Lansons Conversations

Policies Versus Personalities: The Battleground of the General Election Campaign – 24 Days To Go!

Opinium’s latest polling this weekend showed Labour at 32%, versus the Conservatives at 47%. That Labour is polling at a similar level to that of Ed Miliband in 2015 would have been thought impossible before this election campaign began. However, suggestions of a Labour resurgence (widespread on social media) are wide of the mark. In reality, Labour’s recent poll improvement is well within the margin of error, with the Conservatives consistently holding a poll lead of around 15%. The extent to which Labour’s vote turns out consistent with their polling will determine the size of the Conservative majority.

Opinium, here, look in more detail at the extent to which Labour’s poll numbers are thought to be solid. The key issue for Labour is the tension between the legacy strength of the Labour brand and the weakness of the leader. Consistently, where Labour can talk about issues other than Brexit and leadership, its responses improve. Whether or not you believe that Labour leaked its manifesto on purpose last week, the fact remains that the act itself has allowed the party to spend the resulting four days talking about its policies, where it is stronger, than Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour is set to release its manifesto, for real, tomorrow, allowing it a second bite at the cherry to win support for its agenda. This will be crucial for the party, as it keeps the agenda on policy issues instead of spending time talking about its leadership, which for many is highly toxic, as Theresa May continues to poll much higher when compared directly to her Labour opponent. Lansons’ social media experts show below that, of users talking about the general election online, 33.2% are talking about the NHS (no doubt fuelled by last week’s cyber-attack), while 26.1% are talking about education. This is a clear improvement from Labour’s point of view. However, as much social media comment is being driven by relatively unrepresentative groups of people, Labour needs to convert this into real conversations in the country at large.

Labour’s unwillingness to focus on Corbyn is being played out across the country at local level as well. In key marginals Labour candidates refuse to include the Labour leader in their campaign leaflets and some, including John Woodcock, have even gone as far as writing their own constituency focused manifestos in order to distance themselves from the national party’s current brand.

This has affected how Corbyn himself has been forced to campaign. While he has appeared in areas of strong Momentum support such as Corbynista Richard Burgon’s Leeds East seat, his appearance in constituencies such as Warwick and Leamington seems on the face of it bizarre as the Conservatives have a 6,606 majority there, with little prospect of a Labour swing. However, in key marginal Labour held seats – where you would expect a Labour leader to campaign – such as Wes Streeting’s Ilford North, Corbyn has been all but banned from visiting, with the local associations highly fearful of what his involvement could bring for their chances of clinging onto their seats. Corbyn’s appearance alongside key supporters such as Burgon and Salford and Eccles’ Rebecca Long-Bailey, adds further fuel to the conspiracy theory that Corbyn’s main goal in the campaign is to shore up his support for an impending Labour leadership campaign, rather than campaigning to win the general election outright (a goal many in Labour privately think impossible).

If Labour are desperate to frame the national debate around their policies, the Conservatives are just as keen to ensure that newspaper headlines focus on the personalities of the leaders rather than what they actually plan to do. This was supposed to be manifesto week, where all the main parties – Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats – would release their pitches to the nation consecutively over the next three days. The Conservative manifesto has already been delayed once (it was originally trailed for the 8 May) and was expected to be released today. The fact that it is still nowhere to be seen shows the extent to which they wish to focus in large part on the leadership issue. The Tory battle bus with the words “Theresa May: For Britain” emblazoned across it gives a clear signal that the party has pinned its strategy on the Prime Minister’s own strong personal polling. Like Labour’s limited use of Corbyn’s image on its campaign literature, the Conservative Party logo features little on the leaflets being handed out to Tory activists across the country.

The Conservatives’ ‘May versus Corbyn’ strategy has also been helped by the sheer scale of the collapse of the other smaller parties. The local election result showed how far UKIP has fallen as a political force – Opinium has it currently polling at around 5%. The Liberal Democrats’ pro-EU mantra has also failed so far to resonate with voters, ensuring that neither Labour nor the Conservatives have to adopt their national strategy to accommodate the threat of the Yellow Peril in the way they were forced to with Nick Clegg in 2010.