Sound and smoke were in abundance this week as the starting pistol was fired on the 2019 General Election, with the political parties officially launching campaigns they had spent months furtively preparing for. However, in spite of the seeming inevitability of a General Election, best laid plans went awry as both the Conservative and Labour campaigns found themselves hostage to unforeseen missteps.
Let’s start with the Conservatives. Within the space of 36 hours the Tories had seen a Cabinet Minister resign and others forced to apologise for highly insensitive remarks. Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns’ resignation followed the emergence of his erstwhile support for a former aid accused of sabotaging a rape trial, and is now facing calls to pull out of the race for his Parliamentary seat, Vale of Glamorgan. But a Cabinet resignation was only part of Boris Johnson’s woes, as it followed highly offensive remarks from Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg that it would have been “common sense” to ignore fire brigade advice and flee the Grenfell tower block fire. This situation only got worse when spartan Brexiteer MP Andrew Bridgen doubled down, suggesting that Rees-Mogg was smarter than victims of the tragedy. Forget The West Wing, the Tories seemed to be shooting for a version of The Thick of It.
Over in Labour Land, things made a better start with leader Jeremy Corbyn pledging to “transform” the UK with a radical socialist agenda that would benefit the many not the few, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell unveiling plans for £400bn in investment. Indeed, the Labour leadership may have looked at the Conservative campaign with a glint in their eyes on Wednesday morning. But such relish was fleeting, for Deputy Leader Tom Watson’s resignation on Wednesday evening citing reasons that were “personal, not political” appeared to many observers as anything but. To add to the fun, two former Labour MPs, Ian Austin and John Woodcock, then urged voters not to cast their ballot for Jeremy Corbyn the following day, and the progressive rebellion had a sting in its tale.
Despite standing starts, with five weeks of electioneering to go, both Conservatives and Labour believe the keys to No.10 are up for grabs. The Tory camp in particular is said to be in high spirits. Clear lines of accountability running from and to Isaac Levido, the former protégé of David Cameron’s campaign manager Lynton Crosby, who this time is running the general election campaign, starkly contrasts with the Nick and Fi show of Theresa May’s 2017 campaign, playing well with foot soldiers at CCHQ. The choice Conservatives want to put to voters is one of ‘Get Brexit Done’ versus potentially two referendums under Prime Minister Corbyn. And it is a compelling one. If they can keep the election focused on this question, they are in with a fighting chance of a majority. But if derailed by events, there is all to play for.
On to the next week!