Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Sign of the Times

I had just put up my Labour sign for the County Council elections when the General Election was announced; with such a lack of awareness of local democracy amongst my neighbours, I am sure most of them thought I was just very keen to show my colours for June 8th. My hunch was proved correct when one of them asked where my "Labour thing" had gone after I had taken it down following the East Sussex vote for a respectful period ahead of the Westminster poll. In truth, I was glad to take the sign down - I wasn't looking forward to a General Election: the Conservatives' opinion poll lead seemed unassailable, Theresa May was positioning herself as Iron Lady II and they were set to put Jeremy Corbyn's perceived weaknesses front and centre of their campaign.

Against the odds, however, things started to change: Corbyn immediately looked relaxed and popular on the campaign trail in comparison to May's stilted and staged awkwardness; Labour produced a superb manifesto that promised to scrap tuition fees, protect pensioners and put more police on the streets - and it set out how corporations and the richest would pay for these policies; the Tories produced an uncosted dose of medicine born of the arrogance of a massive poll lead. Reaction was bad to their dementia tax, May u-turned and then lied about it: "Nothing's changed," she snapped at the journalists who had dared voice their derision. May looked weak and wobbly and Labour started to narrow the Tories' lead. Even the hiatus prompted by the terrible events in Manchester has not halted Labour's momentum (no pun intended); they have continued to close in on the Tories in the opinion polls with 24 a point lead now whittled down to single digits.

Be assured the Tories will throw everything at Labour in the final 10 days of the campaign - not about their popular policies but about Corbyn's strength to deal with immigration, terrorism and, of course, Brexit. Expect a desperate Tory campaign to focus on what they see as Labour's glass jaw - the manifesto has less to say on Brexit than other issues; but the die has been cast on our membership of the EU and it would have been a brave Labour leader who bucked the prevailing mood in its heartlands and stood on a platform of reversing the, albeit slim, decision of last June. Although the terms under which we separate from Europe are important, what is more important for Labour in power is to stop the dismantling of the welfare state and the assault on those on low and average incomes through poor employment conditions and frozen pay. If the Leave vote was an anguished howl of pain from 'the left behind', and the Conservatives are intent on delivering Brexit to satisfy them, there will be hell to pay in the wake of a Tory victory when ordinary people realise they are still no better off and quitting the world's second largest economy was not the silver bullet they thought it would be. A Labour government will deal with the lack of funding and investment that is the real issue that affects the marginalised. My sign is back up now.

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