Labour is desperate to fight this general election on the issues, not personalities. In view of Jeremy Corbyn’s personal poll ratings, which are at record low levels, this is hardly surprising. The Conservative campaign is aggressively ad hominem: it is him or Theresa May. Which would you chose?
But if Labour wants to address policies then it needs to ensure they are properly thought through. The party’s strategists must surely have known that when Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, appeared on the radio and TV yesterday to discuss Labour’s plans to recruit 10,000 extra police officers she would be asked how much it would cost. What a hapless performance she gave. In one interview she first gave a figure of £300,000 before settling on £80 million. The actual sum is £300 million.
Ms Abbott was indignant that anyone should alight upon such mistakes and seek to personalise matters rather than focus on the “issues”. But the cost is an issue. To argue for more police officers is a perfectly legitimate position to adopt, though Labour’s Left never used to be so keen on swelling their ranks. However, it has to be a costed and sensible policy. This wasn’t.
It is tempting to find Ms Abbott’s discomfiture amusing and part of the election knock-about. Yet she would most likely be the home secretary in a Corbyn government; and she is one of the more competent and better-known of his team. But no one can have confidence in her ability to lead a major government department. Policies matter, but so do personalities since they determine the style and capabilities of the administration. On both counts, Labour isn’t up to the job.