Jayne Dowle: Theresa May’s big failing was appearing not to care at all

Is Theresa May heartless?
Is Theresa May heartless?
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I’LL give you a clue. It’s a four-letter word. It begins with ‘c’. And it is the key to everything about this General Election and the bitter aftermath.

Yes, that’s right. The word you are searching for is “care”. A small word, but one that has come to mean so much.

Let me count the ways it has been used, abused and employed to such devastating effect. One thing stands out above all. This will be remembered as the General Election when the voters of Great Britain proved that they did care about politics. So much for voter apathy. Never have we thought about our vote so much and gone to the polls with such conviction.

It’s cropped up everywhere. Theresa May made a huge mistake when she threatened pensioners over the cost of actual social care. A policy designed to attack the demographic most likely to vote Tory? And from a leader who not only appears devoid of compassion, but has no idea how to even fake it.

No wonder her two closest advisors, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, have been forced to quit by MPs warning that Mrs May will face a leadership challenge unless she allows herself to be guided towards a more outgoing, inclusive, responsive and empathetic approach.

Taunting the elderly with the possibility that they might have to pay for their own care was suicidal. However, as any honest Labour supporter knows, every manifesto is allowed a hole or two.

This particular error may have been forgivable had it not been delivered as just one salvo in a campaign which highlighted not the “strong and stable” nature of Mrs May, but her fatal weakness – appearing not to care.

This was evident on more than one occasion, but highlighted devastatingly in that BBC Question Time exchange with a NHS nurse in York. How patronising to be informed by the Prime Minister that there “wasn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want”.

The regal response from Mrs May was callous. Hard decisions have to be made for our country. However, there are ways of making it feel better. Although she was certainly not loved in my part of South Yorkshire, Margaret Thatcher had a way of delivering the worst news with an authority that made it stick.

In apeing this patrician approach, without seemingly developing a persona of her own, Mrs May has presided over a political party which has all too often seemed entirely out of touch with concerns of ordinary voters. Refusing to take part in the televised leaders’ debate was a key indicator of this.

This has cost the Conservatives dearly in Parliamentary seats, and brought us to a hung parliament reliant on the support of the DUP, an ultra-right wing Northern Ireland party with questionable remit in this new government.

Yet, when it became clear that this DUP deal must be struck, did we hear a single contrite word from Number 10? Still not a syllable of apology. The arrogance was outstanding.

Clearly, Mrs May didn’t care what millions of Conservative voters might think. Thousands of these, notably the new Tory converts from Ukip and disillusioned Labourites and Lib Dems, must have wondered just what they had voted for. These voters must be nurtured and made to feel valued. Their allegiance should not be taken for granted in any future contest.

In short, the Conservatives ought to think themselves lucky and Mrs May should at least sound grateful as Carers Week begins today.

Some hope. She doesn’t even seem to care much what her MPs and party members think either. I’m noticing my Twitter feed full of right-leaning political friends and acquaintances distancing themselves from DUP by posting curious messages of support for same-sex couple celebrities and mothers breastfeeding in public.

Now let’s contrast this to the Labour Party. Whatever you might think about leader Jeremy Corbyn – and there are plenty of people now eating their words – you cannot say that he did not care. Indeed, there are many who thought that he cared too much because his manifesto promised something for everyone and at unfathomable expense to the public purse.

It is true that you can’t buy votes; you need a possibility, a hope, a dream to believe in. In the end, this is what Mr Corbyn conjured up. And he did it by genuinely proving that he did care. He made himself available to the public, attended countless meetings and rallies, and actually seemed to listen.

He never dismissed the concerns of an underpaid nurse with scathing reference to a magic money tree. He galvanised the young vote through social media and sent his candidates knocking on street after street of doors.

Whether or not you like him personally, he appealed directly to the nation’s heart, whilst Mrs May is still struggling to prove that she has one.