Monday 18 July 2022

In Praise of the Tory TV Debates

There has been a lot of chatter about the Tory leadership debates. With two in the bag, Liz Truss and Rish! Sunak pulled out of the third due to be hosted by Sky News on Monday evening. I was disappointed, and not because my freakish tastes extend to sterile point scoring between different shades of Toryism. But because the leadership contests were good, actually. Let me explain.

The contests proved three things. The first was how empty the party is of ideas. Harking back to Channel Four's debate, having bolted out the gates promising tax cuts of one description or another there was little evidence of original thinking. Penny Mordaunt showed hints of new directions, but mostly her platform is Johnsonism without its Johnson. Kemi Badenoch made the most radical proposal in her desire to subject the Treasury to direct political control (something Labour should advocate, by the way) but the interest ended there. We got permutations of war on woke, anti-green posturing, hawkish warmongering and nothing else. Collectively they demonstrated a party knackered after 12 years and without much of a clue where to go next, let alone overcome its own crisis of political reproduction.

Second, no amount of friendly write ups in the Tory press hailing these "exceptional candidates" can hide the fact they are anything but. As "outsiders" Tom Tugendhat and Badenoch failed to inspire insurgent energy. They weren't charismatic, nor were their respective "I was in the army you know" and "I'll tell you things you don't want to hear" postures any good for capturing thw imagination of the immediate selectorate - the MPs. As for Mordaunt, her performance was so-so and she had a hard time shutting down her shifty behaviour over trans issues. From saying trans women are women to being against self ID, all she's done is hole her ship beneath the water line and made herself look dishonest and opportunist. As for Sunak and Truss, the former chancellor had nothing in the tank except for more of the same, and the foreign secretary tried to out-Thatcher Thatcher with her tax cuts. All of them showed themselves up to be lightweights with no answers to the serious problems the country faces.

Lastly, the occasional tipping of Sunday night's debate into character assassination and the trashing of the last 12 years of government were why the plug was pulled on the Sky show. Labour "insiders" have been all over the press saying how they can't believe their luck. And while gloating is an unedifying business, an attack on Sunak from Truss and vice versa carries more weight then swipes from Keir Starmer and the shadow ministers. Not only is this good fodder for the opposition, it raises the question about whether the party can unite behind the new PM come September. This wasn't a problem for Johnson or, even further back, Dave's victory over David Davis, but then again there hasn't been a Tory contest where the gloves have come off quite like this in public.

Contrary to other lefties moaning about the contest taking up prime time TV, they have helped encourage Tory division, shown up the dishonesty and feebleness of their character, and demonstrated that they have no answers. And this has set the tone for print and broadcast media coverage. The only thing wrong with the TV debates? There wasn't enough of them.

Image Credit


Old Trot said...

I agree completely , Phil. But unfortunately I also remember the utter banality and cynicism of the 'mainstream' Labour Leadership candidates in 2015, with all their 'aspiration' and 'achievers' bullshit - compared to Jeremy's basic old-fashioned social democratic pitch - that grabbed the studio audiences big time - to the dismay of the other candidates and the debate TV presenters. Fast forward to 2019's post Corbyn Leadership contest, and the only attractive policies on offer were re-heated Corbynism - which none of the candidates (and I include the drippy Long-Bailey) had any intention of carrying forward once elected. A Labour Leadership contest today would actually be little different to the dire Tory ones of the last week, ie, sound bites avoiding any specific policy commitments, and spewing out meaningless slogans - like the current vacuous Nulabour Starmerite one of " Security, Prosperity, Respect" . Now, honestly, any political party or regime, even, the General Petain French Vichy regime in WW2, could use that slippery content-less slogan ! In fact I expect Starmer to add in the old Petainist ones about 'family ' and 'nation' , any day now !

So we at present essentially have in the UK a stitched-up facade democracy , with no genuine choices available to the voter. A huge opportunity for a genuine, working class-oriented insurgent non-Labour Party bogged-down Left to fill the void . But the largely professional middle class UK Left is far too bogged down in non-materialist , and too often, scientifically bogus and operationally ludicrous, identity politics, a continued delusion in the benevolent nature of the neoliberal EU, and a virtue-signalling 5th form debating society type desire for the abolition of all global and national barriers to unlimited labour supply, to ever make inroads into the mass of now unrepresented working class voters. Eventually, that being so, those unrepresented working class voters, will in huge numbers, switch to voting for a European-style pseudo 'anti elite' party of the radical Far Right. I know I've said this repeatedly, but the looming future political tragedy in the UK is heart-breaking to observe, as our polity , and our social cohesion, is swept ever onwards to disaster, with what passes for the UK 'Left' essentially merely impotent self-obsessed passive observers.

Blissex said...

«without much of a clue where to go next, [...] nothing in the tank except for more of the same [...] demonstrated that they have no answers.»

A "detail" is that New Labour's Starmer has pursued these points as strategic principles, and so have the LibDems. For the LibDems this has given them recently significant by-election gains.

Those gains are understandable: after all "Middle England" voters are tired of new ideas or answers to problems that they don't have, and of "politics" in general: they want indeed more of the same as they have enjoyed 40 years of booming incomes and wealth.

Do really many New Labour or LibDem officials and MPs (or many readers of this blog), want significant change, or are they happy to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their hard waiting, only hoping that there will be a change of personnel in their favour, but not of policies (except perhaps a return to the Single Market)? I doubt it, because they have been campaigning for personnel rather than policy changes. “There Is No Alternative”.

«the serious problems the country faces»

The only serious problem affluent "Middle England" voters face is on what to spend their profits: longer holidays? Dubai or Florida or a cruise? another BTL flat? another house renovation? a newer car? There may be someone else in "the country" who has serious problems but that is irrelevant because no major party represents them.

«let alone overcome its own crisis of political reproduction»

But at least they are trying to buy more votes by widening again home ownership (outside London, inside London it is a lost cause), while (as our blogger has noted a few times) New Labour are instead intent on narrowing their membership and their voter base, by driving their "trot" members and voters out of politics.

Maybe on an absolute basis the Conservatives are slowly declining, but still doing better than New Labour and LibDems.

PurplePete said...

I think the Tories now realise they've made a big mistake by prematurely turfing-out the Old Etonian libertarian. Five minutes watching the contenders was enough for me. Tedious, empty rhetoric. Almost asinine. Johnson was a movie star in comparison to that lot. Shut your eyes next time you listen to Sunak - the same mannerisms and intonations as Tony Blair! And wots with Sunak's hippy bracelet?

Anonymous said...

And we get the next one in Stoke- lucky us…..

Blissex said...

«the utter banality and cynicism of the 'mainstream' Labour Leadership candidates in 2015, with all their 'aspiration' and 'achievers' bullshit»

Amazing things do happen, here we have (my usual quote) an "Old Trot" and Andy Burnham saying the same:
«he also praised Corbyn for having brought the contest to life. “The attacks we’ve seen on Jeremy misread the mood of the party because what people are crying out for is something different. They are fed up with the way Labour has been conducting policies in recent times,” he said.»

«a stitched-up facade democracy , with no genuine choices available to the voter.»

A common opinion, here is another of my usual quotes, from a commenter on "The Guardian" in 2018:

«I'm nearly thirty, which means I grew up under Major (just), Blair and Brown then Dave and Nick. In my considered opinion and the opinion of my peers - you couldn't fit a fag paper between them.»

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were a bit different, but not much.

«A huge opportunity for a genuine, working class-oriented insurgent non-Labour Party bogged-down Left to fill the void .»

That's a difficult dream because:

* Around 25-35% of "low information" voters tick automatically the red rosette because decades ago (and briefly 2015-2019) it was on their side (and that vote block is what the Militant Mandelsoncy want to own and fool).
* FPTP punishes heavily any split in the non-Conservative vote.
* Also a lot of people took notice of the lesson dished out to J. Corbyn.

There is little alternative to taking back the Labour Party from the New Labour entrysts, and enduring the pushback, but that's why the most important Starmer policies have been to raise the PLP leader nomination threshold to 20% and encourage social-democratic "trots" to leave, or expelling them.

«But the largely professional middle class UK Left is far too bogged down in non-materialist»

I am very, very familiar with the professional middle class and many if not most are 100% materialistic and entirely obsessed with property prices and rents. Those who practice virtue signaling identity politics seem to me to so because they need to protect their corporate careers and to salve their rather weak consciences.

«those unrepresented working class voters, will in huge numbers, switch to voting for a European-style pseudo 'anti elite' party of the radical Far Right»

The English Nationalist Party (aka Conservative and Unionist) already occupies a good chunk of that space. Anyhow the english working class will simmer but keep quiet:
George Orwell, "Review of The Civilization of France by Ernst Robert Curtius" (1932):
In England, a century of strong government has developed what O. Henry called the stern and rugged fear of the police to a point where any public protest seems an indecency.
But in France everyone can remember a certain amount of civil disturbance, and even the workmen in the bistros talk of la revolution - meaning the next revolution, not the last one.
The highly socialised modern mind, which makes a kind of composite god out of the rich, the government, the police and the larger newspapers, has not been developed - at least not yet.

They may occasionally riot here and there, but for our upper and upper-middle class that's just an occasional cost of doing business.

Robert Dyson said...

"The first was how empty the party is of ideas". Just what has struck me. The debates are so petty. You would think they would have learned the main factor of Johnson's success in getting elected - promise big stuff.

Blissex said...

«the main factor of Johnson's success in getting elected - promise big stuff»

Rather he has been rather popular because he has *delivered* big stuff: property prices and rents rising 10-15% per year, and a hard brexit deal and constant fighting against the EUSSR and the ECJ.

Old Trot said...

Blissex regularly magisterially dismisses the English working class ( by which he, I assume, means the mass of the poorer ,'blue collar' section of the proletariat) as a potential significant self-conscious political actor - as only capable of the occasional, politically irrelevant, inchoate riot (merely 'the cost of doing business for the upper middle classes apparently). . He thinks their apparently permanent, low-voting, disorganised, nature , means they are forever electorally irrelevant - so that, for him, the so far, ever-rising property assets of the middle classes , and their high frequency voting habits, makes only them a significant political actor.

This viewpoint could be given considerable credence in UK politics, surely only up to the actual experience of the recent period around the Brexit votes. He has apparently conveniently forgotten the , brief, but meteoric , and hugely impactful, rise of the Brexit Party , as a vehicle for working class revolt against the EU's neoliberal straightjacket, and particularly the unlimited labour supply its 'Freedom of Movement, rule produced. During that Brexit period masses of old Labour voters , and long-time working class dormant voters, voted against the 'advice' of the entire UK media and political establishment - to the united horror and contempt of the Guardianista and supposedly 'radical Left' middle classes. The Guardian's Polly Toynbee's evident horror at 'the despised dark people of the underclass daring to venture out from their unexplored housing estates to vote for Brexit', and then again for an opportunistic Johnson-led , now pro BREXIT, Tory Party in 2019, against the pro EU middle class mass media dominating 'intelligencia's' advice, was something to behold.

The Brexit issue demonstrated that old long-established certainties about both voting participation and voting loyalties in the UK are no longer fixed in amber. Current fast-rising inflation and consequent fast collapsing mass living standards will accelerate the break up of the established political order. And FPTP will only protect the status quo for so long - until a new Brexit Party-type vehicle for mass discontent emerges. The now permanently fully neoliberal NuLabour Party will not be able to capture this fast-shifting change. And there is no chance of a genuine Left 'recapturing the Party for socialism' - get real Blissex ! The the utterly failed 'Corbyn insurgency' proved that sole , forever, strategy of the Labour Left to be an utter dead end..