This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. With just days to go before polling day Jeremy Corbyn was meant to have floundered at every step. The British public would have made their minds up about his dodgy political track record and decided that he was fundamentally unsuited to be their next Prime Minister.
That was how the campaign plan was written at CCHQ, but due to a number of campaign slip-ups, poor political management, and a lack of clear strategy for dealing with the media, Theresa May’s team have had a lacklustre campaign. At this point in the campaign, she has either been unable or unwilling to land the killer blow on Mr Corbyn.
Corbyn is no all-star. On paper he is the ideal candidate for a centrist Conservative leader to beat. He is ill-disciplined, short tempered, inexperienced, and unpolished. He makes regular and glaring mistakes on some of the most fundamental parts of his job as leader of the opposition. From sloppiness with his own facts and figures to poor communication with the British public and the extremity of some of his views, there is no element of his candidacy for the job of Prime Minister which should concern Conservative strategists.
So how did Corbyn manage to make such a dramatic u-turn in his fortunes during the past few weeks and enter the final week with a widespread perception that he has moved Labour considerably closer to the Conservatives with just days to go?
Firstly, the opinion polls have – as always – led to a shifting media commentary about who is up and who is down. Much of this is divorced from the reality of how voters are feeling or thinking about the political parties and how they intend to cast their vote next week, but poll fluctuations sell newspapers so they have been reported as hard news.
Secondly, there is some truth in the line trotted out by some of Corbyn’s uber-loyal backers that the more the country gets to see of the current Labour leader, the more they will open their minds to voting for him. He is not a turn off for everyone, and so there will be many people in his campaign team who have been proven right in one sense that they simply needed to get Jeremy out of his Westminster bubble and in front of supportive crowds being himself.
Thirdly, there has not been a ‘Nick Clegg’ or ‘Boris Johnson’ of the 2017 election campaign, someone who for whatever reason sees a spike in their popularity and captures centre stage. The minor parties have been less visible for a range of reasons and with the replacement of Nigel Farage with the less media-savvy Paul Nuttall, Jeremy Corbyn has faced less competition for the spotlight than many would have predicted.
Finally, the non-Corbyn supporters in the Labour Party have had their heads down fighting tooth and nail to try and combat Labour’s weak standing in their own constituencies, many in what were former Labour heartlands. This has meant the focus on Corbyn’s weak grip on his own party has not featured as prominently during the election campaign as it has in previous months.
However, that is only part of the picture. Whilst the Lobby might have decided that Corbyn has surpassed their expectations in some ways during this election campaign, the truth is that he has fought one of Labour’s most shambolic campaigns in thirty years.
The string of errors from the leaking of the manifesto, to his numerous unforced media humiliations, to the agitation from Unite Leader Len McClusky at stage left has left many election-winning Labour veterans in despair.
If he truly did approach this election with a desire to win it, Jeremy Corbyn has made the opposite appear true.
The deployment of longstanding lieutenants such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott for keynote media interviews has shocked many Labour supporters who are used to seeing Labour politicians of stature and experience in these crucial pre-poll moments when the entire nation is watching. Instead the intense focus on Jeremy and Co’s links to the IRA or their extreme views on foreign policy have been an unavoidable consequence of their prominence in the broadcast battle.
The truth is that whatever the final result next week, it will be impossible for Abbott, McDonnell, and Corbyn to run away from their role in its outcome, they will own the result almost in its entirety.
Authored by David Chaplin
David Chaplin was a media adviser on Labour’s 2015 General Election campaign.