The campaigning is over and the people of Britain are going to their polling stations (often with dogs in tow) to cast their votes. It has been a campaign which has deviated from the script regularly and provided more than a few memorable moments – often for all the wrong reasons, as my colleague Kate McAndrew has recounted here.
From the moment the exit poll comes out at 10pm tonight, and the results start rolling in, the post-mortems will begin. But before we get to that point and our judgements are inevitably clouded by the results we see, let’s take a moment to review the campaigns in a more objective way.
It all started so well for Theresa May. But it has become a difficult campaign for the Prime Minister and has been not been the stroll towards a bumper majority she would have hoped for. That’s not to say she won’t still get one. But the road has been littered with testing moments, and Jeremy Corbyn has slowly but surely made up ground along the way.
The plan for the Tory campaign was clearly to build it around Theresa May’s leadership. This was a fine idea in principle, but it placed a great deal of pressure on the PM to perform. While May has been at or near the top of British politics for a long time, never before has she been placed under the microscope in such a sustained manner. At times, she has not seemed at ease.
But when the direction of travel was set so early in the campaign to focus on “Theresa May’s team” in such a personalised way, it was not easy to broaden out the cast list and allow others to take the limelight. Amber Rudd has been fairly prominent, as have been Damian Green and Michael Fallon, with Boris Johnson intermittently so. But most others in the Cabinet – Philip Hammond very noticeably so – have been quiet.
The social care u-turn was a defining moment in the Conservative campaign. From that point on the media narrative shifted and the relentless chanting of ‘Strong and Stable’ began to ring a little hollow. Elections guru Sir David Butler said it was the first pre-election manifesto u-turn of any note he could recall in the 20 General Elections he has covered. That doesn’t sit easily with the chosen mantra of strength and stability.
Another major challenge for the Conservative campaign has been to keep the focus where it was originally supposed to be: on Brexit. Efforts have been made in the closing stages to re-focus minds on this defining issue, but in many ways the horse had already bolted. The lack of new detail on the Government’s plans for the negotiations meant there wasn’t much of a Brexit story to keep the media interested.
Having said all of this, we must keep a sense of perspective about the Conservative campaign. Has it been the greatest we’ve ever seen? No. Has it been an unmitigated disaster? Also no. The polling average at the start of the campaign placed the Tories around 42%. Today it stands around 44%. The Tories have not “collapsed” – their support has inched up. If she wins with a comfortable majority, as is still a good bet, Theresa May will want to remind people of this fact.
The Labour campaign has also not gone the way many people expected, but in a more positive manner for Jeremy Corbyn’s party. A low bar was set for expectations of Corbyn’s performance, but, to his credit he has comfortably cleared it.
As in his leadership campaigns, Corbyn has succeeded in enthusing a lot of younger voters. The Labour manifesto was relatively well received, despite many policies that some commentators would dismiss as representing a return to the ‘70s. And, perhaps against expectations, the Labour Party has presented a fairly united front to the electorate. The most prominent Corbyn critics on the Labour benches have largely kept their heads down and focused on their local races.
There have been tricky moments of course. Jeremy Corbyn flicking through his manifesto to try to find the cost of his childcare policy on Women’s Hour. The ongoing questions about his past engagements with the IRA. Diane Abbott’s interviews on police numbers and counter-terror measures.
But on the whole, Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters will be happy with the campaign they have run. Whether it is enough to win over enough doubters remains a big question. The turnout among those enthused youngsters will be critical.
The SNP campaign has fluctuated on the question of a second referendum: sometimes they have framed their campaign around this; at other times they have shied away from it. Famed for their message discipline, Nicola Sturgeon’s party has begun to see a bit of uncertainty creep into what the message actually is.
Despite this being a Westminster rather than Holyrood election, the campaign north of the border has to a large extent been about the SNP’s record in office. Sturgeon has faced some tough questioning at TV debates from nurses and teachers about her party’s performance on the NHS and education respectively.
But, despite an at times uncomfortable campaign, the SNP remains comfortably ahead of their rivals in opinion polls and we should avoid writing their obituaries too soon. I wrote before that a result of around 50 seats and 45% of the vote would still constitute a good night for the SNP at this election, and both milestones remain within reach. The SNP are still engaged in a long game in which their goal is to secure another chance at securing their ultimate prize.
The Lib Dems pitched their campaign at the 48% who voted Remain – or at least those among the 48% who want to have a chance to change the outcome at the end of the process.
This inevitably restricts the pool in which they are fishing for votes and, accordingly, their poll rating has remained relatively static through the campaign. Tim Farron was hampered early on by questions about how he reconciles his Christian faith with various policy stances, most notably on gay marriage, and this did not help his campaign get off to a flying start. Nevertheless he has had a fairly good campaign personally and performed well in the TV debates.
If the Lib Dems can hold what they have at the moment and add some high profile gains such as Vince Cable in Twickenham, Farron will be relatively content with their work in this campaign. But the #LibDemFightback does not appear to have taken flight just yet.
UKIP are polling at 4% and life’s too short.
Overall, it is fair to say the campaigns have been a mixed bag. Not long to go now until we find out what the voters made of them.
Follow @CiceroElections for updates.