Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Roger Winterbottom
Features Writer
12:00 AM 1st June 2024

Is It 1984 Yet?

Cartoon: Richard Trinder
Cartoon: Richard Trinder
Labour argues that change is stability, while Tories say more of the same is change

The first week of the general election campaign is over and, for the Conservatives, it’s going about as well as the initial damp squib of an announcement did. Rishi Sunak’s PR team has pulled a series of blinders. First they sent him to a brewery, where he managed a cock-up rather than a piss-up: “Are you looking forward to all the football?” he asked, trying to do his best impersonation of a normal human being and failing.

Then, after undertaking a Q&A session where the questioners turned out to be Tory plants (and I don’t mean lettuces), he dropped in on the Titanic Quarter (with the inevitable question: “Are you captaining a sinking ship?”). Rumours are unconfirmed that the coming days will feature visits to a banana skin shop, a car-crash testing facility and a Thames Water creek-paddling experience (no paddle provided).

The initial election announcement was so unexpected that the Tories even managed to take themselves by surprise. The so-called “hard man of Brexit”, Steve Baker, had booked his holiday and wasn’t going to let a general election stand in his way. “The prime minister told everyone we could go on holiday,” he said, “and then called a snap election. So I’ve chosen to do my campaign work in Greece.” Fair enough. After all, if Dominic Raab can handle the evacuation of Kabul from a sun-lounger in Crete, I’m sure the evacuation of Tories from parliament will be no problem. If Baker needs a holiday though, I’m sure he’ll have plenty of free time after July 5th. Asked on LBC what he might do if he loses his seat, Baker promptly responded, “Skydiving, motorcycling, fast catamaran sailing,” apparently under the impression he's appearing in Mission Impossible 8.
Jonathan Gullis, deputy chair of the Tory party (I know! Meritocracy in action!), was meanwhile pictured campaigning alongside a notorious heroin dealer. "It was a mistake for which I am deeply sorry. I should never have found myself in a situation where I was associating with such a disreputable individual," said the heroin dealer.

The Tories’ big idea for the week was to bring back national service for the young. Reading from a few scribbles on the back of a cigarette packet, Rishi Sunak said, “This is a great country but generations of young people have not had the opportunities or experience they deserve.” Yes, indeed. Experiences such as: being able to get a doctor’s appointment; seeing a river that’s not full of sewage; or being able to afford food AND rent.

“I will bring in a new model of national service to create a shared sense of purpose among our young people,” added Sunak. Well, young people have certainly now got a shared sense of purpose: to vote the Tories out. You’ve really got to applaud the Conservatives for this - Labour has been trying to energise the youth vote for years without ever quite succeeding, but the Tories have accomplished it with one simple announcement. Or as author Joe Abercrombie noted on X this week, “I asked my 15yo daughter what she thinks of Keir Starmer. She said, “He’s better than conscription.”

Oddly, both the Tories and Labour are trying to present themselves as the party of change. Labour appears to have decided that three-word slogans are too complicated for the British public and are just going with the one-word ‘Change’. In fact, they’ve been begging for change so much that they’re in danger of being asked to move on for causing a nuisance.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has been channelling her inner George Orwell, arguing that “change is stability”, while for the Tories, Danny Kruger argued that the Conservatives were themselves the party of change. “We've been in power for a long time and I recognise people feel like it's time for change,” he said. “Actually, we represent the change that's needed. Labour represent more of the same. They might have different faces but they would be the ones carrying on the failed British state that has caused so many problems for our country." Ah yes, the failed British state that’s caused so many problems. Remind me who’s been in charge of that? And to change it, we need to put the same people back in charge who’ve caused the problems in the first place. Got it. It’s like an abusive relationship: “It’ll be different this time. They’ve changed. It was my fault really. I’ll just give them one more chance.”

And yet the Tories have been determined to emphasise to voters the terrible consequences of a Labour victory. Speaking at the Conservative Democratic Organisation, Lord Cruddas warned, “If Labour wins a big majority at the next election, they will reduce the voting age to 16, they will abolish voter ID and they will introduce Proportional Representation, making it almost impossible for the Conservative party to win an outright majority in the future.” Sounds great! Where’s the downside?