If May wins by a landslide it's not about Brexit – she just lucked out with her opposition

British Prime Minister, Theresa May, greets Chairman of the European Union, Donald Tusk at 10 Downing Street, LondonHannah McKay/Reuters

Fair play to the Twitter follower who, on seeing me tweet about yet another meeting with yet another group of people who shared my angst about Brexit, commented: 'So nice to see Alastair Campbell travel the country coming across people who think exactly as he does.' I smiled, anyway.

We all do it a bit, don't we? And social media and the algorithmisation of life have exacerbated our tendency to find the voices that echo our own. Stand by during the election campaign for a torrent of social media postings by candidates of all parties, pictures of happy smiling faces, saying 'out campaigning in (insert any part of the country); fantastic reception, our message really getting through.' I yearn to read a tweet from a candidate saying 'just knocked on doors in Main Street. Two yeses, six nos, five slammed doors, four f**k offs, three f**k the lot of yous. Not going to plan.'

As for my own experiences on the road, I can only report what happens, dear reader. The smile-inducing jibe above was sent after I tweeted about a meeting in Oldham Library, where I was launching their book festival. It was a general public event, not just political, but I asked, as I always do these days, these four questions...

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On Brexit, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

On Trump, are you optimistic or pessimistic?

On Brexit, regardless of your own view, do you think the government knows what it is doing?

Finally, do you think Jeremy Corbyn could be prime minister after the election?

On the last of those, from memory I think a couple of hands went up. On Trump, it was a full house for pessimism. On Brexit, it was actually a more optimistic audience than many of whom I have asked the question – maybe 8%. So still overwhelmingly pessimistic. And on the question of government competence, again a few hands went up for the notion that Mrs May and co knew what they were doing, but it remained a small minority.

I hope that anyone who was there can confirm, though this was only a show of hands, that this is a fair summary. It is also broadly consistent with events I have done for different business organisations, charities, schools, universities and other bodies. Yet to read or hear much of our media, let alone listen to our government, the whole country is united behind Brexit, and Theresa May is delivering the strategy we all want. It is like living in parallel universes.

Even this morning, in a hotel in Copenhagen, where I am later making a speech about Brexit, Trump and the state of modern political parties, I sat down at breakfast and the British guy at the next table launched straight into a 'what the hell is happening to the world?' type of conversation. He introduced himself as Sean King, who worked in marketing. I wished my Twitter cynic had been there as he lamented the state of UK politics, the competence of the government, tore his hair out about Labour, and suggested on Brexit that with the referendum now over, an ideological minority was basically bending the country to its will, with enormously damaging consequences for the majority who live in it, including and possibly especially many of those who voted to Leave the EU. So yes, bang on my message.

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I do meet people, including Remainers, who say to me, the vote has happened, for God's sake we just have to get on with it. But they are far fewer in number than those who cannot get beyond the disaster they foresee, including Leavers who are beginning to wonder if they did the right thing. Most spectacularly, the woman who said to me on June 24, 'I didn't realise if we voted Leave that we would actually have to Leave.' Mmmm.

Now we all know that the polling industry has taken something of a battering in recent times, having failed to predict Brexit, Trump, or a Cameron majority. So let's not take them too seriously. But there are two polls today which cement my sense of the parallel universe. In the Times, we read that a majority now think, as I do, that Britain took the wrong decision on voting to leave the EU. It is not exactly a landslide, 45% to 43, and in my view (with apologies to my Twitter friend) is out of kilter with the actual mood I sense around the place. That 43 will include not just those who really believe we are on the right course, but also many among the 'get on with it' brigade.

But it does confirm that Mrs May is talking twaddle, as she did in the Brexit white paper and has done many times since, in saying that she has the support of the whole country in what she is trying to achieve.

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Yet the second poll that caught my eye is the one headlined in the Telegraph as 'Theresa May most popular leader since the late 70s as Jeremy Corbyn hits all time low.' Of course, the 'popularity' is defined by the comparison. I sense some admiration for Mrs May around the place, but nothing near the respect or popularity that Mrs Thatcher enjoyed in some quarters, or the positivity that Tony Blair was generating exactly 20 years ago, on the eve of his first landslide.

But here is the hard reality both for Labour and for those of us who want to fight the fight for Britain's place in Europe. Elections are never a choice between one candidate and perfection. They are a choice of one politician against another, one party against another. It is not May v Thatcher 1979 even, or May v Blair 1997, but May 2017 v Corbyn 2017. She has gone for this election because she believes she cannot lose, and if the polls are wrong on that, polling might as well join folding maps, floppy discs and fax machines in the dustbin of obsolete industries.

There are few worse feelings than being in a campaign that you know is heading for defeat. I had that feeling in the latter stages of the referendum campaign, and given Mrs May's conversion from soft Remainer to hard Brexiteer on steroids, a poll suggesting that some who voted Leave are now regretting it is scant comfort if, as currently seems likely, she is heading for a landslide.

If that happens, it will be less because she is right about Brexit, or even has a plan for it, but because she was lucky in her opponent. But when the votes are counted, it will all be about Brexit, and with a double 'will of the people' mandate, she will then set about delivering something the people may by then have decided they don't really want. Once they know what Brexit entails, I am sure they won't want it. But it will be too late. A landslide is a landslide. A majority is a majority, and if you have a big one, you can get a lot done with it, even if it is madness, and deep down you know it.


Alastair Campbell is a British strategist and writer, best known for his work as Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1994 and 2003. He is the author of 12 books, the latest of which is Outside Inside, his diaries from 2003-2005. He is Ambassador for mental health campaign Time to Change. Follow : @campbellclaret


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