Lib Dems go for the Tories as Ukip imitators
Grinding, remorseless consistency is easy to deride in both politics and sports. But there’s a clue in how often it is used to deride winners. Yeah, German efficiency at taking penalties is boring. Yeah, Sky team’s style of racing the Tour De France is tedious (until Chris Froome’s unleashing of the circus clown style downhill racing last year at least). Yeah, Theresa May’s robotic recitation of strong and stable is repetitive. But far better that than be attacked for failing.
So the recent cycling through a range of different campaign slogans by the Liberal Democrats isn’t a welcome freshness. Rather it’s a sensible admission that the initial pitch to the 48% who voted Remain was not working in the early stages of the general election. The initial round of media attention at the start of the campaign did not result in a poll surge. Hence the move to a greater emphasis on being positive for the future, as demonstrated by the new placards being waved at the party’s manifesto launch.
More quietly, in a select number of seats around the country a much more intensive target seat operation is at work than was the case in 2015, with the central party support and spending up at the scale which the Conservatives used to brutally effectively in 2015. But without the Conservative law-breaking that resulted in a record-breaking £70,000 fine. Of course ‘but we’re doing better in our key seats’ didn’t turn out to mean that much in 2015. This time the hope is that it does once again, as it did in 1997 most notably.
Key to that hopeful version of events are the millions of voters who backed the Liberal Democrats in 2010, then went Conservative in 2015 and are currently still in the Conservative camp. Or, to look at it from a slightly different angle, the Conservatives are doing very well at appealing to people who voted Conservative in 2015 and Remain in 2016. Across these two groups there is a common pattern for the Lib Dems: there are millions of people who the party’s pitch is designed to appeal to but which it isn’t yet reaching.
Hence the Liberal Democrat upping the ante in painting Theresa May as extreme, a task in which the party has been helped by the Conservative manifesto. Which is why Vince Cable unveiled a new Liberal Democrat poster showing Theresa May morphing into Nigel Farage with the strapline – vote for her, get him.
As he said at the poster’s launch:
To understand what is going on you have to listen to the voices of the people who are Mrs May’s cheerleaders and admirers.
Nigel Farage. He purrs like an elder statesman, his job done.
He said of the Prime Minister “she is using exactly the words and phrases I have been using for 20 years. I’m thrilled”
He should be. She has adopted wholesale the UKIP model of Brexit. No half measures. Out of the Single Market. Out of the customs union. Out of all the sensible cooperation around science and environment. The agenda of the hard right.
And not just on Europe. Do you remember the man who smiled with President-elect Donald Trump in a gold-encrusted lift? Who used his good offices to secure a meeting for our Prime Minister. Her hand-holding. Backing for the Trump administration. The close bonding. The treat of a state visit to come. Not that it achieved anything. The tough American trade negotiators have made it clear that economic size, not sentiment, determines priorities: the EU before the UK.
Then, refugees. Nigel Farage posed in front of a poster of Syrian refugees fleeing the war. Spreading fear and distrust. But Mrs May is just as determined to keep foreigners out. Refugees. Students who are not immigrants and help our economy. Essential workers. They all fall under her net immigration target. As George Osborne has reminded us the more thoughtful Conservatives regarded the target as absurd and damaging and she hopelessly failed to meet it in any event. But UKIP is cheering her on.
Farage is ’thrilled’ for her. And that is because he is the architect in chief of her Brexit strategy.
Expect more of these sorts of attacks over the next week as postal votes start being cast – a critical, often Conservative leaning, slice of the electorate in a swathe of Lib Dem – Conservative constituency battles.