The general election held in the United Kingdom was a classic underdog’s tale of survival. The race seemed pretty one-sided, to begin with. But over the course of two months, Jeremy Corbyn showed an unexpected surge in popularity and by the end, Prime Minister Theresa May had to contend with a hung Parliament. In fact, the Labour Party won the highest increase in vote share since 1945.
Let’s recall how it came about. In April, May called for an election in June. The campaigns were briefly interrupted by the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. Opinions polls over the course showed the Conservative majority slowly crumbling and May’s approval ratings dropped.
These events were, of course, not mere happenstances and some important factors came into play. So let’s break down the exact issues which led to the Conservatives losing their majority in the UK election.
Change of heart at a snap
After the Brexit referendum, Theresa May was seen as a strict, honest and a low-key leader with the nation’s best interest at heart. She enjoyed high approval ratings despite never being in the public eye beforehand. Her call for a snap election showed a change of heart. People saw it as a personal motive to take advantage of the weaker opposition and stay in power. In the beginning, she still enjoyed a majority in opinion polls. But the public was weary of internal politics and unrest for over a year and was not so keen on another election.
An unsuitable campaign face
The campaign put Theresa May at the center instead of the Conservative party. May is not a public figure and people knew very little about her. She appeared uneasy on TV and did not open up to her supporters either. This made her unsuitable as the face of the campaign.
On the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to enjoy himself on the campaign trail. Support for Corbyn at his rallies grew over the two months.
Absence at the debates
The big lead in the opinion polls still seemed to favour the Conservatives for a walkover victory. May decided to stay away from the TV debates and from meeting with supporters at her rallies to preserve her lead since she didn’t feel comfortable facing public situations. The move backfired on her. At the debate, her absence was repeatedly brought up as her disinterest in taking in the opposition’s perspective for the nation’s best interest. People saw it as a sign of weak leadership.
Underestimating the opposition
Up until the call for an election, Corbyn was considered by many as a vote-losing liability. His policies were constantly under fire and the press treated many of his stances with hostility. May’s campaign underestimated Corbyn and figured the public won’t take his message seriously.
That did not go well for the Conservatives. Once the campaigns got underway, Corbyn saw a boost in support. He was able to get his message across to the people and soon the opinion polls reflected the gap closing.
Focusing on the opponent
May’s campaign focused on bashing Corbyn as the wrong choice. Instead, she should have taken the time to showcase why she was the right leader to back. The people cared more about knowing her plans for a better future of the nation – something she did not deliver.
This constant bashing might have worked on an older demographic. However, for the younger crowd, her attacks were dampened by Labour’s optimistic messages and celebrity endorsements over social media.
Adapting to current events
May adopted the message of a ‘strong and stable’ leadership for the country going forward. Corbyn has also been criticized by the media for his stance on immigration in the run-up to the election.
All this should’ve played out better for the Conservatives in their response to the terror attacks in Manchester and London. Yet, Labour was able to turn the situation around and shed light on police cuts made by May as Home Secretary. Suddenly she didn’t appear so strong and stable anymore.
A ground force game
Jeremy Corbyn adopted a strong grassroots movement through the Momentum organization. Started from the same techniques as used by the Bernie Sanders campaign in the 2016 US election, the movement mobilized supporters to canvass in areas with marginal wins by either party in past elections. They even had a ride-sharing app, Momentum Carpool to move volunteers around. Keeping young supporters in focus, the campaign spread information using Snapchat.
They managed to organize a massive GOTV campaign with hundreds of first-time volunteers divided into groups and sent down every street. In contrast, the Conservatives had no such voter engagement drive.
All this added up to a result that the Conservatives did not see coming when they called for a snap election. Of course, it is evident that the result would have been different if they had focused on the factors above. For all of you campaigners and potential candidates out there, it is a sign that the majority at the start of the campaign doesn’t matter and the biggest of opponents can be defeated by taking the right steps.