First as a journalist, then as a campaigner, I have been involved in many elections, home and abroad. But this one is the weirdest I can ever remember. It's surreal. Here are twelve reasons why I say so.
1. There was no need for it.
Theresa May was right first time, and the many times thereafter, when she ruled out a snap election. She had a Commons majority. Contrary to her 'the country is uniting (sic) and Parliament is not' (as if that was Parliament's role) justification for going back on her word, she was having little trouble in getting Parliamentary approval for her Brexit strategy.
2. The stated reasons for the election are not the real reasons.
The stated reason is as above, that she needed a fresh mandate for Brexit, even though the referendum had already been acknowledged as such (far too readily given her vision of Brexit now goes well beyond what many voted for.) She has sought to give a national purpose for voting Tory by claiming that "every vote will strengthen my hand in the negotiations". This is nonsense.
If the negotiating strength of an EU leader was dictated by the size of their parliamentary majority, Angela Merkel would be the weakest, given she has never had one for her CDU Party, when in fact she is the strongest. Added to which, the hard Brexit and the hard rhetoric employed by Mrs May in her campaign to destroy Ukip will make her life more – not less – difficult once the real work begins.
The real reasons are:
A) She knows that the negotiations are going to be tough, and that she will either end up with no deal or a bad deal. She knows it will not be possible to get, as promised by David Davis, "the exact same benefits" from a trade deal as we have from membership of the single market and the Customs Union. So she wants to get a bigger majority, with more ideological hard Brexit Tories on board, for when the whole thing unravels, and the economy shrinks.
B) To exploit Labour's weaknesses and dreadful poll ratings. She was worried Labour might move against Jeremy Corbyn if the May 4 local elections had been a disaster, and wanted to lock him in as the leader against whom she fought.
3. Public and media seem to think the result is a foregone conclusion.
At every speaking event I do these days, I ask for a show of hands in answer to three questions. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about a Trump Presidency? The answer ranges from zero to five per cent. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about Brexit? This goes from zero to a high last week in Leeds of around 15%. And finally, do you think anyone other than Theresa May will be Prime Minister on June 9? This one is often zero, occasionally a handful of hands, among younger audiences it can get up to 10%. Surreal. And democratically unsustainable.
4. Labour candidates are saying 'we can't win'. Tories are saying 'oh yes they can.'
Some Labour candidates are openly saying "vote for me to be your local MP, but don't worry, Jeremy Corbyn won't be Prime Minister." Tories, meanwhile, are desperately talking up the Labour threat, and will be thrilled at polls showing the gap closing. Their pleasure will be shared by the right-wing papers who are itching to start to do the really heavy dirty work for May.
5. Though it is a Brexit election, the two main parties and the media are pretending it's not.
For the Tories, it is all about "Theresa" and the "strong and stable leadership" vs "coalition of chaos" mantra. For Labour, it is all about trying to separate what they believe to be popular policies – what's not to like about so many good things on which so much money seems available to be spent? – from the leader and the credibility of the main message carriers. For the media, it is driven by the question, "How the hell do we keep this interesting for another three weeks?"
6. The protest vote parties don't seem to be attracting protest votes.
Ukip RIP could be one of the major outcomes of this election. Mainly this is because Mrs May has shifted from shy Remainer to hard Brexiteer on steroids, but also because whereas Nigel Farage was at least a strong media performer, with a certain intelligence, Paul Nuttall is not. The Lib Dems also appear to be struggling. Their second referendum pledge may be losing as well as winning support, and though their leader is more impressive than Nuttall, Tim Farron 2017 is not Nick Clegg 2010.
7. More than ever, elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland are taking on a life of their own.
Pity the people of Northern Ireland, who must surely be suffering poll fatigue. But their election is of the utmost importance given Brexit could lead to a return of a hard border, real pressure on the peace process, and a revival of the debate about a united Ireland. This is barely figuring in the debate outside the Province. In Scotland, similarly, the Union is again centre stage.
8. We are seeing the first known building of a personality cult around a non-personality.
I don't think even Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair ever launched a campaign with their frontbench team obediently lined up at their feet and the words 'my manifesto' in the opening remarks. The machine-gun rattle of the first person singular in Mrs May's communications is all the more remarkable given what colleagues have for years said about her inability to connect with people, visible every time she is photographed with a child or allowed near a member of the public not holding a "strong and stable leadership" placard. Candidates are nowhere to be seen. The C-word – Conservatives – is being airbrushed. It is all about Theresa, Theresa, Theresa. Watching her on The One Show with her much more relaxed husband, I wondered if Samuel Beckett (Liberal Metropolitan Elite reference) was writing the campaign script.
9. The media are being supine in the extreme.
This is more than a reference to The One Show, which was shameful in its sycophancy. As journalism professor Brian Cathcart wrote at the weekend, in the US Trump has given rise to a rebirth of vibrant journalism. Brexit appears to have reduced the UK version either to the slavish flagwaving of the right-wing papers – can you imagine what the Mail would have done if Labour had come up with the social care plan, for example? – or the becalmed broadcasters regurgitating rather than challenging the messages and manifesto proposals put before them. May is being treated as half-Thatcher, half-Queen, and there is too little protest and comment on the controlling, deadening nature of the campaign, or on the link between the press's slavish support and her decision to drop the second part of the Leveson inquiry.
10. We are seeing a battle between competing visions of the past not the future.
The best campaign song ever – runner-up is D:Ream's Things Can Only Get Better, 1997 – was for Bill Clinton's first Presidential campaign, Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop (with the refrain 'thinking about tomorrow') . Elections should always be about the future. But even with Brexit on the horizon, the debate generated around Labour's policy proposals has been very traditionally focused on tax and spend and the main public services, allowing the Tories to say it is a throwback to the 1970s. Yet as many have pointed out, there is something a bit rich in that, given their own vision is in many ways a throwback to the 1950s. Where is the urgency on climate change or the understanding and analysis of the change coming through the next technological wave of robotics and artificial intelligence? And what country ever built success by governing against the stated interests of the younger generation, which massively opposes Brexit?
11. Abroad is not very interested.
Apart from in Ireland (see surreal point 7) then compared with the French and German elections, let alone Trump, this is very much a second order event for the world. Overseas broadsheet writers complain not only at their lack of access to the main politicians, but also at the relative disinterest of their bosses. 'Inside pages if at all,' is how they describe it. The referendum result was huge news around the world. How Britain makes sense of the mess we have created for ourselves, less so.
12. Where are the bloody posters?
I saw Seb Coe at an athletics meeting on Hampstead Heath last night. He had driven in from the west of London. He said he saw two posters up in voters' windows on the entire route. If a Martian landed, would they even know we were having an election, let alone what Mrs May calls the most important vote of our lifetime?
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