Jon Craig: Player ratings for Team Theresa and Team Jeremy
Who were the star players and the disastrous substitutions?
The final whistle is about to be blown in the election campaign. Theresa May and the blue team are favourites to lift the election trophy, though Jeremy Corbyn and his reds have battled hard.
The prime minister has talked about “me and my team”, the Labour leader about “the many, not the few”. So how have Theresa’s team and Jeremy’s many team-mates performed during the campaign?
Here are my campaign ratings out of 10 for the two teams.
THE CONSERVATIVE TEAM
1. Theresa May
From “strong and stable to “weak and wobbly” after her social care U-turn. Made matters worse by denying she’d made a U-turn. Dubbed the “Maybot” after robotic answers to questions, though performed strongly in the final TV clash, BBC’s Question Time. But she showed great stamina and looks poised to lift the election trophy on June 9.
2. Amber Rudd
Rating: 8 *STAR PLAYER*
Reliable and reassuring after the Manchester and London Bridge bombings and the NHS cyber attack. Clearly Captain May’s most trusted team-mate, she deputised strongly in the seven-way BBC TV debate despite her father dying two days earlier. She is now tipped as a Chancellor-in-waiting and a future Conservative Party leader.
3. Boris Johnson
Almost invisible early on and said to have been gagged for being too gaffe-prone. But he burst into the Tory attack in the second half of the campaign with some crunching tackles on Jeremy Corbyn, even though he too had previously linked UK foreign policy to terrorism. His Sky News clash with Labour’s Andrew Gwynne was a campaign highlight.
4. David Davis
Seen by some Tories as the May team’s unofficial vice-captain, he introduced the PM at the manifesto launch. A safe pair of hands in TV studios and the debate “spin rooms”. A vital player in the months ahead as Brexit Secretary, though he’s also tipped for a move to the Foreign Office, though he could get the Home Office if Rudd becomes Chancellor.
5. Michael Fallon
Another crunching tackler of Jeremy Corbyn. But he was ambushed by Labour’s Emily Thornberry on TV over a visit he made to Syria’s President Assad in 2007. He was also slapped down by the PM for ruling out tax rises for high earners. And he was tripped up in another TV interview when he mistook Boris Johnson’s link between the Iraq war and terrorism for Corbyn’s.
6. Damian Green
A loyal May ally who was embarrassed when he defended the social care manifesto plans just 24 hours before the PM’s U-turn. But he remained a trusted regular in the election debate spin rooms and TV and radio interviews, solidly defending Tory policies on tricky issues like means testing winter fuel payments. He could win promotion after the election. The next Health Secretary?
7. Karen Bradley
Another May loyalist trusted with handling difficult TV and radio interviews. But the Culture Secretary struggled on occasions to answer questions outside her Cabinet brief, on police cuts, for example. She also struggled to answer detailed questions on the Tories’ immigration policies. But she’s loyal to the team captain and is unlikely to be punished in a post-election reshuffle.
8. Jeremy Hunt
Jeremy Who? His days as Health Secretary must surely be numbered after he was sidelined by the PM and Home Secretary after the NHS cyber attack during the election campaign. As the chaos dragged on, he was accused of hiding. He was reduced to a role campaigning in marginal seats. After five turbulent and exhausting years as Health Secretary, surely it’s time for him to be substituted.
9. Ruth Davidson
If the Conservatives make gains in Scotland, she will rightly be hailed as one of the heroes of the campaign. More than anyone, the Tories’ Scottish leader has taken the fight to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. A flamboyant campaigner just like Sturgeon, she is just 38 and many Tories would like to see her become an MP at Westminster at the next election and play a leading role in UK politics
10. Iain Duncan Smith
The quiet man certainly turned up the volume in this campaign. Despite having quit the Cabinet after a row with George Osborne – or more likely because of it – he was trusted as a leading party spokesman during the campaign. Don’t rule out a Cabinet comeback for IDS. Yes, another one. He may be deeply Euro-sceptic, but many Tories believe his loyalty has earned a return.
11. Michael Gove
His articulate and on-message TV appearances in the Tory campaign have led some to speculate on a Cabinet comeback for Gove too. Don’t bet on it. He’s still serving his suspension for his red card last year. Asked by George Osborne’s London Evening Standard about him in an interview, the PM replied: “I seem to remember Michael was secretary for state for education at one point.”
TORY SUBSTITUTES (NOT USED)
Can anyone remember an election campaign when the economy has been such a rarely debated issue? Hammond has been the near-invisible man of the Tory campaign after a disastrous news conference with the PM when they were both askeed about his future. So “Spreadsheet Phil” must fear being substituted. He lost No. 10’s trust before the election with his disastrous national insurance U-turn after a Tory backlash.
No news conferences and no TV interviews. A former dining companion of the PM, he’s obviously now badly out of favour with the team management. Could an interview with Sky’s Sophy Ridge in March - when he denied sending a tweet saying the UK was “one of the few countries in the EU that does not need to bury its 20th-century history” while sitting in front of a giant screenshot of it - be the reason? Probably safe, though.
THE LABOUR TEAM
1. Jeremy Corbyn
He fought an energetic campaign and drew huge crowds at his packed rallies, cheered on by his adoring fans. But too many of them were in rock-solid Labour seats. The obvious suspicion is that he was shoring up support for yet another leadership challenge. His TV performances were adequate. But he stumbled in the final TV grilling, on nuclear weapons and his support for Irish republican and Palestinian causes.
2. John McDonnell
The Shadow Chancellor faded during the final stages of the campaign, when the economy disappeared from the agenda, replaced – inevitably after the Manchester and London bridge bombings - by policing and security. But he remains a key player behind the scenes. His spending plans were strongly challenged as unaffordable, though he successfully argued the same could be said of the Conservatives’ promises.
3. Diane Abbott
A high-profile substitution in the final days of the campaign, claiming ill-health after a disastrous interview on security on Sky News which followed stumbles in earlier interviews. She says she’s “still standing!” and “will re-join the fray soon”. But it’s claimed Corbyn and McDonnell eventually blocked her TV and radio appearances and despite her pledge to come back it looks as though her days as a senior front bencher may be over.
4. Tom Watson
Where was Labour’s deputy leader in this campaign? When you think what a high-profile and energetic campaigner John Prescott was when he was Tony Blair’s deputy, Watson was nowhere near as visible. And when he did speak out he claimed Labour had “a mountain to climb” to prevent a Tory landslide. Has arch-plotter Watson had one eye on the battle for the Labour succession after the general election?
5. Emily Thornberry
A surprisingly good election campaign for the woman whose career low point was appearing to sneer at “white van man”, she put in some good performances on TV and radio, including standing in for Diana Abbott when she was withdrawn from a Woman’s Hour debate. The highlight of her campaign was telling tory bruiser Michael Fallon he was talking “bollocks” on TV and ambushing him over a visit to Syria.
6. Barry Gardiner
Rating: 8 *STAR PLAYER
Another surprise success of Labour’s campaign. It’s worth recalling that Barry was bag-carrier to Peter Mandelson in a previous Labour life. Now he appears to be a fully paid up Corbyn loyalist. If the Labour leadership wanted a player to “take one for the team”, Barry always stepped up. Mild-mannered off-screen, he was often on fire on it. He even dared to take on Adam Boulton on Sky News.
7. Andrew Gwynne
Always cheerful, however grim the news for Labour. Another team player willing to put his body on the line in clashes with opponents and TV interrogators. His on-air clash with Boris Johnson in the spin-room on the night of the Sky News May-Corbyn programme was TV gold. If Labour does go down to a heavy defeat, he’s unlikely to get the blame, even though he was Corbyn’s election co-ordinator.
8. Keir Starmer
Lawyerly, precise and courteous, the former DPP is perhaps not best suited to the rough and tumble of hand-to-hand combat in election campaigns. As Brexit spokesman he has one of the toughest briefs in the Shadow Cabinet. One of many tipped as a Corbyn successor, he perhaps lacks the warmth to charm the party members and trade union leaders. But he’s one of the sensible voices in Labour’s team.
9. Angela Rayner
Despite being the favoured candidate of many Corbynistas as Jeremy’s successor, the 37-year-old Shadow Education Secretary was not as high profile as she might have been, especically since school funding was a key Labour issue. Was it because she’s said to have clasheed with John McDonnell at Labour’s manifesto meeting, criticising the emphasis on the expensive axing of tuition fees over school funding?
10. Jonathan Ashworth
Under-used by Labour during the campaign, the Shadow Health Secretary has proved to be a competent critic of Jeremy Hunt and was strong on the Tories’ social care funding muddle. He’s no Corbynista and therefore probably not trusted by the leader and his inner circle. His most high-profile interventions in the campaign were the searching questions he asked duing the NHS cyber attack.
11. Len McCluskey
When the Unite leader speaks, Labour MPs shudder. During the campaign he said that if Labour could hold on to about 200 seats it would be a successful campaign. It sounded like he was all but writing off a Labour victory. He also appeared to be saying Jeremy Corbyn should stay if the party polls more than 200 and should go if it’s fewer. Oh, and Unite gave nearly £3 million to Labour’s election campaign.
London’s popular mayor featured on many more Labour campaign leaflets than Jeremy Corbyn. He won’t mind that. But he – like all Londoners - will be distraught that he was thrust into a high-profile role by a terrorist attack on the capital just days before polling day. Praised by Theresa May for doing an “excellent” job and attacked by President Trump on twitter, he looks more and more like a future Labour leader.
Greater Manchester’s newly elected mayor had to deal with a terrorist attack in his city within weeks of his election last month. Like Sadiq Khan, Burnham is an experienced ex-minister with gravitas and also handled the terrible events in Manchester with great dignity. Khan and Burnham are a good advert for directly-elected mayors. Burnham has already stood for Labour leader and his future probably lies away from Westminster.