UK general election: why character counts for Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn | FT

UK general election: why character counts for Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn | FT


Okay. Here we go. Parties, Polls,
and Personalities. Do you think we feel as if
we’re getting towards the end? I don’t know. I’m so desperate for us to speed
up towards the finishing post. Well… It feels like a
penultimate stage. Chronologically…
chronologically speaking, we’re closer to it
than we were last time. Yeah. Okay. Okay. We’re in the final strait. That’s absolutely true. We are less than two weeks
from polling day now. Right. So… And I think the whole shape of
it is becoming fairly clear. Absolutely. So it feels to me
as if a lot of it is coalescing around the
characters and personalities of the main parties. Mhm. So, I think today we should
try out our portraiture skills. Okay Okay. I’m going to do Boris Johnson. Okay. Here we go. Okay, do you… would you
like to do Jeremy Corbyn? I’m going to… …for me? …I’m going to step in
here with Jeremy Corbyn. Okay. Look at this. We have reaped…
we have finally, through the miracle
of technology, we’ve reached my
level of artistry. This is brilliant. I feel… hang on, I know…
oh, you know Jones would insist on this. Yep. Do you want to maybe just add
a little bit of beardedness there. I think that would help. Red beard. Red beard. And, of course,
someone who’s not having the best election so far,
but there’s still a little way to go, is Jo Swinson
of the Lib Dems. Here she is, in stick man style. She can have a little skirt. And then some other players,
of course, we’ve got… You’ve got Nigel Farage. You are… would you want to
do Nigel Farage? And I will do… I can do Nigel Farage. Nicola. Now less… Yeah. …he’s less crucial
to this conversation. So we’ll make him
smaller because… We would argue that he is
literally a diminished figure in this contest. Yes. He’s opted out of
fighting 317 seats. And we’ve got
Nichola Sturgeon, who is having an extremely
good campaign, if we can make anything of
the TV appearances so far. Yeah. So here we go, SNP, Lib Dem. So, first… Can you believe they
actually pay people to do this stuff rather than us? I think we can branch out. Everyone needs a side
hustle a little bit. Okay. And this is ours. So we’ve got this really
dramatic poll that landed in the middle of the week. The MRP poll. The MRP poll from YouGov. And this showed that Boris,
here we have our Boris, is on course to romp home. Yeah. To a comfortable majority. A 68-seat majority. I think the Tories went
up to 359, didn’t they? And Labour lost about 50 seats. Yeah. So, a poll that would reassure
anybody who wants a majority Conservative government
slightly bothers the Conservative
strategists because they don’t want it to look like
they’re winning by too much. They want people to think
it’s close so that they stick with the Conservatives. What the poll, and it is only
a poll of how we are two weeks out from the election
rather than the election… Yes. …suggests is that the Tories
have got their strategy right, that the Labour party has got
it strategy quite badly wrong. And the Lib Dems are miles off. Flatline, flatlining. Just terrible. Not doing anything, really. Yeah. So, that inevitably
leads all of them to rethink some of
their strategies. And that’s… Do you think it would
be going too far? A frown? Yes. So I think they,
they’re all looking at this now and thinking,
okay, where does this take us? Right. And each of them has
a set of problems and a set of possibilities. And I think that’s…
that’s…that’s where we got to. Lib Dems were down, I
think, was it 14 seats that we’re going to be down to? It was a really terrible week. No. So, the Lib Dems, actually,
under this MRP model. And, of course, it’s a snapshot. It’s not a prediction. Yes. Of what will happen on polling
day and, apart from anything else a dramatic poll like
this can actually shift voter behaviour. Right. Absolutely. So we must sort of
caveat the whole thing. But what it showed, as you said,
is the comfortable majority for the Tories, Labour actually
going backwards in quite a significant and dangerous
way for the Labour leadership. And the Lib Dems picking
up three or four seats, but losing others,
and ending up only adding one seat to
their tally from 2017. Absolutely. SNP making gains. Yeah. Brexit party, no wins at all. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So which party do
you want to start with as we think about
what this tells us for the next couple of weeks? Well, I think we should
centre it on our current prime minister. Yes. So it seems to me one of
the things that’s happening is that all the
main party leaders. I am still awed by the
sophistication of this. But, sorry, carry on. The… the… you’ve really put me
off my stroke there. All the main party leaders– All the main party
leaders are very divisive, it turns out, in terms
of the electorate. So it’s not, in a
sense, a competition between positive visions. It’s who do you dislike more. Yeah. And, therefore,
whose arms are you being pushed into as a voter. And you’ve got some
data here on there. And they’re kind of
favourable, haven’t you? I have got some. I have got some data. So lots of headlines
have been written about quite how unfavourably
the general public see Jeremy Corbyn. Okay? So the latest is
that you’ve got… Now unfavourable of
35, minus 35, isn’t it? Yeah, minus 35, which is
historically extremely bad. But, unfortunately, Jo Swinson,
as the campaign has gone on, is also not looking great. So she’s… she’s actually
got sort of people who are unhappy with her. Minus 31. The unhappiness
rating, in a sense, is 50 per cent of
the electorate. So she’s… what’s her net minus? Her net is minus 31. Okay, so that’s also
pretty terrible. Yes. And what’s going on
with Boris Johnson now? Literally, the most popular of
all three, in a sort of way. Because he is only… He has got net
unfavorables of minus 14. Right. So, I mean, this… so you get… you get my drift, right? Yeah. None of them are
overwhelmingly popular. And all of them are divisive. But it becomes a sort
of least-worst option for a lot of voters
in individual seats, as well as in terms of
the national picture. But I think one of the
things is that, obviously, the reason why a
leader is unpopular falls into two categories. There’s the policies,
which people hate them for, and then there’s
their own personality. So, obviously, if you hate the
Conservative party and you hate Brexit… Yeah. …then you’re not going
to like Boris Johnson. The same is true for Jeremy
Corbyn in reverse, and so on. What’s different about, I
think, about Boris Johnson from the other
choice, he has lots of reasons why
people might think, might think favourably of him. They’re mostly personal
rather than political. Yes. The political ones
obviously, they’re priced into how you’re
going to vote anyway. With Labour, the positives and
the personality are wrapped up very much together. With the Liberal Democrats,
people instinctively are positive towards
liberalising, but they’re not going
to support them. And their leaders normally
outpace the party. Correct. And, historically… Yeah. …that’s always been a huge… …and it’s still crucial. …advantage in election time
where your leader gets more attention… Yeah. …if they’re more… more
popular than your party brand. It’s bad luck for Jo Swinson. She’s a new leader. And most people don’t know her. Yeah. And the problem is, most
people don’t know her. And they’re only just getting
their first look at her. And the problem is, the first
look is not going well, is it? It’s not going well. I do think, Robert, there’s
a chance for the Lib Dems to turn that frown upside down, You literally were going to. I knew you were
going to say that. Literally turn… oh, did you? I had a feeling you
were going to say that. Oh, very predictable. Okay, because there
is a chance to go, I don’t know what it is now. It’s a fish. Yes. Okay. B,ut because actually, the
Lib Dem strategy for the first couple of weeks of the campaign
was this very overambitious rhetoric about I’m Jo Swinson. I’m going to be your
next prime minister. Yes. We can win hundreds of seats. We can form a government. And then we’ll
revoke Article 50, a lot of stuff that
felt like overreach and has gone down badly. Actually, although
it’s absolutely true that you say that the
unfavourability rating is poor, the MRP poll saw them only add
on one seat to their current, well their 2017 tally
before all the defections. What it did show is there
are over 130 seats where they’re in a good second place. Yeah. Absolutely. So there’s still time for
them to try and operate a by-election-type strategy
in a lot of seats and squeeze the Labour vote to take
a seat off the Tories. And, also, as we’ve
said before, if there’s another general election
along anytime soon, that’s a lot of
fertile territory. So it’s not all bad news, but
it’s not remotely what they were promising… I think… …supporters
earlier in the year. For the Labour party, I think
it gets really interesting because it’s, what’s your
definition of success and failure? Yeah. Once upon a time, the Labour
party’s definition of success is winning the election. Well, one would hope. One would hope. Now the definition is
stopping Boris Johnson winning the election. Labour’s problem, so
far, is that it’s been… it is very much linked to it. I mean, it obviously has
a number of problems. Yeah. The leader is disliked. I was talking to a
minister the other day, a shadow minister the other day. He was… Jeremy Corbyn is universally
unliked on the doorsteps, which is quite something,
even in Labour is, and particularly in Leave areas,
he’s personally unpopular. And he is a big asset to
the Conservative party in this campaign. But also, Labour party’s Brexit
strategy has been a massive problem. They’ve been treading a line
between Leave and Remain supporters, trying not
to alienate too many. Up until now, their
big instinct was they need to consolidate
the Remain vote. That means they need
to not be to Leave-ish. They need to pull these Lib
Dem voters into their column. They’re beginning to show signs
of being successful at it. Yeah, absolutely. Lib Dem vote is falling. That’s been the strategy. And that’s what they
thought they needed to do. What this poll
suggested, and what made this poll so interesting is
its not just a national figure. But it breaks aggregate…
breaks it down and says what’s going to happen
in each constituency… makes a prediction
for each constituency. What this poll said is,
that’s all very well, but the problem is
it’s costing you all the seats that
the Tories are targeting in the north,
the so-called red wall. It’s got massive blue holes
in it all over the place. Yeah. Yeah. And some of the
seats, it’s quite. I mean, all of the big
Tory targets with places you never associate with the
Tories, Wakefield, Derby North, I got Hyndburn,
Barrow-in-Furness, these places, they’re all
falling to the Tories, according to this poll, and some
of them with enormous swings. Though some are much tighter. And what Labour has
taken from this is, we have neglected
the Leave voters. And Boris Johnson’s
successfully mopped them up. And if we don’t get
some of them back, we’re going to get thrashed. And so what they’ve got
to try somehow to do now is seem more Leave-y
to the Leave voters or persuade those
Labour-minded Leave voters that there is another
reason why they shouldn’t vote for Boris Johnson. And I think that’s
where they’re going. So core, domestic,
bread and butter issues, like this huge
emphasis on the NHS. Yeah. Which has been working
for the Labour party. It has worked. There’s a threat running there. Yeah. I mean, it works
for them in two ways because it diverts the agenda
back onto their territory and away from Brexit. And it also sort of neutralises
the Brexit position argument about their fudge because
you talk about Brexit through the prism of
what happens to the NHS if evil Donald Trump
gets his hands on it. Can I just say something about
that Labour strategy, though, because, you know, this has been
discussed by psephologists ad infinitum, really, since the
referendum, which is that, although it’s true that there
are lots of Labour-held seats, that, in aggregate,
voted Leave, actually, the Remain voters in those
seats break for Labour. Of course they do,
yeah, absolutely. So it’s a… About two-thirds to
one third, wasn’t it? Yeah. Yeah. So it’s an incredibly
delicate balance to tread, to then
sort of emphasise your Leave credentials
without alienating, not just Remainers in
your Labour-held seats, but then Remainers
in those seats where the Lib Dems are
trying to tempt them across to unseat the Tory. I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s interesting
because it strikes me that… I mean, it’s never
that simple, but… People who, people
who are really, for whom Brexit is
the fundamental issue of this election, in a
sense, know their choices. And as long as Labour’s offering
a referendum, which it is, the Remain-side people can
go that way if they want to because if they don’t. If you want to stop Brexit, you
have to stop the Conservatives. So I don’t know that it
is as difficult for them as they made it. I think, to me, the real
question is this number. This is the one that I think,
this 14, this minus 14, Boris Johnson,
personal rating… OK. …is, to me, the key for Labour
now because what they’ve got to do is make him
as unpopular as him. And what they have… one of
Boris Johnson’s skills over the years has been suggesting
that he’s a different kind of Conservative. And people have bought
into this, you know? He’s… they’ve aimed off all
his personal failings. And they’ve allowed… I know… different… A different kind of leader. Yeah. Of leading. And there’s ways of interpreting
what you mean by that with Boris Johnson, yeah. I think what they’re going to
do, and what they’ve got to do, is say to people, say to their
former Labour voters who are minded to go Tory because of
Leave, or anything else, say, hang on a minute, do you realise
what kind of Tory you’re going to put in power. They say, this is a very
– they’ve got to say – this is a very, very bad
man for lots of reasons. And I think we are going to see
the kind of personal attacks that the Tories have
successfully mounted on Jeremy Corbyn, being pushed
back at Boris Johnson to see if any of
this mud can stick. And one of the things
you saw already this week are the attacks on
him for his sexism. Yeah. So I’m… Go ahead. I’m going to draw a
little bit of mud here… Okay. …being thrown
at Boris Johnson. Yes. And we’re going to see if it
sticks because, I tell you what, I have my doubts. And this isn’t because
there’s an undersupply of mud, by the way. No. That would not be the reason. There. No. So whether you were thinking
about his journalistic record and all the groups
of people that he’s seen fit to diss
in print, something surfaced very recently
where he was extremely rude about single mothers,
which given his own background, is, you know,
possibly throwing mud where where he
shouldn’t have done or whether you look at his
record as foreign secretary. There’s a whole bunch of
fertile territory for people who want to dig for mud, right? Yeah. But, what you’ve got is a prime
minister and Conservative party leader, who seems to operate
under different rules. Like Trump in that respect. It’s… it’s… there’s a sort of Teflon factor. There’s a sort of,
also, dare I say it, kind of
better-the-devil-you-know factor when you’re dealing
with two main party leaders… Yeah. …who are not warmed to… I agree. …by the public. And I think this is where the
Tories have managed really essentially to frame the choice. And I think they’re going to
frame it in another way now. Up until now, they said,
look, this election, forget about Jo Swinson. Forget about a hung parliament. This is a choice between
Boris Johnson and Brexit, or Jeremy Corbyn and Remain. These are the only choices,
fundamental choices. Now, in the final
run in, I think they’re going to come
up with a third choice. And that third choice
is, it’s a choice between Boris Johnson
and the continued paralysis of a hung parliament. And they’re going to say,
look, what this country really needs is some firm
governance and direction. For people to be
able to do things. We know Labour’s
not going to win. Would it be strong
and stable, Robert? It could be strong and stable. Because… Because… I think that has one has been
road tested unsuccessfully. I think it’s been road
tested very unsuccessfully. And, also, if you think
back to 2015, you know? But that doesn’t mean
it was a bad idea. No. It just means it
was badly executed. One of the Conservative
strategists said to me the other day, what
you have to remember is this is a change election. People are voting for change. Yeah. Jeremy Corbyn’s change is
obvious and apparent and huge. It’s easy to see the Tories
as not that much change, but, actually, what
they are saying is, we are a change party. We are not only Brexit. But we are break the logjam
and deliver government. And I think that’s a powerful
argument for Boris Johnson. And he’s going to make it a lot. And the truth is, the
people who don’t like him, don’t like him already. And the others are going,
well, I can hear them really. So we may as well
have stability. I think they’re in a strong
position at the moment. So that also explains
this idea that, actually, all of the main parties,
including Mr Brexit, diminished figure
up here, they’re all trying to do fresh start,
actually, in a way, aren’t they? Yeah. And that’s why on the
domestic policies, I would say it’s been a bit of
a bidding war between the two main parties… For sure, yeah. …on public services,
on infrastructure, on kind of transformation
of unfriendly capitalism into a much more
friendly version of… Do you think we’ve fallen
for this a bit too much. I mean… Yes, of course we have. Of course we have. Because, actually, he’s
saying, I’m going to put £28 into our public services. And he’s saying, I’m
going to put £1 in. So if it’s a bidding war,
they’re not really playing. They managing to stay
competitive without really competing. That’s a good point, actually. Although, if the
voting patterns that have come up in this
polling and also happened, to a certain extent,
in the 2017 election, which is a whole new bunch
of people voting for the Conservative
party, you can’t then do nothing for those people. Absolutely right. I mean, once you’ve got a
different sort of voter base, you have to adapt your… That’s exactly right. …your whole pitch
and who you cater to. And that does mean a different
set of domestic policies. It means there’s a much less
business-friendly outlook. Yep. Well, indeed, and he froze
the cut of corporation tax, didn’t he? So it’s exactly that way. I think you’re completely right. What can poor old Jo Swinson
do to turn this around? Well, they need to
reinvent the cuddly, inclusive feeling that
they managed to get across to the voters earlier this year
when a lot of people who were irritated with both the Tory
party and the Labour party sort of flocked towards the Lib
Dems in the European elections, I think not just as a
protest vote about Brexit, although they were Remainers. It was also a sense
of these two parties have gone completely
bonkers and are in the grip of a sort
of clique, right? So the thing that Swinson
personally actually has going for her
and which they’ve squandered a bit in
the campaign so far is the idea that she is
actually very non-tribal. She works with other
parties very easily. She managed to
tempt in defectors from two other parties. She has to… she’s not going
to work with either with them then. Well, that’s true. But she’ll work with the
moderate members of both teams, right? Absolutely right. Which is why they’ve got
this Remain alliance. So they need to play up. We’re a home for discombobulated
Labour or Tory moderates. And they have to
go back to that, which they sort of
abandoned with all of this, I want to be your
prime minister stuff. And I think it just needs to be
a much softer, more inclusive message. Yeah. And I think also on Brexit, they
need to de-emphasise this idea of revoking Article 50, which… Okay. …which scares the horses. But you know what? Can I just say, the
structural problem in a first-past-the-post general
election for the two-and-a-half party, the half party in the
two-and-a-half-party system, is that the reason you get
squeezed is because people are thinking about who’s going to
be the next prime minister. And if the Tory party start
to go really hard on this, do you really want
another hung parliament? Yeah. Do you really want indecision? It’s deadly. Yeah, absolutely. I wonder, though, I mean,
we’re seeing the Lib Dem share of the vote sliding. MIRANDA GREEN: Ah,
ah, ah, ah, ah, but… Nationally, but … Well, yeah, no, go… No. Don’t tell me I’m wrong
before I even start. No. No. You go ahead. OK. I think, the SNP, you
know, get, you know, 40 to 50 seats with 3
per cent of the vote because, obviously, it’s
all completely concentrated. Concentrated. That’s right. I think with the Lib Dems,
if they were able to be more successful in their
target seat… Yes, I know exactly. I mean, I take
your point entirely about wanting all the
second places for next time. But the truth is, they’re big… they’re bigging up their vote in
seats they’re not going to win, mostly simply helping
the Conservative party. Yeah. Actually, if they can take this
projection of a Tory majority and say to the
voters thereafter, not only in Richmond Park,
which is incredibly marginal, but in Evesham, Walsham, and all
the play in Finchley, Golders Green, cities of London,
west London, Kensington, all these places. And say, look, come
on, he’s going to win. But do you really want
unbridled Boris Johnson running the country. You need to give us these seats. And I think if they can
be much more focused and stop thinking about
the whole country, but go after the 20, 30
seats they’re really after. Completely agree. They might be better. Completely agree. Because, in fact, my
counterpoint to you you’ve anticipated,
which is, actually, although it showed them
only, in the MRP poll, it showed them only gaining
14 seats in the Commons, they’re in a really good
second place in 130. And that just doesn’t just
mean for the next election. That means that if you
get your act together in the next few days, you can
win some of those seats over. Okay. So if we, as I said, we’re
just over two weeks out. Yeah. If we assume we’re back here
a week to go, next week, what do we think we’re going to
have seen in the next few days? What’s your prediction
for the next few days? Well, I think it’s going to
be very difficult to sort of reinvent either Boris
Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn as a sort of saintly figure
around whom the nation can coalesce. So no sainthoods. I would hope we’d have a
lot more smiley Jo Swinson. But I think that, as
you’ve said, really, it will be a lot more personal
attacks on these two leaders. And we’ll have to
see what sticks. Because one of the things
we’re seeing is it’s very, very partisan. Yeah. The one other thing I’ve
been struck by so far, the two things
that haven’t really played strongly yet
in this election, are crime and immigration. And I wonder if the Tories
are holding these back. Immigration’s tricky
because it also alienates voters as
well as wins them round. Crime less so. The Tories have not
pushed this very hard yet. And I’m wondering if they’ve
been waiting for the last couple of weeks to stop trying
to hit Labour with that. So to round up,
you are telling me that the new
personality who could come to dominate the last
couple of weeks of the campaign is our old friend Laura Norder. Yeah. There we go. Yep. It’s all about Laura. The parties of Laura Norder.

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