The final results of the general election campaign are not yet known but it is already clear that Labour’s campaign in 2017 is vastly more effective than in 2015. This is accepted even by non-Corbynites such as John Prescott.
Despite a wide range of support being reported by different polling companies, there is complete unanimity that Labour support has risen throughout the campaign.
The scale of Labour’s advance can for example be seen in Financial Times poll of polls graph below, which charts the average of recent polls. Its calculations suggest that since the election was called on 18 April through to 5 June, Labour has risen a full 11 per cent, from 26 per cent to 37 per cent. On average, over this seven week period, Labour has reduced its gap with the Tories by 10 per cent, from 17 per cent down to 7 per cent.
It is therefore vital for the strategy of the labour movement to understand why Labour has advanced. The principal reason is the rule of elections, which is that the party which succeeds in setting the agenda advances – this is a fundamental rule of politics.
In any election there are numerous issues facing people and the choice of which is treated as the most important is not in the slightest neutral. In this election Corbyn’s Labour has been focussing its campaign on the most important social and economic issues that affect people. By contrast the entire aim of the Tory campaign has been to present issues which are not the most important in affecting people’s lives as the decisive ones.
The really big issues affecting the lives of the vast majority of the population are falling living standards due to inflation and cuts in public services. Labour’s manifesto clearly attempts to defend the interests of the majority of the population, which are already under attack. The Tory media has sought to divert attention from this and claim the big issue confronting people is whether there will be immigrants from Bulgaria, or more draconian measures aimed against the Muslim community, or how terrible it would be to have a black woman who fights racism such as Diane Abbott in a major office of state. This entire Tory agenda is a reactionary diversion from the main issues – the ones that Labour has focused on.
Labour’s correct choice of terrain has been decisive in it setting the agenda – which explains the strong rise of Labour in the polls. In addition, while attempting to divert attention from the main issue, defending living standards, the Tories’ announcement of their proposed dementia tax, which would eliminate many people’s savings, has simply reinforced the perception they are pursuing the opposite of Labour’s agenda. The Tories will lower living standards, with the dementia tax, axing free school meals, ending the ‘triple lock’ on pensions and cutting the winter fuel allowance, effectively curbing the rise in the minimum wage, and so on.
In previous general elections, including 2015, Labour largely accepted the Tory agenda and therefore strongly reinforced the idea that the Tories’ issues were the most important. When in 2015 the Tories attempted to set the agenda that immigration was the key issue facing the country the Labour campaign went along with and reinforced this – symbolised by such disgraceful matters as the mug pledging Labour would curb immigration. As Labour in 2015 accepted the Tories agenda naturally Tory support was strengthened. Corbyn’s 2017 Labour manifesto rejects the Tories’ priorities and has set out an entirely different framework.
In 2015 the Tories focussed on the need for continued austerity, so Labour echoed this and devoted the entire first page of its manifesto to a commitment to have a ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’. There was even a ‘zero-based policy review’, implying Labour might make deeper cuts in some areas than the Tories! In the 2017 election the manifesto instead focuses on how people will be better off, with the title ‘For the many not the few’.
The Tories falsely believed people were interested in the principle of ‘in or out of the EU’ – in reality people judged the issue of the EU through the prism of how they perceived its effect on their living standards. Therefore, the Tory attempt to make it an ‘election about Brexit’ failed and instead it has increasingly become an election on living standards.
The Tories like fighting elections focussed on issues of immigration. It is a classic scapegoating tactic when they have no answers to economic crisis, or, as now, intend to deepen it. In 2015 Labour replied by claiming it too was tough on immigration. It made controls on immigration one of its five key pledges. Labour made no advance by trying to outdo the Tories on immigration in 2015 – on the contrary Labour reinforced the Tories’ agenda-setting. Corbyn’s manifesto makes no such pledge and explains that immigration contributes positively to living standards – a major difference.
Labour’s 2015 campaign was disastrous. According to YouGov polling Labour support did not rise during the last seven weeks of that campaign, but fell by 1 per cent. Instead of advancing, Labour in 2015 damaged itself electorally precisely because it said the most important issues were the Tory ones. In 2017 Labour is setting its own agenda – the correct one. But there should be no misunderstanding. Without Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party there would have been another campaign of the 2015 type with Labour presenting itself as ‘austerity-lite’ and ‘tough on immigration’.
The Labour campaign has been a success because it resolutely stuck to setting its own agenda.
With just two full days of campaigning until Polling Day, support for Labour is still rising. This is because it is increasingly understood that it is only Corbyn’s Labour that will try to protect living standards.
Get out the vote for Labour. Vote Labour on 8 June.