Monday 13 May 2024

Sunak's Feeble Fear Factor

When the Conservatives have nowhere to go, when opportunists and the hardest of the hard right are fleeing the sinking ship, and nothing can turn around the party's fortunes, what is a Tory leader to do? With Rishi Sunak and his speech at the opaquely-funded Policy Exchange think tank on Monday we have an answer: do what all Tory leaders in a similar position have done and ramp up the fear factor. But this one was slightly different. Rather than reflecting on one or two big bogeymen, Sunak went the full monty and cited every existential threat and fear his speech writer could think of.

Sunak warned that we're living in dangerous times, and that the next five years could be more impactful than the last 30. Yes, more change than the Rwandan genocide, September 11th terror attacks, the stock market crash, austerity, Brexit, Trump, the rise of China, social media, and Covid put together. Blimey, even without specifying anything that promise alone is enough to make the average Tory dizzy. Sunak then tucked in, throwing out mortal threats as if morsels from a banquet of doom. There was war ("18 conflicts in Africa", "Iranian proxies"), there's Putin and China (gas supplies! Russia using migration as a weapon!), and an axis of authoritarian states threatening our country. Alongside economic shocks and energy shocks, the enemies without are aided by the enemies within. We have "people abusing liberal democratic values", evil "gender activists hijacking children's education", and extremists determined to turn Briton against Briton. We must beware the dangers of technology too. Kids are exposed to sexualised content online, and artificial intelligence presents unknown risks unless it is managed properly. Sunak provided the assembled press pack with a Who's Who of right wing fears and anxieties, underlined by the fact the most threatening of them all - climate change - was conspicuous by its absence.

Sunak tempered this with a touch of optimism. He noted that the greatest life-transforming breakthroughs often happen at moments of greatest danger, and so we had rhapsodies about the far reaching consequences of AI (he still wants that tech bro job). Brexit's dubious "freedoms" were talked up, as were export figures and Britain's reputation as a world leader in innovation. He went on with more pig iron production figures, and how fantastic the Tories were in completing the last five year plan in four years. Or some such rubbish. By the end he was pleading with his audience that you can't judge the last 14 years by 49 days of madness.

What was the purpose of this? To draw a sharp contrast between the sensiblism of the Conservatives and the danger of Labour. They've "had 14 years to come up with some new ideas", but there aren't any. Keir Starmer will say and so anything to get into office, and if he does the "tough decisions" will get ducked and the country pitched into great danger. Several members of the shadow cabinet voted against nuclear weapons, and they want to abandon the Rwanda scheme which, acting as a deterrent, will save thousands of lives. Starmer and friends act more like a pressure group than a government-in-waiting. And on Sunak went, encouraged by the friendly press pack who invited the Prime Minister to elaborate his attacks on Labour further.

It is pretty desperate. Apart from the most unhinged sections of our rulers (such as the Telegraph, who are convinced Starmer's about to bring back the militant trade unionism of the 1970s), British capital in general are pretty chill about what Labour are offering. Rachel Reeves's promises to not spend anything, Wes Streeting's message that the NHS (and by extension, the state) will be offering profitable opportunities underwritten by government money, and more recently the dilution of an already watered down set of promises on workers' rights are winning over the big money backers. Now that the Tories are out for the count, capital has entered into its episodic partnership with the so-called party of labour seeing as their usual client party are no longer a viable conduit for their interests.

But for Sunak, he and all the Tory strategists know that fear is what pump primes their base. They're hoping the name-checking of all the existential threats will wake the base up so it stops flirting with Reform and unite behind the Tories to stop the coming electoral defeat from being a historic cataclysm. Unfortunately for him, no matter how blood-curdling the warnings, the Tories under his watch have done such a great job of dissociating themselves from the aspirations and interests of the electorate at large, from its support among the professional/managerial base to the Tory-leaning sections of the middle class and working class, the petit bourgeoisie, and even big business, no amount of the tried and trusted doom mongering will save them. Especially when what these layers fear the most is not Starmer, but another four or five years of "their" party in charge.

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Rodney said...

As a speech to convince voters to back the Tories it will completely fail. As a wish list of things for Starmer to capitulate on it will probably be successful.

Blissex said...

«the danger of Labour. They've "had 14 years to come up with some new ideas", but there aren't any. [...] Sunak, he and all the Tory strategists know that fear is what pump primes their base.»

They know full well that their core constituents vote on how much work-free money they get redistributed from the lower classes via higher property incomes and lower wages costs, and property incomes are not doing well, so they try to appeal outside the mass of their core constituents to the minority who vote on "values".

This graph shows the big problem the Conservatives have, and given that it is a whole-UK average it is less informative than it could be:

The living standards of the average tory voter utterly depend on their getting several dozens thousand squid per year property profit, cashed in either with remortgages or by saving for retirement ("my property is my pension"), and they are livid.

These were the good told time, as described by George Osborne: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up

Anonymous said...

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary" -- H L Mencken

Things have not changed all that much in a century.

Sean Dearg said...

Hi Phil, can I just shoehorn my pet theory in here even when it has nothing to do with this article on Sunak's fear mongering? Thanks.

I've heard it said people always vote in their class interest, except when they don't. Class interest sounds like lefty teacher nonsense to me. When I was at school we were bored stupid in class and it did us no harm!

So what if ocean temperatures hit unprecendented levels and heat records are broken every day? What most worries me is that some woke tosser will force me to trade in my diesel SUV for one of those weird battery cars. A quiet, clean car is just unnatural, and un-British. Take back control and bring back coal fires, smog and smallpox! I'll vote for whoever promises to restore pounds shillings and pence, national service, and British Leyland.