Since announcing the general election on 18th April, Theresa May has emphasised, repeatedly and with fervour that she will provide ‘strong and stable leadership’. Because the internet likes nothing more than deriding public figures, it did not take long for this to become a meme and start to take on a life of its own. The memes take on a variety of guises – one with the slogan written repeatedly over a picture of sheep, one sees the slogan as well as a photoshopped Theresa May with a background of daleks whilst another takes the ‘strong and stable’ soundbite and places it in the context of a town hall meeting sketch on the animated comedy ‘Family Guy’. All of this may be very funny to May’s opponents, I would challenge them rather than to mock the prime minister, tell us what exactly the alternative is.
The most obvious answer is Jeremy Corbyn – a man it seems who cannot hold stability within his own party and has faced constant opposition from his backbenchers since his election to leader and such opposition shows no sign of dissipating following Labour’s pretty disastrous results in the recent local government elections. Ahead of the local elections, Labour council candidates described Mr. Corbyn as ‘radioactive’. It is not just with Mr. Corbyn himself that concern exists. The position that he holds on certain key issues including the use of nuclear weapons in defence of the country has been questioned following interviews given to the Andrew Marr Show by Corbyn and to Good Morning Britain by Corbyn’s Home Secretary and pet media nightmare Diane Abbott. Such indecision and lack of clarity is unsurprising given Corbyn’s long held opposition to nuclear weapons which stand in the face of official Labour Party policy.
Indeed, Labour’s position on Brexit which had only just been clarified was thrown into confusion again – in a BBC interview, Corbyn failed to confirm if Labour would honour Brexit in absence of a deal (report here) – this after Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan described the Labour position as ‘unclear‘ and after Corbyn himself described the issue as ‘settled‘. It seems on this then the only thing we can be certain about is uncertainty.
Now, Jeremy doesn’t like the media talking about his leadership much (I wonder why…). He normally evades them rather directly by asking them to wishing that they would ask about something else. So then, what about a key Labour policy? 10,000 new police officers. This should be an easy sell for Labour – it is a clear policy that if costed is undeniably good for the public. It wasn’t Corbyn who was sent to do the media rounds on this one but rather the aforementioned, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott. Her interview on the matter with Nick Ferrari on LBC didn’t take long to fall apart. When asked by Ferrari on how much this would cost, the answer was ‘about £300,000’, or to look at it another way – £30 a police officer. That figure was, after a long and awkward silence much like an X Factor auditionee who forgets the lyrics, revised by her to ‘about £80million.’ Ferrari then challenged her on this revised figure noting that £80million for 100,000 officers works out at £8,000 per officer. The interview continues to play out like a scene from The Thick of It with Abbott stating that “the additional cost in year one when we anticipate recruiting about 250,000 policemen will be £64.3million”. Under further challenge, the number of officers to be recruited falls to “2,000 and perhaps 250”. Oh, and when asked where the 250,000 figure came from, she said that it was Ferrari that said that when it most definitely wasn’t… As the interview continued, year one turned to when Labour would be getting ready to recruit and the £64.3million figure shifted to year 2. She then cites a year 3 cost of £139.1m, a year 4 cost of £270m and a year 5 cost of £298m – or over 993 times the initial figure she quoted in the interview and still nearly 4 times the revised figure of £80million.
Now, people defending Abbott will say that everyone can have a bad day – that is absolutely true. Others may accuse me or her other critics of attacking the person and not the substance. The thing is, I’m not attacking Abbott because yes, she had a bad day. The problem at the moment though is that when in front of the cameras she is seeming to have more frequent bad days. Look to a subsequent interview on BBC’s Daily Politics regarding the LBC interview or even something as simple as how many seats Labour had lost in the local elections (watch here). When asked by a journalist about Labour’s net losses, Abbott said that “At the time of us doing this interview I think the net losses are about fifty.” The real answer, as the journalist promptly informed Abbott was actually about 125 net losses. Abbott came back though stating that “Well, the last time I looked we had net losses of 100 but obviously this is a moving picture.”
I don’t have a problem with Corbyn or Abbott as individuals. I am sure that they are fighting the campaign that they believe in and that they genuinely think it is what is best for the country. The concern I have is that for a party asking for people to place them in power at a time when Britain is facing unquestionably challenging negotiations and a period that is constitutionally unparalleled, they seem unable to answer the most basic questions and make far too many headline worthy blunders for the number of good policies and policy annoucements they have – indeed, just today Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner was the latest Labour frontbencher to suffer an embarrassing interview where the basic numbers alluded her.
We know Brexit will be hard, we have seen that before negotiations have even begun. Not only is Brexit a challenge but devolution in Northern Ireland is precariously poised and Scotland is facing another referendum on independence – and those are just the headline issues. For this, Britain needs a competent government and regrettably for Labour and their supporters they do not seem to be able to offer this at this election. If you are asking me to choose who I want around the negotiating table when Brexit negotiations begin, for me the answer is clear. Mock the ‘strong and stable’ monicker as much as you like but I would like a strong voice negotiating for Britain in Brexit rather than one that ducks and dodges questions about his own leadership. What is more, I want a government that whilst navigating the UK through its exit from the EU is capable of answering not just the basic questions at home but also knows the detail inside out, a government that ensures Britain’s domestic security and yes, stability both economically and socially until 2022. For me ‘strong and stable’ will always win out against giveaway policies by a party overwhelmed by incoherence, incompetence, ineffective leadership.