It was fear PR that kept Corbyn from Trump-style victory

Richard Hillgrove

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

Pollsters argue that the terror attacks in Manchester and London Bridge didn’t seem to have any effect on the election result. I disagree. If it wasn’t for the fear PR that could legitimately ride on the back of those terror attacks, I believe Labour would have won outright.

Jeremy Corbyn was about to pull off the biggest political upset in modern history. What better than a terror attack or two to bring voters back into line, scare them into supporting the status quo?

They couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for a u-turning, non-TV debating, fear-ridden, forced onto the back foot Theresa May. What a bonus to be filmed coming out of Cobra meetings, or photographed outside No 10, to emphasise statesmanship. How useful to be able to shore up the Tories’ strong and stable status.

May’s snap election was supposed to suit her up like Iron Man. Forget strong and stable; this was Operation Invincible. Like Margaret Thatcher before her, she would be the Iron Lady, crush Corbyn and battle on to Brexit negotiations victory.

You can’t blame her. The opinion polls in April were showing Labour a whopping 20 points behind the Conservatives. Labour had just sunk to 25-27% after a failed attempt to remove Corbyn as leader while Theresa May’s popularity soared into the high 40s.

Even on the eve of the election, pollsters were predicting a Tory majority of 50, significantly up on the 17 the party already had. A significant increase in majority wasn’t just on the cards. It was an absolute shoe-in.

Ipsos MORI’s final survey for the Evening Standard had the Conservative party on course for an eight-point lead over Labour. YouGov gave it a seven-point lead. An ICM poll for the Guardian gave Mrs May’s party 46% and Labour just 34%. It was a similar story in the Independent with a ComRes poll predicting 44% for the Tories, 34% for Labour.

Instead, dreams of ‘strong and stable’ have crashed and burned as the Tories struggle to form a workable government by courting Northern Ireland’s anti-gay, anti-abortion DUP for “confidence and supply”.

On this showing alone, YouGov, Ipsos MORI, ICM and ComRes should surely be taken outside and shot. This was the pollsters’ Michael Fish moment. He’s never lived down failing to alert us, back in 1987, to the worst storm to hit south-east England in three centuries, a storm that caused record damage and killed 19 people.

May and her now dispossessed advisors would also have been encouraged by the rise of the right across Europe and the world.

First, there was Brexit, although here again the polls got it wrong. UKIP’s Nigel Farage was gobsmacked by the last-minute Leave vote after calling the referendum for Remain because pollsters had told us that this was where the vote was heading.

Farage was soon back in his stride as the first foreign visitor to congratulate fellow outsider Donald Trump when the same voter backlash that we’d just witnessed took the ‘last man on earth’ and made him US president.

Expect the unexpected. That’s the order of the day in today’s politics.

The latest poll from Survation for the Mail on Sunday has Labour at a six-point lead over the Tories. Corbyn’s party is now polling at 45%, against the Tories’ 39%.

The tables appear to have turned. Or have they? The only certainty now, we’re learning, is uncertainty.

‘Strong and stable’ was undermined and shaken as anti-establishment voters hijacked the narrative and backed an outsider, their main man Corbyn. The establishment-supporting, right-wing media kingmakers have been left licking their wounds as they try to work out what went wrong.

Here’s a clue. Corbyn the underdog morphed into a left-wing Donald Trump.

The mainstream media and Tory machine failed to note in the wake of Brexit that anti-establishment sentiment isn’t the sole purview of the right. Yes, even a man like Jeremy Corbyn could become a poster boy for rebellion.

He was the outsider who reckoned the naughtiest thing he’s ever done was far too naughty to divulge. Whatever it was, I’m sure it was wilder than May’s running through a wheat field. And people loved him for it.

Corbynism even put the Sun on the back foot and scoring an own goal with its election day front cover. It featured the Labour leader with a bin lid on his head and the banner ‘Don’t chuck Britain in the COR-BIN’. Instead, it was the Sun that found itself trashed as protesting Corbynistas took to chucking piles of the tabloid into waste bins across the land.

The Labour leader had already celebrated his eccentricity on The One Show, where he’d taken pride in talking about his sizeable collection of manhole covers. Not quite bin lids, but you get the picture.

Extreme slurs calling Corbyn a terrorist sympathiser only added fuel to his outsider status and martyrdom. One of the most punk aspects of the Corbyn campaign was how he managed to flood social media with positive messages.

May’s Conservatives used Edmonds Elder for their digital campaign, keeping the status quo established by David Cameron. The Tory party spent £1.2m on its social media campaign to spread negative anti-Corbyn content, but to what effect? Voters were becoming immune to the same old negative nonsense.

Corbyn might have started the campaign positioned as low as it gets, but with a radically positive campaign, the only way was up. Suddenly the campaign was all about Labour offering hope above the Tories offering fear. Bounty vs. Austerity.

This new mood seemed to go over Sir Lynton Crosby’s head. The Tories’ Australian hatchet man failed to read the runes on negativity and shift out of reverse gear as the Conservative lead dwindled.

The further the establishment pushed Corbyn out into the cold, the harder he could catapult back when that knee-jerk voter moment came, just as it did with Brexit and Trump.

It was the pied piper effect, drawing in the youth vote, that caused the biggest head rush for Labour. Organic groups like Grime4Corbyn, meme makers and online comedians were free DIY PR for the party. Most of the 72% of social media savvy young people who voted in this election voted for Labour.

It’s all left Westminster in a spin. May appears more headless chicken than strong and stable these days as she tries to salvage her reputation and the country from the fine mess she’s got us all into. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, got straight to the point with its new front cover. It shows a cartoon of Theresa May with her head cut off.

Then, as if it’s business as usual, she bizarrely announces plans to push through her controversial and wide-ranging new internet regulations allowing her to spy on everyone’s private communications – a key issue during the Conservative campaign. I doubt that parliament or the voters will have any of it.

Politicians need to take the lead from Corbyn, the fearless Zen master of our uncertain times. Dare to be different, shake up the status quo and loosen the reins of control.

Will Hutton wrote in the Guardian that “it was The Sun wot hung it”, but it, without the terror effect, would have seen Labour positively trounce the Tories.

Bang on to Richard on email and Twitter @6hillgrove