Lord Martin Thomas writes…The moment the election turned

On the morning of Monday, 22nd May, we were tipped off that Theresa May was coming to the Memorial Hall in Gresford, an old mining village just outside Wrexham where we live. My wife, Joan (Baroness) Walmsley, and I headed off immediately to be part of this unusual and unheralded event – the last PM in Gresford was Ted Heath in 1970.

The entrance to the hall was manned by anonymous young men in dark suits and unsurprisingly our names were not on the printed list of expected attendees from the local Tory faithful. However, I pointed out that I was President of the Trust which built and owned the building and they obviously thought there would be more trouble if we were excluded. The local Tory candidate reluctantly agreed.

Joan was clued up about the dementia tax, since she had been debating it with Jeremy Hunt at Alzheimer’s Society meeting in London four days’ earlier. We thought we might raise the issue with Mrs May.

For the first fifteen minutes, the PM attacked Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbot in highly personal and insulting terms. The election was apparently between her personally and these reprobates. She was still in “strong and stable” mode. There was no “conservative” on the back cloth.

And then something surprising happened.

She slipped in that due to the lies and falsehoods of these dreadful people over the weekend, she needed to clarify the Tory proposals on funding care services: there would of course be a cap – to be determined by consultation after a Green paper. Joan and I looked at each other – this was utterly new.

The media waded in: Laura Kuenssberg asserted this was a U turn, weak and wobbly. Others followed strongly. Mrs May grimaced “nothing has changed” over and over. We added to the clamour – “Oh yes it has”, we chanted. She denied she had changed her mind. Joan put up her hand for a question but Theresa had no intention of taking questions from mere members of the public. She soon left to a standing ovation from the faithful.

We spilled out into the forecourt and gave our views to BBC, ITV, S4C and Sky News camera teams. A small crowd of locals had been drawn there by the unusual security activity and were waiting to meet Mrs May face to face. She left by a back door and swept past in a car with darkened windows at speed.

The seeds of her subsequent disaster were there that morning. It was so stupid to pretend she had always intended a cap. Jeremy Hunt had firmly rejected a cap at the Alzheimer’s meeting. She was fibbing. She could not deal with it. Far from wanting to meet the people, she could not get away quick enough. Further, she was outrageously personal in attacking her opponents.but could not take criticism herself.

The expected Tory gains in North East Wales failed to materialise yesterday. Gresford had witnessed the turning point of the 2017 election.

* Martin Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and the party's Shadow Attorney General

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17 Comments

  • Graham Jeffs 9th Jun '17 - 8:53pm

    My reaction to events is as follows:

    a) TM did not need to call a GE in the first place. Many times she said she would not. This was doubly stupid because if she had waited until the end of the 5 year term, the boundaries would have changed and these changes were expected to favour the Conservatives.
    b) But she did. My belief from the outset was that she would probably end up with a majority no larger than the one she inherited.
    c) Due to he constant vacillation, the public started to recognise her – in part – for what she is, an opportunist. They probably don’t also appreciate she is a control freak. Control freaks do not build teams. That is a serious personal weakness. Unwise to employ them in senior roles.
    d) Assertion that she needed a larger majority to give her more sway in EU negotiations was complete rubbish – and people started to appreciate that.
    e) So Conservatives ended up being lead by an increasingly untrusted leader.
    f) Meantime the LibDems ran a weak national campaign. This resulted in opinion poll ratings declining rather than growing. No understanding, it seems, that poll ratings drive in part the way in which many decide who they are going to back. Forget about policies in this context, this is the law of the anti-vote. So non target seats need to do much much better – and be encouraged to do so.
    g) So in many areas the anti Tory vote went Labour. Not because people actually believe in Labour but because they wanted to express their dislike of TM and the Tories in general.
    h) Doubtful whether Labour can really build on this, particularly in the south – but it means the LDs have got a hell of a lot to do to get back into second places, let alone win.
    i) LDs need to realise that folksy platitudes are lightweight campaigning.
    j) There is good scope to build LDs through successful local campaigns – I doubt that Labour can do that. Their vote was not the result of any form of real organisation – simply a frustration vote for which the LDs were not seen to be a viable alternative at this time.

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Jun '17 - 9:19pm

    I’d be a bit happier about this stuff if the parties (and to be clear here I mean ALL parties) really started to grapple with this. I know it doesn’t go down at all well with some but there is an entirely reasonable argument to be had about using property wealth to fund care. Yes, there are arguments to be had too about family wealth ending up with care home owners/banks etc. But by those are debates to be had not obliterated by some nonsense about a ‘dementia tax.’

    Tim Farron talked about Theresa May’s estate agent – but isn’t the flip side of that Tim Farron’s Property Inheritance Insurance Service?

    Obviously it played badly at the election – but I don’t see what’s changed. What would be a game changer would be something big on inheritance tax – but none of the main parties are thinking that judging by the manifestos.

  • The very choice of coming to the Memorial Hall in Gresford in north Wales reveals insensitivity by Mrs May.

    Presumably she was unaware of the part that Gresford plays in Labour history and culture. The local pit suffered a terrible tragedy in 1934 when nearly 300 men and boys died. The miners’ hymn, Gresford, composed to commemorate this event, is always played at the start of the speeches at the Durham miners gala in July and always brings a tear to the eye – though I doubt if Mrs May knows this.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jun '17 - 3:02am

    I shout in agreement with you, Little Jackie Paper.

    This is just about the most serious issue in British politics, and yet the Liberal Democrats chose just to jeer at the Conservatives for suggesting a way to tackle it, rather than to talk about it properly and about possible ways of dealing with it. Oh sure, it brought the Conservatives down, but we didn’t benefit from that anyway – Labour did.

    The big growth in the number of university students, from less than 10% of school-leavers to around 50% was a huge issue that needed talking about properly: if it was to still to be funded by the government, taxes would need to be raised to do it. We needed to be honest about that, we weren’t, and we were crushed when we trapped in the consequences of not being honest about it.

    The big rise in very elderly people is an even bigger issue. Health care has reached the point where many of the things that would have killed people off before they got to the point of needing care just through general age no longer kill people off. If we want routine home care for elderly people to be provided by the government, we need to have a way to do it. Already, it is not provided any way near the extent to which it should be provided, as local government funds it, and local government has been starved of funds from national government. Wages for carers are so low that the only way it can be done at all is to bring in immigrants from poor countries to do it, who are prepared to work for the sort of earnings that mean you cannot afford to live anywhere except perhaps some shared cramped accommodation.

    And why are housing costs so high? A big reason, which few realise, is that due to inheritance house prices feed back on themselves. The price of a house is what people can afford to pay for it. If most people buying a house have extra money, coming from inheritance, and so largely through sale of grandparents’ houses passed through “bank of mum and dad”, and that is now the case, they will go up and up and up and up, and those who have no bank of mum and dad are pushed out of the possibility of ever owning a house, and can can be ripped off by those who do have the money buying them and renting them out.

    The line “inheritance tax is bad, because children need the money to by houses” is often heard, but if it wasn’t for inheritance money being passed that way, house prices wouldn’t be so high anyway.

  • IMO we did the best we could, in fact we could have lst MPs (net). As a ‘small’ even ‘minor’ party we need to pick our fights carefully. We did this by our correct position on a public vote on the final EU deal. That is the big issue of the day. That position set us apart from the others (the Greens although having the same position didn’t get it across IMO & lost about 30-50% of their vote from 2 years ago? Please correct this if wrong). We had few cards to play Labour as the opposition picked up the anti tory vote.People I know voted Labour for this reason = to damage the Tories & send a message – thinking that in no way they were allowing a Labour Govt as the Polls said they were way behind. In their eyes it was a save vote – not a chance of a JC victory.

  • Graham Jeffs 10th Jun '17 - 8:46am

    Greenfield, you may well be correct. But that doesn’t excuse our performance in such places as Portsmouth South, Cambridge and Southport. We need to understand better the reasons for these results and consider how we can redress things.

  • Graham Jeffs 9th Jun ’17 – 8:53pm….I can agree with much but the idea that …g) So in many areas the anti Tory vote went Labour. Not because people actually believe in Labour but because they wanted to express their dislike of TM and the Tories in general.
    h) Doubtful whether Labour can really build on this, particularly in the south – but it means the LDs have got a hell of a lot to do to get back into second places, let alone win.

    Is just wishful thinking…Corbyn galvanised the young voters of the UK in a way that WE, as a radical party, used to…Listening to their views post election one could feel their enthusiasm for CHANGE…A change that we used to offer but, post 2010, have lost..

    Corbyn engaged with the country in a way no other politician did…He spoke of his beliefs which, even if you disagree, are clearly sincere…He answered questions without waffle (Tim take note) and didn’t ‘do’ personal attacks…We saw far more of the enthusiasm shown at hustings AFTER the election than before…

    He was underestimated by the media, opponents and on here….He will only get stronger whilst the machinations of Blair, Mandelson ( “I work every single day to bring forward the end of Corbyn’s tenure in office”)., Smith, etc. will be lost in the noise..

    May has been forced to go cap in hand to a fringe party which represents everything we, as liberals, find distasteful. A party with links to paramilitary groups even more abhorrent than the IRA (Alex MacFie take note)….

    Labour didn’t win the election but it certainly feels like it!

  • I look forward to Joan’s autobiography. Theresa May, My part in her downfall 🙂

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    What are you doing posting at 3.08 am?!!
    The housing market is mine field, but one that needs to be traversed. In general it follows the law of supply and demand. That s&d has been distorted by fiscal and political policy since the Norman invasion. It is an issues that I hope will be explored on this site in more detail in the months to come. Whist a typical house in London may command a market price of £400k, in actual fact the cost of material and labour to construct that house would be in the region £100K. The rest is speculation and policy. But beware the pitfalls. Halving the price of your house may not be vote winner.
    I suspect I will not hear back till after mid day.

  • Little Jackie Paper: “Tim Farron talked about Theresa May’s estate agent but isn’t the flip side of that Tim Farron’s Property Inheritance Insurance Service”.

    Exactly right.

  • Simon Banks 10th Jun '17 - 6:26pm

    I don’t really understand Graham’s comments about non-target seats needing to do much better. If he means that the party should combine targeting with efforts to build up on a broader basis and help weaker local parties progress. then great. If he means non-target-seat-activists should have been doing more campaigning once the election was called in their own areas and not swanning off to target seats, that would be disastrous and I don’t intend to apologise for spending time in Cambridge, St Albans and North Norfolk. As for more activity before the election is called, yes of course, but struggling local parties need help and advice, not someone telling them they must do more.

  • Andrew McCaig 10th Jun '17 - 8:50pm

    I am afraid the only thing that will give us a chance of getting back into the teens of national support is a Labour government failing to deliver on its promises, as just happened in France..
    Meanwhile we should return to our long held policy of free higher education since no-one cares in the least whether our economic numbers add up since not one person in this country thinks our manifesto will be put into practice.. At least then we stand a chance of regaining some young educated voters (who turn into older voters) AND their parents who are worried about astronomical student debts.. That might just have saved us in Hallam and Leeds NW…

    On dementia tax, the Tory manifesto policy was blatantly unfair, and it was quite right to call it out. A cap on healthcare costs as proposed by Dilmot is right, but should be funded out of the legacies of everyone. But actually the policy Theresa may have adopted by accident of a combination of cap and threshold may be the best option (everyone keeps the first £100k, no-one pays more than £100k, but everyone pays 40% inheritance tax on everything above £100k, something like that…

    Basically, let’s go back to a combination of radical policies and telling hard-pressed people what they want to hear..

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Jun '17 - 9:04pm

    Andrew McCaig – I agree with your comment, but…in fairness to Theresa May….

    At the very least she was willing to raise the issue and ask a question that (I assume) she knew wouldn’t go down well. She deserves credit for that and frankly the stuff about a dementia tax reflects badly on some of her critics. Similarly with the triple lock and things like fuel payments she deserves credit for at the very least asking the tough questions

    Of course one can criticise her thinking, make alternative suggestions etc. But if it wasn’t her someone else was going to have do take the hit. Whatever it was it wasn’t lazy populism.

  • It’s easy to forget that TMs vote was actually very close to the poll predictions. 42% would normally result in a landslide. Certainly much larger than anything Cameron came close to and about the same as Blair in 97. But fortunately other voters turned out as well. This was about the electorate taking the result beyond anything that could be stage managed as a sort of coronation, not big mistakes. Sure, mistakes were made, but the Conservative vote was up not down. Really, the main mistake was imagining you can kill political opposition off that easily.

  • Graham Jeffs 11th Jun '17 - 9:53am

    Simon – I think you have misunderstood what I was trying to say. It was not a criticism of activists going to target seats – what I was indicating is that those target seats stand a better chance of success if the general impression – through poll ratings – is that we are building support. That means that the non target seats need to do much better in terms of voting performance. Clearly the members in those constituencies cannot achieve that alone. So we must have a much better campaign at national level. Sorry, but I thought this time around it was poor. As a party we achieved little traction. This, I believe, needs to be addressed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jun '17 - 9:40pm

    P.J.

    @Matthew Huntbach
    What are you doing posting at 3.08 am?!!

    I was working in Beijing last week. 3.08am UK time is 10.08am Beijing time.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jun '17 - 10:01pm

    P.J.

    Halving the price of your house may not be vote winner.

    Sure, it is not, and that’s just the point I was making.

    The Conservative vote plummeted when they suggested something realistic about how to pay for care of the elderly. The ironic thing is that residential care actually IS paid that way now, and no party actually proposed stopping that. So I felt it was deeply hypocritical to attack the Conservatives for it, at least without coming out with a realistic alternative – which neither the LibDems nor Labour did.

    The problem with the 2017 general election is that it has show very clearly that you throw away your chance of winning if you speak realistically, and propose awkward things which are necessary in order to provide things that people want.

    On housing in general, everyone supports the idea of building more houses to meet need. However, if you actually talk about really building houses on actual land, everyone comes out against you saying what a bad person you are wanting to destroy their neighbourhood by building on the local open space.

    People want good government services, but talk about the taxes needed to pay for it, and they turn against you.

    Corbyn made out that all the extra things he wanted government to provide could easily be paid for without most people paying more taxes. Really? It would be nice if that could happen, but I doubt it. Simply raising taxes for those right at the top of the income scale won’t bring in that much money. Can massive rises in corporation tax really be done without causing issues?

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