A month ago, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn was being written off as a socks-with-sandles leftist academic who was an excellent back-bench agitator, but about as likely to be Prime Minister as Citizen Smith. To his espresso-drinking (with soya milk, of course) disciples in combat trousers and Che Guevara t-shirts, he was a minor god, but to everyone else, he embodied all that was wrong with the current Labour Party. For the worker? They couldn’t find their way around a factory with written instructions and a map.
But a month on, Corbyn is looking surprisingly Prime Ministerial. Newspapers that once made fun of him for wearing a hat and riding a bicycle (seriously) are now throwing as much mud in his direction as they can, desperately hoping some of it sticks and Britain turns its back on the Labour Party, electing a government more acceptable to their billionaire proprietors. Why? Look at the polls. Despite early predictions that Labour was heading for its worst ever defeat and the sitting Conservative Party would win by a landslide, Corbyn is actually doing well.
The latest YouGov poll points to a hung parliament, a far cry from the massive Tory victory predicted when the election was announced back in April. And Corbyn himself is winning over the voters. May started out with a seemingly unassailable 56-point lead over Corbyn in net approval ratings, calculated by subtracting the percentage who disapprove from those who approve. But a recent poll, taken in London, shows Corbyn has actually overtaken May in the popularity stakes.
So what happened? How did the election turn from being the unelected sitting Prime Minister’s coronation to one where the voters are just as likely to make June the end of May? For starters, voters have warmed to Corbyn. He’s no longer the leftie dingbat whose views are better suited to the student union bar than the Houses of Parliament. A Facebook post extolling his virtues as a different kind of politician, honest and incorruptible, went viral, and even after the Manchester bombing, where 22 youngsters were killed in a terrorist attack, Newscorp’s attempts to smear him as a supporter of the terrorist group the IRA have fallen flat.
Corbyn’s speech in the wake of the Manchester bombing, arguing the war on terror is not working, was well received. Conservative claims he was excusing terrorism fell flat. According to Boris Johnson, it was “absolutely extraordinary and inexplicable in this week of all weeks that there should be any attempt to justify or to legitimate the actions of terrorists”. But maybe Johnson should choose his words more carefully. In an interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News, Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was presented with the quote, “Isn’t it possible that things like the Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country and given them a new pretext?” Fallon roundly condemned Corbyn for this suggestion, only to find it was in fact from an article written by Conservative Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson after the 2005 London bombings. It Johnson called Corbyn ‘monstrous’ for saying something he’d already said himself, and Fallon condemned his own Foreign Secretary without realising it. Meanwhile, the post-Manchester public mood was squarely with Corbyn.
For the government, worse was to come after the terrorist murders on London Bridge on the 3rd June, in which seven people were killed and dozens injured. May’s response was a bewildering demand to regulate the internet, claiming large tech companies that provide internet services were giving terrorism “the safe space it needs to breed”. Condemning Islamic terrorism as a whole, she said, “We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue to carry on as they are,” she said. “Enough is enough.”
But commentators weren’t slow to point out that as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016, it was Theresa May herself who was responsible for domestic security. If things haven’t been done properly, the buck stops with her. “I am so sick of Theresa May blaming others for terror when the system she presided over has obviously failed so lamentably,” Tweeted David Cameron’s former director of strategy, Steve Hilton. Mrs. May, he added in a later tweet, “should be resigning, not seeking re-election.”
But while the Prime Minister was pointing the finger at everyone other than herself, former Met Police Chief Inspector Peter Kirkham placed the blame far closer to home. According to Mr Kirkham, who was with the London Metropolitan Police Service from 1981 to 2002, the police have been hamstrung by government austerity cuts. In a scathing attack, he told LBC radio, “We haven’t got enough cops to actually put people on the street, that’s the main problem. The streets have been lost. And I would put it as strongly as that. The streets of London have been lost because there are not police officers patrolling.”
Speaking to Sky News, he was even more damning. “The police service is in crisis because of the cuts,” he argued. “We hear talk of extra police officers on the street. They’re not extra. They’re officers that have had their rare leave days cancelled, they’ve had 12-hour shifts routinely extended to 16 hours and they’re being drawn from other areas … They’re not extra officers at all.” He also rejected the government’s claim that there are more armed officers on the streets than ever before. “People that are alleging that are lying,” he said. For a former senior police officer to accuse the government of outright lying about police issues is unusual to the point of being unprecedented.
But the figures bear out Kirkham’s claims. According to the National Audit Office, police funding has fallen every year since 2010, going from just over £10,000 million to just over £8,000 million. And in the five years from March 2010, almost 17,000 police officers were lost, a decline of around 12%. Also lost were 15,877 support staff and 4,587 police community support officers (PCSOs). And the number of specialist firearms officers has fallen by 15% between 2009-2014.
Perhaps it’s no wonder sitting Prime Minister Theresa May, who took office after the resignation of David Cameron and has yet to face a general election, has experienced a dramatic fall from grace. Not long ago she was perceived as the person who could deliver on the Brexit referendum, in which the public decided (albeit by a very narrow margin) to leave the European Union. But her popularity has since tumbled, thanks to a series of unforced blunders and the growing feeling that, well; she just isn’t very nice.
May has continually refused to talk to the press or be interviewed in the run-up to the election. She declined to take part in the BBC leaders debate, sending Home Secretary Amber Rudd in her place, despite Rudd’s father dying a few days earlier. This was hardly likely to go down well with the voters, who resent being taken for granted in this way. May will have to face Corbyn in Parliament every day for the next five years, whether she is Prime Minister or not. Her refusal to face him in a TV debate proved a giant red flag to the public. If Corbyn were the joke the Tories make him out to be, and if Conservative policies are so clearly superior, the Prime Minister would be eager to rip him to shreds. Her stubborn debate silence spoke volumes.
On the few occasions she has appeared on TV she proved poor in front of the cameras, getting flustered when put under pressure. Her election catchphrase ‘strong and stable’ – which she’s repeated so often she sounds like a stuck record – has consequently been lampooned as ‘weak and wobbly’.
Her election catchphrase ‘strong and stable’ – which she’s repeated so often she sounds like a stuck record – has consequently been lampooned as ‘weak and wobbly’.
Talking of records, ‘Liar Liar’, a protest song by Captain Ska that savages May, has rocketed up the charts despite the BBC refusing to play it. Just saying.
But given how error-strewn the Tory election campaign has been, perhaps it’s not surprising their leader is shy of the press. Faced with rising social healthcare costs, the Conservative Party election manifesto put together a new means of paying for it. This included dropping the previous cap of £72,000 which the person needing the care could be expected to pay from their own assets. And for the first time, the elderly would have to sell their houses to pay for care received in their own homes. The measure was cruelly dubbed ‘the dementia tax’, and its unpopularity among voters forced a U-turn just days after the release of the manifesto.
In another bewildering blunder, May expressed support for fox hunting and promised Parliament the chance to vote on overturning the ban imposed by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2004. As a poll taken late last year puts public opposition to fox hunting at an overwhelming 84 percent, it seems incredible that she’s taken such an unpopular stance on an emotive issue during an election campaign.
May has also pledged to scrap free school lunches for infants, a move which would affect around ‘900,000 children from struggling families’, but also to provide free school breakfasts for every primary school pupil, at a cost calculated by the Conservatives at £60m, but critics claim would cost at least three times this figure. Her opponents weren’t slow to remind her that while her plans put the cost of a pupil’s breakfast at 7p, senior Conservative Iain Duncan Smith once tried to put his £39 breakfast on expenses.
The economy, traditionally a Conservative Party strength going into elections, seems to be doing May few favours. In April 2010, just before the coalition was elected and chancellor George Osborne made deficit reduction his key priority (so-called ‘austerity’ spending), the public sector net debt was £960 billion, 62% of the UK’s gross domestic product (GDP). Five years later, it stood at £1.5 trillion, or 81% GDP. Labour’s spending plans, usually attacked as profligate, have been favourably compared with those of nordic countries that didn’t implement austerity budgets and have better recovered from the recession. And unlike the Conservative manifesto, Labour’s intentions are fully costed.
The effects of these regular own goals is that Labour has cut the Conservative’s lead in the polls to just three points. Far from the Tory landslide predicted at the start of the election, it has been suggested that the vote on 8th June could result in a hung parliament. And that’s assuming voters’ opinion doesn’t swing even further in the run-up to the election.
The effects of these regular own goals is that Labour has cut the Conservative’s lead in the polls to just three points.
But those old enough to remember the 1987 General Election might be feeling a little deja vu. Thirty years ago, the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock roundly trounced Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives during the campaign, only to lose when it came to the vote. Could history repeat itself? Kinnock put his loss down to the press shifting the agenda to tax issues. But with the papers far less influential today, anything could happen in 2017.
How do you spend your days?
I’m a tech journalist, and spend much of my time researching and writing about the inner workings of Macs and iOS devices, and writing it up as tutorials for a series of Apple bookazines. I’ve worked in tech journalism for around 20 years now, but have also written about video games, history and other subjects. When I’m not working, I enjoy reading (doesn’t everybody?), playing with my cat, working on my novel and playing on my Xbox One.
Why is …. this important to you?
Reading is important because it’s impossible to be a writer unless you’re also a reader. It would be like training for soccer without joining a team. There’s only so much you can do on your own. My cat is important as he brings me down to Earth. When life seems complicated, he sits on my lap and all is peaceful. I enjoyed writing my novel, as it’s something I always wanted to do, but now I just want to get it out there. And the Xbox One? I enjoy video games. Even at my age. So sue me.
What drove you to focus on journalism & writing? Was there a particular moment you can remember that led you to this field?
My career began when I chanced upon an advert for games reviewers in a local paper. After becoming a journalist, I endeavoured to write about things that interest me, so from games, I moved on to tech, politics, entertainment and more. It’s amazing just how pivotal that advert turned out to be in my life.
What drives you professionally?
I always like to make the next piece of work I do a little better than my last. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and turn out the same old stuff time after time, and I can’t claim I’ve never fallen into that particular trap, but if anything drives me professionally it’s the desire to build on what I’ve done before rather than repeat it.
In your opinion what are the three biggest problems facing the developed and developing world?
For the developed world, I’d say, complacency, apathy and a lack of self awareness. We’re far too quick to sit back and congratulate ourselves on what we’ve done, without looking beyond that and looking at what we’ve still to do. We also need to understand how others see us, and take the appropriate action if we don’t like what we see.
The main threats to the developing world are instability, exploitation and environmental issues. A stable political system is a prerequisite for prosperity, and although free trade is equally essential, this shouldn’t lead to an exploitative relationship between workers and business owners. Environmental problems are frequently caused by the first world, but have a devastating affect on the third world.
If you hadn’t become a journalist what would you have done?
I suppose the obvious alternative career for me is in PR and marketing, something I’ve actually done for a while. I’d love to have been a novelist too, but my lack of success in flogging my first effort would suggest I was right to go into journalism instead.
What led us to this moment in history?
Regarding politics, as the philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately, we forget the past far too often, and it results in our repeating the same old mistakes. But what really defines the modern world isn’t its politics, but its scientific achievements. Even then, we hold ourselves back by repeating past mistakes. Vaccines, for example, have doubled our lifespan, but we’re cursed by an anti-vax movement that makes no more sense than a medieval doomsday cult.
What are the lessons we failed to learn during and since the 2008 crisis?
Greed and rampant inequality are a recipe for disaster, and you can’t have power without responsibility. Allowing the banks to get too big to fail and then leaving them largely unregulated was a ridiculous move. Only time will tell whether this lesson has been learned, but I’m not optimistic.
Can you list some ‘Baby Steps’ out of the current economic mess?
Austerity has been a disaster for the UK, and has greatly increased the national debt. Brexit is set to stifle economic growth still further. So for starters, I’d ease off on the cuts and stay in the EU. Whether this would be enough is open to question, but it’s a start.
If you were a global President what would your first three pieces of policy be?
Tell us something you have been wrong about?
I’m certainly not as left wing as I was in my youth. Mass public ownership of businesses would lead to stagnation and decay; the profits would go to the state instead of shareholders, but there would be less and less profit. I still feel effective monopolies like the railways should be nationalised, though. Rail travel in the UK is among the most expensive in the world, and we pay more in subsidies now than we ever did when it was British Rail.
You are stuck in a ski lift for twenty four hours - you can have one person (living or dead) with you who will it be?
Superman. I’d get him to fly me down to the ground.
Name the book that changed you….
‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. It’s an excellent guide to communication, and helps you see things from other people’s point of view as well as your own. Apply these skills on a macro level, and interaction between groups and countries would improve too.
What would you do differently if you were to start all over again?
Not much. There are things I know I should have done differently but wouldn’t change. I should’ve done a more career-related degree, for example, but if I had, I’d have missed out on some of the best years of my life, and never met my partner. Early in my career, I wish I’d have looked out for myself a little more, and not let loyalty make me stay in situations that were doing me no favours.
Give our readers, members and subscribers a piece of advice that has served you well…
Work hard and work smart, and don’t tolerate laziness and disorganisation from others. And if you’re planning to be a freelancer, ALWAYS get your work in on time.
Anything you would like to plug? Now is your chance.
One day, I’ll have an Amazon link to my novel to share with you. But not today.