For the first time, the Conservatives appear to wobble

The ‘weekend wobble’ is a new phrase to leap into our General Election top ten  as we go into week 6 of the campaign. For the first time since the snap election was called, the Conservative Party found themselves on the back foot and suddenly that whopping majority everybody’s been forecasting doesn’t look so certain.

For the Tories this is unchartered, and somewhat shark infested, waters to be navigated. Three weeks ago, they appeared to reach some sort of peak. Their ‘strong and stable’ rhetoric still stung, their EU sabre rattling was attracting UKIP voters in droves and Labour’s inconsistency and incompetence was easy sound bite prey.

However, since publishing their manifesto, the Tories have been on the receiving end of a backlash and how Theresa May (and her team) react and respond could well determine how large that majority is come June 9th.

The election ‘wobble’ first entered into election folklore in 1987 when Margaret Thatcher’s incumbent Conservatives faced a last minute surge in the polls from Neil Kinnock’s Labour party. This prompted senior Tory, Lord Young to grab Norman Tebbit, by the lapels and cry out,    “We are about to lose this election!” Said wobble became a rallying point and Mrs Thatcher won a majority of 102.

We all have wobbles to contend with. They are the inevitable troughs which counter balance the peaks, and how we respond to those wobbles – as individuals, as businesses or as leaders, as political parties – defines us.

The 2017 Tory wobble has much to do with a bold manifesto written on the back of assumptions that Conservative support was now strong enough to sustain policy pledges that did not come with a sugar coating. Thus, in one fell swoop Mrs May (and her team) alienated a sizeable section of young parents and grandparents with their election pledges.

Cue an uncomfortable weekend of fall out and an uncomfortable Monday back peddle on a key manifesto pledge. It fell to the indomitable BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg to bring it home as she quizzed the PM during a press conference. Having repeatedly attacked Jeremy Corbyn for being ‘uncertain and unsure’, she told Mrs May that the policy back track didn’t look ‘strong and stable’ but more like ‘panic’ in the face of opposition.

Mrs May is not used to being the centre of so much unwelcome attention in this campaign. Unfortunately for her however, with her ‘team’ seemingly locked in a back room and barred from comment to preserve her presidential profile, it is she who has to respond. Unlike Mr Corbyn, for whom criticism runs like water off a duck’s back after so much practice, Mrs May does not cope well with being held to account. She gets riled and shows it, and is prone to looking awkward under pressure.

While the weekend wobble was in full flow, the Sunday Times quoted a Tory minister as saying, “We need to get off care and pensioner benefits and start talking about the calamity of Corbyn again.” The problem is sharks respond to panic, and not in a cuddly way. Defaulting back to blame and hope-to-shame rhetoric, could only stiffen the backlash  and unravel over a social media that will be pitching to approximately 2.5 million newly registered voters. In a corner of Tory HQ, lapels may well yet vibrate to the cries of “Remember Boaty Mc Boatface!…”

If Mrs May continues to schedule closed and controlled campaign stops while large crowds continue to turn out for Mr Corbyn in the May sunshine, the Tories risk losing their grip on the narrative of this election campaign. As the Brexit and Trump victories illustrated, controlling the narrative is the key to making an election day impact. The Tories had the rhetoric all sown up, but with three weeks to go, it is their dialogue with the country that now needs some work.

Luan de Burgh

May 2017

Luan de Burgh is a speaker, writer and founder of The de Burgh Group – a specialist business communication training provider dedicated to helping people perform at their highest potential.