One of the strangest elements of the current political moment isn’t just that both the Conservative and Labour party poll ratings are in free fall at the same time – a YouGov Westminster one today puts the Lib Dems in the lead with 24%, Brexit Party on 22% and both main parties tied for fourth on 19 each – it’s that they are doing exactly the wrong things needed to pull themselves out of their respective death spirals. And I do mean, exactly the wrong things, as in, if you got them to do the precise opposite of everything they are currently up to, they would have a very good chance of breaking out of the negative pattern.
I’ll take Labour first. Why send members of the shadow cabinet out to offer a new, even more muddled line on Brexit, one guaranteed to really irritate both Remainers and Leavers, the week after being decimated in an election dominated by the subject? Shami Chakrabarti was particularly bad, not able when asked to even say whether Labour would campaign for Remain or Leave if there was another referendum. She was still on about the idea of a Labour Brexit, as if this was something anyone in the country was remotely keen on. This “we’re not the party of the 52 or the 48 but of the 100%” line is really, really not working. The more they talk, the greater the hole Labour seems to dig for itself.
Meanwhile, the Tories are doing the one thing that could have made their fortunes worse by staging the most ridiculous leadership contest imaginable. There are a dozen MPs running to be the next leader so far, with a whole other fortnight to go before nominations close. If Kit Malhouse and Mark Harper are running, anyone could feel it’s worth the effort. I realise they haven’t begun in earnest yet, but already the whole affair feels screechy and slightly mad. Presenting themselves as a bunch of slightly crazy cats fighting in a bag is the worst thing the Tories could have done at the moment; they needed a sober, ideas led contest involving four, five MPs at the most.
It has been pointed out that Labour could turn themselves around at any point and crush the nascent Lib Dem surge. Of course they could, yet what evidence is there of them doing so? As I say, they just seem to be digging themselves an even greater hole. At a time when the polls are suggesting they may have lost half of their 2017 vote, those sympathetic to Corbyn are making suggestions like bringing Ed Miliband back into the shadow cabinet, as if completely unaware of how desperate and clutching at straws this sounds to those outside the boundaries of the cult. The Tories on the other hand seem to be drifting sleepily into a fate of watching themselves overtaken by the Brexit Party, only to be absorbed back into them in a scene reminiscent of Canada in the 90s, when the Reform Party obliterated Tory support and Reform essentially became the Conservative party in good time. As if Farage taking over the Conservative party brand was not cause for extreme panic.