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DisMayed

12/06/2017 13:16
mrtom-uk via Getty Images

You will all remember from school science lessons that two minuses make a plus. Not in politics it seems.

The political commentariat stand stunned. Once again our political pollsters are undermined, and the received wisdom of political norms have been consigned to the dustbin. I recently wrote of the unknown unknowns that could defy the Conservative majority consensus, and as it turns out there were rather more unknowns than many were banking on.

Perhaps one of the biggest unknowns of this election, which now looks to have had a significant impact on the result, is the youth vote. 32 million people voted in this election - that's 68.7% of the eligible voting public, making it the highest turnout at an election in over 20 years.

The turnout matters enormously. The Conservatives knew that if turnout was high it was only going to benefit one party - Labour. If turnout was high, that meant the young would have pitched up, and that was only going to benefit one party - Labour.

So what did they do about this issue, knowing full well its potential consequences? They made it worse.

Lynton Crosby is an Australian political strategist who has been advising the higher echelons of the Conservative party for many years. Mr Crosby is extremely successful, and very good at what he does. But he has a certain tactical brand that not everyone likes, and doesn't always work - as has just been demonstrated (also see Zac Goldsmith's abortive mayoral campaign). He is renowned for the, often, effective use of negative campaigning. Negative campaigning traditionally drives down turnout (as it doesn't exactly inspire people to go out and vote). The Conservative strategy of negative personal targeting of Jeremy Corbyn and his immediate team was a conscious one.

It clearly hasn't worked this time, and frankly it didn't deserve to.

Much like our school science lessons, the Conservative Party hoped that if you combined the negative fear inspired by the uncertainty of Brexit with the negative fear of an 'incompetent/extremist' Jeremy Corbyn you would get the plus of an increased Conservative majority.

Instead they created a circular narrative of negativity that didn't benefit anyone, least of all their Party. They repeatedly committed a cardinal communications sin. If you identify a problem, have a clear solution, or, even better, have several.

The problem they posited was Jeremy Corbyn and the solution they proposed was 'Strong and Stable' Theresa May. The only problem was, a few botched interviews, a U Turn, and a no show TV debate later it turned out she wasn't so 'Strong and Stable' after all. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Personality politics is a high stakes game. If you're saying your opponent's problem is his personality, you better be bloody sure that your candidate is up to muster. The Conservative Party (and indeed elements of the Labour Party) have been so good at rubbishing Mr Corbyn that the expectation levels of him were practically subterranean. All he needed to do was show that he was better than that and he was going to be able to demonstrate progress, in fact all he needed to do was exceed those expectations to create the sense of gathering momentum (pun intended).

Mrs May on the other hand was weighed down by totally unrealistic expectations (as I cited at the start of this election, though my analysis from then seems it was 'over-optimistic'). The Conservatives completely failed to manage expectations, with early talk of landslides and triple figure majorities. Their exercise in electoral double think - Corbyn could never be PM, but do vote for us just in case - has clearly been a massive failure.

For a woman who famously highlighted the Conservative dilemma of being seen as the "nasty party" she did a very good job of being as nasty as possible. As Hugo Rifkind, rightly, recently wrote, one of Mr Corbyn's most 'endearing' features is the way he did not rise to the bait of personal attacks during the election campaign. Despite early moments of grumpiness he stayed remarkedly chipper, indeed as it went on he really seemed to get into the swing of it - enjoying it in fact.

Again, this matters. Millennials (of which I am one apparently) are often rather cynically accused of being naïve and wanting to change the world. There might be an element of truth in this, but if so, perhaps we should not be surprised that Corbyn Labour's message cut through with them.

For one rather crucial thing had changed recently that many pollsters and the Westminster bubble had not accounted for - Brexit. That other surprise vote that created political shockwaves. The Brexit vote has had important electoral consequences that have directly reverberated into this election.

People voted in the Referendum who hadn't voted before - it looks like many of them turned up again on Thursday (and more besides). Secondly, the Referendum showed that voting isn't a futile gesture - it can change things. This, I believe, was an important wake up call for the disenfranchised who for many elections have felt their vote didn't count. This particularly applies to younger voters who saw themselves outvoted on Brexit by the old grey hairs. Well apparently they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. How else can you explain 68% turnout, the Conservatives going backwards, and the Labour Party winning in Canterbury of all places.

Regardless of the economics of their proposals, or whether you think they were right or wrong, the clarity of Labour's message was compelling.

Our national religion, the NHS, was under threat from Tory privatisation - correct or not, it was simple, it was clear. The Labour Party was for the "many not the few," right or not, it was simple, it was clear. He was a man proud to stand on his record and principles - he was not ashamed to say you might not like me, you might not agree with me, but you know where I stand. Again, this was simple, this was clear. Could that be said for Theresa May? I don't think so.

Clarity was something the Conservatives supremely lacked. The party of a "Better Brexit" - what on earth does that mean? "Me and my team," who were they? Well it turned out they were just Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. "Strong and Stable"? One U Turn and that balloon burst.

Labour didn't win this election, but the Conservatives certainly lost it. And both parties provided object lessons in the many dos and don'ts of campaigning:
  • Manage expectations (people won't turnout for you if they think you're a shoe in)
  • Know your brief (cough, cough Diane Abbot).
  • Have a story to tell (the supposed strength of one character is a weak narrative).
  • Get your vote out.
  • Don't write off the young.

All good lessons that will come in handy at the next election - which is probably not too far away.

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