It’s been an odd General Election so far here in the UK. Called unexpectedly the process meant hastily assembled manifestos and a feeling that whatever any of the parties said, Brexit was the real elephant in the room. If not a room actually in the elephant. At times its been difficult to decide who is the least capable- the party leaders or the people interviewing them. The rest of the media in its usual manner is either excessively pro one side or the other or else determined to reduce the entire thing to humourous memes and gimmicky records. Which is really going to put the serious issues across don’t you think? Anyone who thinks this election in particular is about having a laugh needs to wake up quick. Having winced at the Andrew Neill interviews and noting that only Jeremy Paxman got a word in during the Jeremy Paxman interviews, tonight we arrived at what last time was the best live interview scenario Question Time. Instead of journalists with bigger agendas than the politicians, we had the general public asking Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn things. Not together though. And finally it proved to be Jeremy Corbyn’s moment. If Ed Miliband’s stumble from the giant question mark platform was the symbolic moment you knew he’d lost, Corbyn’s eloquent, at times impassioned performance tonight is the sort of thing that sways floating voters. In the current weird political climate would you bet against a victory?
Detail is a quality often lacking from television debates. Sure, the leaders have endless statistics to hand to prove this or that but it is rare to see a party leader who appears to have a genuine feel for what the country is really like. Not the graphs and percentages, but examples we can identify with. Superficially he is already ahead anyway because he always comes over in this sort of thing better than Theresa May does. She seems ill at ease when faced with awkward questions and displays little empathy for those asking them. Corbyn on the other hand is ready to engage with the questions, even though he does know when to avoid something too controversial that he can already envisage as a headline tomorrow.
I’ve had issues with the Labour manifesto however costed it is. I felt it was more aspirational than realistic, a manifesto a flush government might pull out to spend some of it’s assembled monies. Yet listening to Corbyn explain some of its knottier points- and do so without an inane interruption even 10 seconds- makes it all seem a lot more sensible. His key argument seems to be that we have to approach some of the big problems with a different method because though he didn’t actually say this austerity has not worked. Again it may have statistically worked but what does that mean to any of us still enduring cuts? Nothing. To actually hear a party leader talking about investing in the economy (the missing Yin to austerity’s Yang) was a refreshing change from Ed Miliband’s vote losing decision to just carry on the cuts.
Corbyn’s vision seems to go beyond the cuts and even beyond Brexit towards reshaping the way we look at elderly care, student life, industry and so on. Its barely been mentioned in the mainstream coverage that Labour want to expand our industrial base something which both parties have allowed to contract for decades. He talked too of negotiating on Brexit, of coming to a new trade agreement- this is so removed from the Tories’ inflexible soundbite driven approach of looking tough. He condemned Donald Trump in clear terms, again a contrast to Theresa May’s fudge on the subject. He also explained properly how his party’s investments would be funded and rebuffed some rather frighteningly warmongering members of the public who seemed to want the government to start launching nuclear weapons all over the place something that is not even a Tory policy. Theresa May has said that we have to decide who we would trust with Brexit and based on both their performances tonight I would rather Corbyn went in there than she did. Yes, I know neither of them would be leading the detailed negotiations btw.
I still do have that nagging doubt that a program such as Labour’s could easily spiral out of control – and why won’t they scrap HS2?- but experience shows that almost any party manifesto is a risk and in the end we are being asked to take that risk. The manifesto’s most outre element of renationalising several industries was strangely barely referred to though there are suggestions this may not be a wholesale return to the British Rail slam door trains and mouldy pies.
The political climate in the UK may be changing but the response to the Tories’ `Dementia Tax` shows how a large number voters are unwilling to go along with something that means them forking out more. Labour are gambling on a host of policies that mean there will be more tax and yet when it comes down to it I think it probably is a gamble worth taking. If that sounds grudging then bear in mind till tonight I had more or less decided not to vote which would have been the first time ever I’d abstained in any election I was eligible for. So, with reservations but buoyed by the feeling that on balance more would benefit than lose out I am ready to get in that wobbly wooden booth next Thursday and put my pencil cross next to Labour. And if you’re a UK voter and have been having similar doubts and missed the programme then I’d urge you to watch tonight’s Question Time on the iPlayer without prejudice and see what you think. You might be surprised.