About that hung parliament thing

About that hung parliament thing

So the general election’s getting kind of interesting.

I suppose it had to at some point.

But the very fact that – in campaign terms at least – it’s not been the election equivalent of a 5-0 hammering has given things a bit of spice.

This was supposed to be a walkover for Theresa May. The election in which she acquired her own mandate, beefed up her majority and banished Labour to the electoral naughty step for a generation.

Now, though, a YouGov poll published last night projects a hung parliament.

According to the poll, the Conservatives will still be the biggest party, but will fall short of an overall majority.

Now… *deep breath*…

Yeah, yeah, I know! I’m going to say it, don’t worry.

This is one poll. And if we’ve learned anything about polls in recent elections, it’s that we shouldn’t blithely buy into the story they’re trying to sell us.

That probably goes double for this one.

“Apparently this poll uses a new untested format with a very wide margin for error to arrive at its conclusion and hence some in the markets are not giving it much credence,” says my colleague Tom Tragett over at Currency Wars Alert.

“All I can say on this is that second to an overall Labour majority, the prospect of ‘hung’ parliament is not far behind that in terms of ‘worst case scenarios’ for the currency.”

Labour supporters shouldn’t get carried away. Remember Sheffield in 1992, when Kinnock flew in by helicopter and all but declared victory (he lost)?

Or the week of “Cleggmania” in 2010 after the first leaders’ debate? The Lib Dems were ultimately disappointed with the number of seats they won on election night.

I would still be absolutely stunned if Jeremy Corbyn walks into 10 Downing Street as prime minister next week.

And it wouldn’t surprise me if, despite the polls and the panicky interviews and the manifesto U-turns, the Conservatives still increase their majority.

But even if that happens, the campaign has left both main party leaders looking, well, a bit rubbish.

Yes, that includes Corbyn. Some of his supporters seem positively rapturous that their man hasn’t been a total and utter fiasco in everything he’s done (if we ignore things like turning up on Woman’s Hour yesterday without doing basic prep about a flagship policy).

As for May, it looks rather silly if you keep saying “strong and stable” like a broken robot, only to wilt in front of Andrew Neil and spend the rest of the campaign hiding from public scrutiny.

It may ultimately be smart politics. But if it is, it’s because May’s rubbish at charming people and getting her message across.

And barring a real shocker next week, she will lead the country in the Brexit negotiations. Bloody hell!

This election has also been characterised by familiar, go-to narratives about both main parties.

Labour is economically incompetent. The Conservatives have a callous disregard for the less fortunate.

Again, whatever the outcome on polling day, the campaign has already reinforced these narratives.

Corbyn’s Woman’s Hour gaffe followed Diane Abbott’s mathstastrophe on LBC, when she had no idea how much the extra police officers she was pledging would cost.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, made social care an issue in their manifesto, drawing focus away from Brexit and onto health (hardly their strong suit).

We’ve since seen a Conservative MP claiming people who use food banks do so because of “cash flow problems”.

Which is kind of true in a very narrow sense. But it rather misses the point of why such cash flow problems exist.

Not to mention it sounds almost wantonly bizarre – a bit like saying someone having a heart attack has to go to hospital because of “blood flow problems”, or someone with lung cancer has “air flow problems”.

Oh, I also saw this when I got off the Tube last night:

It’s not an official poster, obviously.

This is what’s known as “subvertising” – where activists hijack an advertising space to display a subversive message.

And I’ve got no idea how accurate the 9,850 figure is. I’m not even sure exactly what it means (everyone dies sooner or later).

But that’s not really the point here. The point is that my first reaction, before Analysis Brain kicked in, was emotional.

Not only that, but the message felt right. Perhaps that’s because I’ve witnessed first-hand the pointless stress and anxiety the current system causes disabled people.

If you haven’t, you’re lucky. And I hope for your sake it stays that way. The whole thing is like a grotesque homage to Kafka.

To give you a flavour, here’s an account someone sent me of what they saw when they accompanied a relative to an assessment centre:

When we arrived we were told there was a 45 minute delay to be seen. Just as we went to sit down, a man’s name was called and he said he’d been waiting an hour. 

After we’d been waiting for a while, a couple came in. 

The man had an appointment and they had arrived on time but, because of the backlog, they were told they couldn’t be seen.  It was a filthy day outside. 

The man turned away immediately and left the building, but the woman was too angry to leave. She said that the man had recently failed an assessment and been found fit for work, only to be diagnosed with cancer a few weeks later. Now they had another appointment and were being turned away. 

She asked to speak to a manager in private and she was shown into a room. A couple of minutes later she left, still very irate.

About twenty minutes later she came back in to get a drink of water, angrily telling the staff that her companion was ill outside. No one reacted.

Another couple were talking at the counter. They said that the woman had been told to transfer from DLA to PIP but that she had been waiting three months for the PIP claim to be sorted out and now she was getting into difficulties with her housing situation.

Finally, after over an hour, [my relative] was called in. While I was waiting for him, a member of the admin staff came out and told the remaining man in the waiting room that he couldn’t be seen that day. He had one leg, and he said that he had travelled twenty five miles to get there. He’d been waiting for about an hour and a half. 

He was very angry and he shouted and swore in frustration.  He asked the staff to try and imagine what it’s like to only have one leg. He tried to storm out but had difficulty operating the exit button while holding his crutches. The security guards showed him out. He was still shouting.

It was the end of the day and the staff behind the screens were all laughing and giggling because there had been a bit of drama. The girl behind the counter told the security guard that the one-legged man would have a mark put next to his name for the next time he came in.

What struck me most was that I’m not an investigator trawling through hundreds of cases to cherry-pick the awful stories.  This was a random two hour snapshot of what I must assume is an average afternoon at the assessment centre. 

I hadn’t expected to see so many stereotypical examples of the failure of the system in such a short period. It felt very disheartening.

Episodes like the one above are happening. Those who witness or hear about them remember them.

And so, a decade-and-a-half after Theresa May diagnosed the Conservatives’ “nasty party” problem, millions are all too ready to believe this government doesn’t care about them and won’t make sure they’re looked after if they get sick.

If it turns out the latest YouGov poll is right and May doesn’t romp to victory, it’ll be because Brexit’s not the only thing people care about.