound mansions and crumbling housing estates, we have an already-triumphant brand that assumes victory and a broken, humbled one ready to embrace failure so that it can begin again.

Call me an old-fashioned, sentimental, idiotic hypocrite - as my Chiswick banker dinner companions did last night - but my money's on the underdog.

However, Theresa - and Mary - if you fancy a cup of tea to persuade me otherwise, I'm working from home next week...