Politicians need three things to be successful: attractive policies they can credibly execute and convincingly communicate. However, 80% of public debate is confined to policy choices which are are irrelevant if they do not happen!
Two outlier examples. Michael Gove had innovative school policies, ruthlessly executed but disastrously communicated and so now largely abandoned. Gordon Brown was vague on policy, weak on communication, but at least at Treasury he got what he wanted. In short, both Gove and Brown mastered the bureaucracy. The central point is that there is no point debating policies if they do not get done, or are so poorly communicated they get abandoned.
Voter choice is about all 3 factors.
The choice we face
Jeremy Corbyn is clearly presenting some attractive policies. He is also right on some foreign policy questions. It is indeed NATO and the EU who have expanded, not Russia. It is right and relevant to confront Saudi Arabia about Sunni extremism. However, I am unclear how he plans to leave the country with less debt than when he takes over as repeatedly asserted by John McDonnell. Also the data is pretty clear that lower corporation tax rates raise more money. Thus, if Labour’s agenda is to raise money it should lower the rate. It is their doctrine of progressive fairness that leads them to raise taxes which is fine but less credible in revenue terms. Jeremy Corbyn’s current counter terror policies are now more appealing to his base in safe labour seats, but of course he only arrived at them two days ago. This is probably not enough for UKIP voters outside London. Nevertheless, his policy offering is appealing at least to his core vote.
Jeremy Corbyn communicates well and clearly has passion. He skates as well as he can over areas such as security where his instincts differ from the party policy (Trident) or he has an ambivalent past to explain (IRA and Shoot to Kill). As Ken Clarke said a while ago “Corbyn will be hard to campaign against”. Jeremy Corbyn can sound vague but is on the whole a good communicator and certainly excites a loyal crowd. This may not be enough but is a useful step towards a wider audience.
However, it seems fair to doubt his ability to execute. He shows little appetite for the kind of disciplined behaviour and detailed work that leads to stuff getting done. The current shadow cabinet are the second eleven after the first eleven (Yvette Copper etc) decided they did not want to work with him, largely for this reason. Seamus Milne is repeatedly having to correct him over key issues, most recently an absurd endorsement of a call for Theresa May to resign just 3 days before an election. The Remain campaign reported their inability to get Jeremy Corbyn to come to meetings in the morning. He does not do early! It is also hard to see a logic for him spending so much time campaigning in safe Labour seats. None of this points to efficient execution.
In summary, he has interesting policies if you like them, well communicated but probably none of them happen. When events buffet him it seems unlikely he will be able get a grip and in the face of complexity he goes all vague. His stated preference is for talk not action. Idealism over execution.
Theresa May’s policy offering is bold in some areas but hasty and less coherent. She says she has chosen austerity but hasn’t really. This seems odd since she gets defined by it but in 5 years will have little to show. This is exactly what happened to George Osbourne.
She clearly has a style that gets some things done. She has not cut immigration numbers but she would have needed government better wide support for ugly implementation measures. She did sort out arrivals at Heathrow, eventually. She has meetings at tables not sitting on sofas, Her lack of wider consultation with her cabinet is risky and of course tripped her up. Her statement “No deal is better than a bad deal” might well be factually wrong but it is what the EU needs to believe she thinks, if she is to get a better deal than Cameroon. It is a product of execution based thinking. On the whole there is evidence she will execute a decent proportion of her aspirations.
Her formal communication is good in a crisis eg post attack speeches sound confident and leaderly. When on topics of her choosing she is sound but under questioning she seems intellectually unable to engage with a new thought. This is worrying in the broader context. Fine to be able to make sound long term plans but what about negotiating on the hoof! For evidence check the ITV clip of her saying the naughtiest thing she ever did was run through fields of wheat. She is at her weakest when pretending she is answering the question when she is not. It makes a viewer feel demeaned and patronised. It turns her confidence into arrogance. Nevertheless, she is studied and solid but not nimble.
So qualitatively I think the country will vote for Theresa May but with little enthusiasm. At least they believe she will govern and she is surrounded by more credible people than Corbyn. (Cheeky thought but ideal outcome might be if her superior execution team adopted a few more Labour policies)
Modern polling needs to be a big data activity focussed on those 50 or so seats which might change hands. The size of majorities in safe seats is irrelevant in a first past the post system. The polling companies do not seem to tackle this and are continue to run national models. Clearly, young voter turn out is a big variable and Corbyn, like Bernie Saunders, has excited many of them. I suspect they are mostly metro-liberals based in south and mostly in Labour held seats. In the northern swing seats, 48% of UKIP voters have moved to Conservative and this will lead to actual seats for Theresa May.
I think (do not know) the mainstream polling companies like You Gov have tweaked their models over eg voter turn out and ‘don’t knows’ but the weakness of including irrelevant safe seats remains. Lord Ashcroft, a conservative but also a rebel, is at least focused on the swing seats but has less mature models and probably less data. I suspect he is the most credible pollster but untested.
Certainly the campaign pattern of both leaders suggests Conservatives in attack mode and Labour in defence mode. Thus, Theresa May is visiting more Labour seats than Corbyn is visiting Conservative seats. Since each leader has access to propreitary data presumably both data sets point to a Conservative win.
I am waiting for the latest Ashcroft poll due out Tuesday 6 June. The last one showed a Conservative majority of between 25 and 80 depending on turn out. I suspect the last few days will have increased the conversion of UKIPers to Conservative offset by Corbyn’s on going improvement in communicating to young voters. My guess-a-number-for-fun is Conservative majority of 59.
Scores out of Ten all of them in terms of addressing swing and new voters.
Credible Execution: (May 8; Corbyn 3)
Attractive Policies (May 6; Corbyn 8)
Convincing Communication (May 6; Corbyn 8)
May 20 to Corbyn 19 = ( by magic) Conservative Majority of 59… ish! i.e. that is my central projection.
Confidence levels. I am 80% confident of an outcome of 20 to 80 Conservative majority. The remaining 20% of outcomes is skewed to Labour win i.e. I think a hung parliament is more likely than a Conservative win of 100.