The PR disasters are coming thick and fast as the UK goes into crisis management meltdown.The General Election was Theresa May’s to lose after she started with a seemingly unassailable 22-point lead over her Left-wing opponent Jeremy Corbyn. No prime minister had ever had such a huge advantage going into an election. Then Dementia Tax happened.
The fact that Theresa May put an untested, highly controversial and almost certainly unpopular measure into her general election manifesto puts the lie to the myth she is a safe pair of hands or adept at public relations.
It showed a breathtaking political naivete and lack of judgment, a fundamental lack of understanding of PR and a profound failure to consult Cabinet colleagues. The kickback on the doorstep for Tory candidates was instant and very ugly.
For some strange reason that Theresa May had failed to comprehend, ordinary people don’t like the idea of being robbed of the wealth they have spent their entire lives painstakingly building up, just because they are unfortunate enough to contract Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or some other ghastly form of dementia in their old age and have to go into a grossly overpriced care home.Incredibly, the new proposal was even unveiled in Dementia Awareness Week. As veteran newspaper columnist Richard Littlejohn might say, you couldn’t make it up.
Good crisis management starts with thorough planning to avoid a crisis in the first place (something that the discredited British Airways might also bear in mind). That this essential crisis management planning or risk analysis did not happen at all with The Conservative Manifesto is remarkable, and makes you wonder if they are competent to lead the Brexit negotiations.
Faced with a vicious backlash from Tory voters who didn’t fancy losing the inheritance tied up in their homes that they had hoped to pass on to their sons, daughters and other loved ones, the Prime Minister did a dramatic U-turn and then denied she had done it. Weak PR. Very weak! Not stable at all. Clearly rattled, she was forced to put a cap on the amount that would be snaffled.
Remarkably, even the suspension of the campaign owing to the Manchester tragedy has not dampened down this story.
Now election campaigning has resumed, people are still talking about it: how great is the cap?; can the Tories be trusted to protect most of your home’s value?; will they just revert to the original plan if elected? It is a weeping wound for the Tories, haemorrhaging votes. The Nasty Party is exposed – and looking nastier than ever.
According to the Mail, in a rare break from Tory propaganda, Theresa May’s aides are fighting like rats in a sack over who is responsible for this massive PR cock-up.
It was, according to the Mail, key aide Nick Timothy’s bright idea but opposed by fellow joint chief of staff Fiona Hill and election guru Lynton Crosby. That alone should have given pause for thought. According to the Sunday Times, from which the Mail lifted its story, few ministers even knew about it before the Tory manifesto launch.
The effect has been dramatic. When campaigning resumed, Jeremy Corbyn, himself no dab hand at PR or crisis management, saw his party motor up to within five points of Theresa May’s Tories. Moreover, a YouGov poll – which tried to correct the inaccuracies that affected the Referendum polling – indicates that the Tories could lose their majority, which would make Theresa May’s decision to go to the country look as ill-judged as David Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on leaving Europe.Let’s face it, when it comes to public relations May is hopeless. Missing the second televised debate – on prime-time BBC1 for goodness sake – without an excuse and when Corbyn was present is nothing short of an attempt at electoral suicide by Submarine May.
She can submerge but she cannot hide.
As I write, Corbyn is within three points of May, and beating her hands down in London, according to the London Evening Standard, edited of course by George Osborne who must be loving this. When Theresa May’s mediocre star rose to the top of the tree, he was brutally sacked as Chancellor as she strove to get anyone more talented than she is out of the Cabinet.
Now the Tory attack dogs are really out to get Jeremy Corbyn, with the Conservative-supporting press throwing everything at him. But the mud ain’t sticking.
A lot of the stories are old rot or bunkum. And yet Jeremy Corbyn remains a lacklustre leader without the support of many of his candidates but who, miraculously, is fast closing the gap on the Prime Minister.
At times it hardly seems credible. Yet Jeremy Corbyn could end up being the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, albeit perhaps in a hung parliament with Nicola Sturgeon.
But I am not entirely surprised. When Mail newspaper columnist Dan Hodges confidently predicted that Jeremy Corbyn would be thrashed – just as he had confidently predicted that Hillary Clinton would be US President and the Brexiteers would be beaten out of sight – I simply knew Jezza was in with a chance.
* The writer is crisis communication and media relations specialist and the article is his view and not that of any organisation or other individual.