Friday 2 June 2017

Leaders' Question Time: Who Won?

The pundits muttered dismissively about YouGov's shock poll putting the Tories just three points ahead of Labour, suggesting the election's outcome is edging toward a hung parliament. Reportedly, Jim Messina, the Conservatives' stat whizz on loan from the liberal heroes at Team Obama threw his head back and laughed. Just like someone else we know. And then today Ipsos Mori dropped their bomb: Tories 45%, Labour 40%. The unweighted poll (i.e. not controlling for differentiated turn out) actually puts Labour three points ahead. I can feel hope cloying its way into my heart.

This is no substitute for analysis, however. Cool heads are essential if the newly mobilised aren't to suffer disillusionment and despair if, after everything, the polls are proven wrong and Labour does worse than now expected. On this score, there are two tallies we need to keep an eye on: perceived economic competence and leader ratings. Since these questions have been asked, no party has won a general election who are behind on both. And, unfortunately, Labour is. That said the volatility of politics are proving Theresa May's undoing as her ratings plummet and Jeremy Corbyn's rocket upward. It is quite possible over the weekend the sliver of a gap between them vanishes and starts opening up on the other side. This. Election. Is. Killing. Me.

After an excruciating week for May that saw her nearly crumble in front of a below-par Jeremy Paxman, refuse to take part in the leaders' debate and sent a grieving Amber Rudd in her place, turn down Woman's Hour, rule out any local radio interviews for the remainder of the campaign, and now reeling under the news that the CPS are charging Craig McKinley, his South Thanet agent, and "campaign specialist" Marion Little for alleged electoral expense fraud, May had to really pull it out the bag for tonight's Question Time special. For his part, Jeremy's insurgency is assuming juggernautish properties. Unlike May, he's not under siege from a collapsing campaign nor a simmering rebellion, and a strong and stable performance in front of the Question Time audience would be the icing on the cake for a brilliant week. Who remembers Tuesday's stumble in the Radio 4 studio now?

May came first and needed to knock it out of the park. The first thing to remember is while May isn't comfortable in front of the public, tonight was her 24th appearance on Question Time. If she's no good with that format now, she never will be. And, overall, I think she came off alright. There were no stunning rhetorical flourishes, nor were there any big stumbles. It was competent enough - not polished, plenty vague, but little to frighten away the already committed Tory voter. The problem, however, is with the large numbers of undecideds out there. Here we have someone hyped by the media as the supreme politician, as a grown up versus the seat-of-the-pants juvenilia of Dave and Osborne. Coming across well matters. Relatable matters. Warmth matters. And she just can't do it. Asked about the public sector pay freeze for nurses, there was little sense of sympathy. Confronted by a woman with mental health difficulties and was dragged through a work capability assessment, there was no compassion in her response - just a technocrat's answer. As a rule, electorates are okay with people who don't connect as long as they understand ordinary people's problems, and unfortunately for May she tanks this every time.

Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand had a much better time of it - for the most part. He was more relaxed, more assured in his answers, more interested in listening to what people had to say. On every indicator, he as the anti-May. He showed command of his brief and was able to talk in detail about policy areas, which, considering May is the incumbent and offered vagueness and generality, is a key difference between the two and reflects terribly on the PM. This was especially the case on Brexit - May wouldn't be drawn on no deal, while Jeremy talked about the need to protect jobs and building a more equal society. Brexit means Brexit for May, for Corbyn Brexit means the fight for more and better jobs, and a more pleasant, safer, fairer Britain. A key difference.

Jeremy was doing extremely well until we came to Trident and nuclear weapons. He answered the points on Trident and the first use of nuclear weapons sensibly, on the importance of talking and diplomacy to ever avoid a situation where atomic warfare is a possibility, but some in the Tory third of the audience were determined to get blood and kept asking him whether he'd press the button. He wobbled and didn't offer a clear answer. There are various ways he could have answered it without a straight yes or no, like keeping all options open, doing whatever it takes to defend the country, listening to what the military experts say, and what not. But the audience member who came in after to attack the others who were gleefully criticising Corbyn for refusing to aggressively incinerate millions of people just about spared his blushes. However, the job was done and the press have got their meat for the weekend. Which, to be honest, is hardly news. Later on the IRA came back up and this presented him no difficulties whatsoever, revealing that he had defended Ian Paisley when moves were afoot to bar him from Westminster on the grounds that all voices needed to be party to a peace process, not just the ones you agree with. In all a good performance, sans the handling of the nuclear issue.

Who won? As a Labour supporter I'm obviously going to say Corbyn. But where it counted - on character, on giving a vision, on policy detail he was much better, clearer, and more serious than the Prime Minister. Nukes presented him a problem but his attitude is already baked into nearly everyone's choice, though that won't stop the press from using it to mobilise the Tory vote and try and snatch back some of the volatile ex-kippers that are slipping toward Labour. But even if he gave a totally flat performance, he still would have won. Theresa May strikes as an unsympathetic figure, and she needed something special tonight to try and put her crisis-ridden campaign back on course. She wasn't able to do that. Labour goes into the final weekend of campaigning with the wind in its sails. All the Tories have is scaremongering. It worked in 2015, will it work now? Or can Labour confound all the sage expectations - including my own - and deliver the biggest, most surprising, and sweetest victory in our party's history?


Anonymous said...

As a sort of antidote to the nuclear strike question, let's think of something more nuanced than megadeath and far less physically destructive.

Imagine if the Shadow Cabinet had just learned about some horrific skeleton mouldering in the dark at the back of the Tory cupboard. Would Jeremy Corbyn authorise its deployment as part of his General Election campaign? Or would he simply turn his back on it, insisting that it would be unethical to resurrect a historic(al) scandal simply for electoral gain?

This is a far more interesting question. Would this be unethical, even if it more or less guaranteed that your opponent would lose the election due to widespread outrage and disgust and you would win it, thereby enabling you to enact your vision of a fairer post-Brexit United Kingdom?

Or would it be ideologically unthinkable, and you would never strike the fatal blow even if you had the means of destruction sitting among your PC's desktop icons?

Just imagine that you are Jeremy Corbyn and that this scenario is true right now, at this very minute. How do you proceed?

Anonymous said...

Corbyn won of course he actually bothered to answer the questions asked of him.

Unknown said...

Generally Corbyn came out on top for the reasons given above.

He could have been better prepared for some of the questions on Trident. For example, it is of no use against terrorists and North Korea because its sole purpose is to threaten the city of Moscow.(the Moscow Criterion)Speaking of which he could also have said that Trident is no longer a deterrent because Putin has beefed up Moscow's defences so much, no warheads can be assured of getting through. We would have to spend much much more to keep up in this arms race.

Peter said...

Hindsight, as they say, can be a wonderful thing. On the subject of nuclear weapons (and indeed any warfare) the first port of call is checking with the Secretary General of the United Nations. Anyone who bombs another country without clearance from the UN is guilty of war crimes. Just ask Tony Blair. I suspect that Jeremy Corbyn would have strengthened his position by stating that first, in response to pressing the red button. I think there might have been some Tory trolls in the audience however, for whom such a response would have made no difference whatsoever. Nevertheless, concentrating on the correct and indeed legal way of doing things would, I think, have made his position stronger in the debate.

Unknown said...

dsugg said...

The Tories are still as arrogant as ever think they have already won i don't agree Jeremy Corbyn has a massive following an army of people willing to go all out to win and if the young go out and vote then yes Labour could win God i hope so i am literally fighting for my life a Tory win I am as good as dead so come on Labour we Can win we must win

Anonymous said...

That's a fascinating analogy. Most people wouldn't hesitate to use it, but I think JC would hold back. His ethics would prevent him stooping to that level.

Unknown said...

Jeremy Corbyn could have had a field day with the news of the Tory candidate being prosecuted for election fraud but unlike the Tories he chose to be dignified and not comment on the situation. That alone tells you he has integrity.

Shai Masot said...

I asked the same "what if" question to myself throughout the non-debate. What if that perky Blairite nonentity who challenged Jeremy for the leadership - I can't remember his name - had won? I came to the conclusion that he'd be way too Tory-lite for the Labour supporters - of which there were many - in the audience; and he'd have been way too Tory-lite for the nuclear willy-wagglers. The so-called "centre ground" of 90s/00s UK politics just seems to have disappeared. You just couldn't sell the New Labour proposition these days; there's no market for it.

Unknown said...

I pretty much agree with your assessment of last night's performances and most of the comments on here. I think Jeremy and Labour have done the unthinkable to be in this position, but it's still such and uphill battle to fight. The polices are so radical and different. A scarily different narrative to the deficit/austerity narrative of failed Neo Liberalism that has been our staple, from Blair to May. The Tory's can control this narrative with such a tight grip on the media. For all May's gaff's and ducks in this campaign, the climate is still such that she can rock up like she did last night, give a decent performance and all the party faithful and those who are too scared of trying a completely new direction will be called to heel. Then a few more trols and newspaper articles about red buttons and terrorist sympathies and in the minds of the British people Corbyn is weak and unpatriotic. These things will resonate strongly with so many people. Our biggie problem is the failure of the Labour Party in Scotland. With all Corbyn's appeal , I fear it will not be enough to win back the SNP and without that I can't see how Labour could possibly win out over the Tory rural strongholds, particularly in the South West. With all my heart I want a Labour victory, but I think we have to prepare ourselves for disappointment next Friday and that familiar feeling of, "We were so close...if Only " What I am trying to take comfort from , is that Corbyn has done more than I could have imagined in taking the Labour Party back to a more left wing position with a manefesto of change that has managed to galvanise massive popular support. More young people registered to vote. Superb achievements

MikeB said...

The problem with the nuclear weapon question is that to accede to the logic of deterrence is a kind of moral suicide. What human could, in good conscience, threaten mass murder and ecological holocaust?

To persuade an entrenched pro-nuke party, or electorate, through sound bites aimed at them en masse is virtually impossible, because it is so psychologically arousing - the defences come up straight away. Instead, people need both individual and collective experiences that refute the (il-)logic of survival through greater violence.

(One thing I've found especially disappointing in this regard is the way that through film and TV, we are increasingly fed this logic - every superhero movie or cop series now represents the solution to a problem as hyper-violence - a bigger gun, jaw-breaking, spine snapping, hand to hand combat, city-engulfing explosions...) yeah....the election....

Anonymous said...

Whilst May misrepresented Diane Abbott Re taking criminals off the Data Base and moćked that a highly intelligent person cannot count, JC did not bring up the charges against Conservatives for misrepresenting use of funds during 2015 Election. He never has mađe personal attacks during PMQs, but suffered profuse abuse consistently from both DC and TM.

Ed said...

I think one of his problems on the nukes issue is, he's been boxed in by other Labour politicians (not just ultra-Blairites) into accepting the renewal of Trident; the strongest arguments you can make in response to that line of questioning all point in the direction of getting rid of nuclear weapons altogether (and I don't mean the old CND line - you can cite journalists, politicians and military men who were all keen Cold Warriors thirty years ago but now say nuclear weapons are totally unnecessary and a waste of money). But if you're in a position of accepting Trident will be renewed, you can't very well make those arguments directly. So he was bound to struggle a bit with that.

There was something very revealing though about the angry, middle-aged white men who were the only ones in the audience obsessed with the issue. Sensible centrist commentators like to say that accepting Trident is part of showing that you're a serious, 'grown-up' politician. Well, those are the people who you're pandering to: overgrown children who think the Bomb is a totem of national virility and are desperately scrambling around for an excuse to keep it. The nonsense about Iran or North Korea being prepared to nuke Britain if it wasn't for Trident, Jesus - I'm sure none of them has spent a single second of their lives genuinely worried about that scenario, it's just a fig-leaf for the willy-waving (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

As a rule, I really don't believe in writing off sections of the population as idiots; it's not conducive to winning over new layers of support (and the people who we can never win over are usually motivated by sensible class interest, not stupidity). But those guys really are Grade A morons, and tailoring your policy on nuclear weapons to their prejudices would be a colossal mistake.

Anonymous said...

His ethics would prevent him stooping to that level.

I think so too. Even though there is in fact a strong moral imperative for using that information, i.e., the public has the right to know, both in general and in the specific case of making an informed choice on polling day.

Would Corbyn's silence effectively be part of a Tory cover-up? It's a stronger dilemma than it appears at first encounter.

The flash of a nuclear weapon would last a second or two. The light cast by Corbyn's decision (to release the information) would be permanent.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Corbyn might be better off by simply stating what he believed about nuclear weapons, rather than constantly trying to fudge the issue and always sounding evasive.
There is a perfectly valid moral position to adopt in saying you would never use nuclear weapons. Its obvious that this is what he believes, so why not go for broke and declare that openly. He's long held this view so should be able to put forward a legitimate and rational argument for their non use.
That would put him at odds with many in the party and its declared position, but its clear he doesn't believe in that and cannot bring himself to openly support it.
Rather than put himself through contortions trying to explain this - he never sounds remotely convincing - why not come clean and lay his cards on the table?


Baden said...

Firstly concerning victory I have to say I am not aware of any time Murdoch has been on the losing side in elections, referendums. Including supporting Blair and Brexit.

My main point is I do feel concerning nuclear weapons Corbyn should bring in the research on safe countries conducted by the Global Peace Index. His nuclear position is based primarily on his position on international relations, domestic and foreign affairs. In this context the index would be useful.

However by atomizing the answer to the nuclear question, no pun intended, it is simply a gift to the right wing press.

Charles Dilke said...

I think JC won this by the narrowest of margins.

Whilst I don't think any voter would have had their minds changed by what he said, I do think that a few undecided voters may now have plumped for Labour. May wouldn't have either won voters from other parties or persuaded any undecided ones to go for the Tories.

The audience seemed less open-minded than in previous debates/events; a bit more partisan. Every - or almost every - response from either May or Corbyn being greeted with applause.

But when is anyone either going to ask May a) why does she always talk about sitting down to discuss things with people after she's got into office, when Labour have shown its perfectly possible to do it beforehand, or b) what information is she using for the basis of these ridiculous Lab-Lib-SNP coalition claims, and indeed for the composition of a potential Labour cabinet?

Great blog, BTW.

Unknown said...

I'm not a Labour supporter. Never was and never will be. However the *result* on the night was clearly a much better performance from Corbyn than May. He was believable and evidenced compassion and leadership. May evidenced neither attribute. Insisting that No Deal is better than a Bad Deal despite pushing from Dimbleby completely overlooks the fact that a WTO outcome (ie No Deal) would seriously degrade our trade in services whereas the EU's trade in manufactures would hardly be dented. The City of London would come off considerably worse.

As for the Nuclear Question - it's a complete irrelevance. In many years of experience in the military we never even simulated a first strike - exercises made the preparations and then the whole thing was always called off and conventional means took its place. So second strike might be a requirement - but the scenario that might require it is so far removed from the next five years as to be completely unworthy of any consideration whatsoever. Even if North Korea goes nuclear their missiles wouldn't reach these shores. Corbyn was rightly quite clear he would take account of the situation at the time and act in his country's defence. He was believable on that score and that's all we can expect.

At least if we head towards a hung parliament then we might start to see the return of some co-operative politics rather than the nonsense of the last couple of years. The whole Brexit deal is a flawed argument. We might assume that 48% wanted to Remain to keep the status quo. Of the other 52% just how many thought they were getting £350m for the NHS each week or some continuation of the Single Market? The refusal of May et al to even contemplate consulting the electorate post-negotation and pre-implementation is frankly a disgrace. It condones lying to the electorate as a basis for unilateral action.

I don't like many of Corbyn's supporters and would rather see a more collaborative government in place in the UK. That said - he was by far superior to May in the Question Time arena. Objectively he came out on top by some margin.

Chrisso said...

I was surprised by this: "The unweighted poll(i.e. not controlling for differentiated turn out)actually puts Labour three points ahead" as I could not find that Labour poll lead anywhere. It was not in the link given.