As I See It
Hidden risks deep in the Scottish forest
General Election campaigns are brutal experiences and often bring out the worst in political debate. All that exchanging of insults and digging up past failures. It’s enough to make you want to hide in a shack deep in the forest….
Ah, yes, Theresa May tried this tactic this weekend, and all she got was more “ordure, ordure” hurled in her direction. The Prime Minister’s trip north included a rally – perhaps more accurately a bigger than usual turn-out – in a tin-roofed community hall in Crathes, near Banchory.
She was accused of “hiding from the public” by choosing a remote location with such poor phone reception that live coverage of the event was impossible. About 200 Conservative campaigners were joined by journalists who were unable to tweet or broadcast.
This was enough to stir the loins of those who regarded her choice of venue as something else to target.
“This tiny hall, in the middle of rural Aberdeenshire, is somehow at the very heart of the general election campaign today,” tweeted one opponent, sarcastically.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell added: “Been out all day on the campaign trail in Mansfield. Can someone please explain to me why our Prime Minister is hiding in a forest?”
The Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale joined in, tweeting from her beat in Edinburgh: “No Blair Witch sheds in the woods here.”
The P&J rather innocently reported that “Theresa May visits rural Aberdeenshire in election campaign”. Well, at least it was accurate and free from the sort of hysteria and the more sour-faced criticism that passes for constructive argument.
Why shouldn’t the Prime Minister campaign in rural Aberdeenshire? The constituents there have every right to hear from the election candidates. Politicians are often criticised for spending too much time in the Westminster “village” which makes it all the more galling that Mrs May should be attacked for choosing to visit a real one.
There is, however, a growing concern about the PM’s visibility. She snubbed office workers in Leeds on Friday to speak only to a group of supporters, and she has refused to participate in a live television debate.
Her campaign managers point out that she has met business leaders and engaged in door-knocking around neighbourhoods.
In any case, it has become normal practice for at least 30 years for politicians to speak at rallies attended only by supporters, whether in village halls or concert halls. To that extent Mrs May is no different to most others, save for John Major who made a point of campaigning in the streets from a soap box.
The good news for Mrs May is that the opposition is failing to land any big blows on her. The latest poll for the Sunday Telegraph suggests the Tories lead in Scotland over Labour has increased.
The big danger lies in losing the crucial public relations battle. At this stage, any misguided decisions or events can backfire spectacularly – just ask Neil Kinnock who was a big favourite in 1992 until that dreadful Sheffield rally.
In Mrs May’s case, choosing a small hall with poor communications to the outside world was an ill-conceived idea, however worthy its intentions.
One of the unwritten rules of political campaigning is not to irritate those (the journalists) whose job is to do the communicating. In today’s world of instant news, this was a bad move.
Mrs May is trying to convince voters that she is speaking for all of Britain – the nations and regions, the working classes, and so on.
Her advantage in the opinion polls is at risk of faltering if their perception is of a leader unwilling to face them.