When Theresa May called a snap general election on April 18, the aim wasn't just to secure a Tory landslide. At its heart, the plan was to internalize May's supreme authority; to present a united Britain behind her vision on Brexit negotiations, and crush any meaningful opposition.
But these are no ordinary times. Six weeks is an eternity in politics and, as it turns out, enough time to transform the landscape of an election. Jeremy Corbyn has shown just how much the mainstream media and a large part of the parliamentary Labour Party had underestimated his campaign.
Here is what we need to understand: Britain is desperate for genuine change. A hell of a lot of people feel powerless, neglected, and desperate to find a leader that represents them. Under 7 years of austerity, living standards have declined precipitously. At the same time, we have witnessed the rise of the billionaire class and the divorce of elected officials from local communities.
The emergence of Corbyn has given a voice to many of those elements that sense this powerlessness. This is the reason Labour's manifesto, trashed by its detractors as a throwback to the 70s, has proven more popular with the public than anticipated. A crucial part of the story is that Labour's manifesto has inspired rather than divided the party. It has promised a decisive break with a bankrupt model of austerity and tax cuts for the rich. It is an antidote to the crisis of cultural identity; it addresses the desperate need for a radical alternative, and attempts to arrest the dramatic decline of social democracy across Europe.
This new sense of real choice and desperation runs alongside Corbyn's formidable campaign skills and message discipline. What attracts voters to Corbyn-- particularly the youth -- is that he is refreshingly authentic. In contrast, Theresa May has proven to be a poor political operator, unable to break her endless cycle of U-turns. Her party's manifesto is at best out of touch and at worst clear evidence of extreme incompetence.
The Tory campaign is based on May's personality, but this strategy is backfiring too. She has proven to be an awkward public speaker, donning the cloak of invisibility to dodge televised debates. Too often she tends to reflexively fall back on robotic talking points, looking ridiculous in the process. More substantially, this election has tarnished May's "safe pair of hands". The narrative of "strong and stable" leadership has rapidly dried up.
Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, has defied expectations. He looks comfortable campaigning among people. He treats it as a chance to operate in his element, and it's working. Seeing him directly rather than through the prism of the media has had a profound impact on voters' perceptions. Latest Polls have narrowed so sharply that one projection by YouGov shows the Tories could face a hung parliament. Yes, polls historically tend to overstate Labour support, but just five weeks ago there were projections of a historic Labour defeat. The rapid surge in support for Corbyn is indeed significant.
This isn't to say that the Tories won't win this election. An ICM poll published Saturday put the Conservatives at 45% and Labour at 34%. A Labour upset will be an astounding occurrence. But Theresa May's plan wasn't merely to win. It was to win big, and crush all opposition for the foreseeable future. Without a massive increase in seats, this election will be remembered as a farce that wrecked Tory credibility.
The stunning probability is that May will come out of this election as a diminished figure with dissipating authority over her party. We now wait to see how bad the damage will be. Meanwhile, Corbyn, once ridiculed and written off by the establishment, has been elevated beyond recognition.
But something even bigger lurks beneath: for the first time in a long time, Labour has outlined a radical alternative that can spur far-reaching change in British politics. And it's about time.