Friday 15 July 2022

Bruisefest or Snoozefest?

Long time readers know I come from the Tory-voting working class. When John Major swept to his unexpected victory 30 years ago, I feigned illness so I could skip school and watch the election coverage the day after. Mercifully my politics moved on shortly afterwards, but something of that moment has stayed with me. What a Tory supporter looks for in their politicians and the promises they make is something I understand, and at times like Conservative Party leadership contests I try listening to my teenaged Tory self and if he's impressed by any of the runners and riders. In 2005 he would definitely have gone for Dave, and in the aborted 2016 contest Theresa May would have been the choice. 2019 and the enthusiasm would have been with our friend Rory Stewart, but the head would have gone with Jeremy Hunt to keep Boris Johnson out. And in 2022? He's undecided, and Channel Four's leadership debate hasn't clarified matters.

Less bruisefest and more snoozefest, being boring has become the leadership hustings tradition of late. Arrayed on the stage, only Tom Tugendhat showed any life - even if his policy offering is utterly vapid. He did get his 'Clean Start' soundbite out, but then reverted to character. At one point he emoted his gratitude to the NHS for rehabilitating his military colleagues to the point of almost blubbing. But apart from answering a question straight ("Is Boris Johnson honest? No") and raising a laugh, he was utterly forgettable. In fact, I completely missed his closing speech. Despite not moving from the sofa and having the telly on in front of me. No Cleggmania-style insurgency for him.

Nor for Kemi Badenoch. Obviously, she and Tugendhat have clung on hoping this weekend's slew of debates will boost their fortunes. I doubt they will here either. She bristled when Krishnan Guru-Murthy read out her bona fides as the privileged daughter of the globe trotting upper middle class - not the minimum wage earning, burger-flipping McDonald's employed teenager she contrives herself as. And, I have to say, this fire and determination that has attracted the likes of Michael Gove to her corner was not much in evidence. She wanted to stake the claim for the keeping it real/telling it how it is candidate. "Things need to be said", she said, and then spent her time waffling saying a great deal about comparatively little. She said government offers nothing but trade offs, and one of these is scrapping the green levy on energy bills to deal with the inflation spiral. Predictably, with the price cap set to accelerate by more than a thousand pounds this Autumn she did not specify how saving bill payers £150 would assist. The NHS also needs to work smarter, not harder, and it definitely doesn't need more money.

If these two were bad, Liz Truss went home with the wooden spoon. Incredibly robotic, very uncomfortable, she trotted out the "delivery" cliches. Among them were her trade deal with Australia, which actually disadvantages UK farmers, and her deal with Japan whose marginal improvement on the trading relationship we had via the EU is microscopic to non-existent as big wins. If these are achievements, I'd hate to see what failure looks like. Truss did pledge to reverse the National Insurance hike and, (rightly!), argued borrowing more now and restructuring the "Covid debt" was a better option than keeping the Tory tax rises. Though, naturally this being the Conservative contest, no thought was given to asking the party's wealthy backers to fork out more. Truss was also the candidate who said 'Vladimir Putin' more than anyone else, and kept banging on about nuclear. Power, that is. Not weapons.

Rish! Sunak probably had the best of the "debate". As the former chancellor and most responsible for the economy, he was also the one most across his brief. In an odd outbreak of toing and froing with Truss over the debt, he rattled off the greatest hits from Coalitions years. "You can't tackle borrowing by more borrowing" he said, though it was left to Badenoch to chime in with the magic money tree cliche. He said inflation was his number one challenge, and - the unsaid subtext here - is his refusal to countenance reversing his National Insurance increase recalls the money supply dogma that informed the first phase of Thatcherism. Despite saying "he knew" how tough it was out there, and how his £1,200 payment to the poorest third of the population will really help millions, he can't escape the clutches of locating inflation in too generous wages. Nothing to do with profiteering, nothing to do with Ukraine - which even the hapless Truss recognised.

And what about the new frontrunner. Did Penny Mordaunt convince? Like the others, she dialled it in. She mouthed platitudes about bringing the country together and realising the opportunities of Brexit - a position now shared by Keir Starmer. She "spoke truth to power", without really elaborating on what that meant. But in all she didn't advance much on her leadership launch. Even the piercing dog whistle on trans issues got blown as she, Badenoch, and Truss affected a concern for women's spaces. You know, the sort of concern that has seen the Tories preside over a persistent funding crisis for domestic abuse services and the closure of almost a fifth of women's refuges since 2010. On economic growth, this can be wished into existence by organising things better, energy price inflation can be tackled through greater use of renewables, and the NHS needs to use more modern technology. Perhaps the most interesting thing she said was a brief comment at the start of her pitch that said the finance of the Tory party needs to change. Interesting.

My inner Tory wasn't convinced by anyone, and of the audience of 50 or so swing voters only 10 said they were now prepared to vote Tory after this plodding facsimile of a debate. With another full debate to go, followed by the final three or two candidates on Tuesday, might we see more desperate attempts to impress? The use of more attack lines that can help keep Labour leafleters going for the next few years? Either way, one thing is for certain. Whoever wins we all lose.

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David Lindsay said...

Do not bet on a members' ballot at all, but if that delivered anyone other than whoever had topped the poll of MPs, then there would be another coup in this Parliament, this time with only one candidate. Rishi Sunak has already passed the hundred mark. But no tie? If Dr Sunak is still alive, then he needs to be straight onto Winchester to demand his money back.

No matter how many grouse moors and salmon rivers their families may own, the London media remain convinced that Kemi Badenoch's married surname is exotically African and difficult to pronounce. Nothing could make me a supporter of Scottish independence, but even I can occasionally see the other side of the argument.

It is clear from the Register of Members' Interests that Penny Mordaunt is not being paid by the Royal Naval Reserve, for which she does not currently fulfil the requirements. Tom Tugendhat was officially deployed to Afghanistan as a TA schoolie before being openly acknowledged as a spook 13 days later. When he was "helping to set up the National Security Council of Afghanistan and the government in Helmand Province," then he was classified as a civilian. He has the strong whiff of Captain Darling in Blackadder Goes Fourth. All that this election is lacking is someone who pretends to be in the RAF.

Playwright said...

Kudos to Channel 4 for lack of the fawning hypocrisy we have come to expect from the Beeb. And Krishnan had done his homework.

Robert Dyson said...

I watched it - lacking both policies and inspiration. Now I realize why Johnson won big in 2019. They were all arguing for a new start on a different path - so I'm voting for the Corbyn/McDonnell team.