Home Entertainment STEPHEN GLOVER: Bursting with eye-catching policies, Rishi’s rediscovered his inner Tory –...

STEPHEN GLOVER: Bursting with eye-catching policies, Rishi’s rediscovered his inner Tory – and, unlike Sir Keir, he even seems to be enjoying himself!

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Lots of people say this election campaign is boring, and they can’t wait for it to end. I disagree.

I don’t pretend I’ll suffer withdrawal symptoms when it’s all over, but nonetheless it seems to me a fascinating contest.

You’d expect the Tories, after 14 years in power, to be stale and listless, and Labour to be buzzing with new ideas after its long period in the wilderness. The opposite is the case.

We have an inversion of what one might reasonably predict. The Tories have come up with a new policy almost every day, many of which are attractive and potentially popular.

But Labour produces little or nothing new. It merely repeats a wearily familiar list: VAT on private school fees, a new British energy company, cracking down on anti-social behaviour. These ideas aren’t bad, apart from the first one, but they have all been rehearsed ad nauseam.

Smiling Rishi Sunak meets locals at the Drewe Arms Community Pub in Exeter on Wednesday

Smiling Rishi Sunak meets locals at the Drewe Arms Community Pub in Exeter on Wednesday 

Sir Keir Starmer‘s approach is evidently to say as little as possible, and to hope that his party will be swept to power on the back of the Conservatives‘ supposedly appalling record. No Labour politician opens his or her mouth without uttering the words ‘Tory chaos’.

They must be on the crib sheet handed out by Labour HQ. ‘Just repeat ‘Tory chaos’ as many times as possible.’ 

Sir Keir used the word ‘chaos’ nine times in his speech on Monday. Chaos, and more chaos.

Whenever the Tories produce an interesting policy, Labour’s response is that of a university don presented with an essay by a dim student. Rishi Sunak’s proposal for national service was repeatedly dismissed as ‘desperate’. Yesterday’s Tory plan of replacing ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree courses with apprenticeships was instantly written off as ‘laughable’.

Whatever you do, don’t engage. That guidance, or something like it, must also be on the Labour handout. ‘Just go on about Tory chaos, and mention Liz Truss as many times as possible, and how she wrecked the economy.’

Perhaps it will work. No one could pretend that the past few years have been plain sailing. I certainly don’t blame Labour for referring to all the things that have gone wrong. The Tories would do the same if the boot were on the other foot.

The trouble is that an election campaign creates its own reality. Labour runs a risk if it continues to clam up. It may not be enough to bang on about Tory historic failures. Voters, or some of them, want a better idea than they have so far been given of how Labour would govern, of what it would actually do.

In one sense, of course, the Tory stream of new policies is preposterous. They have been in power for 14 years, and only now, at the eleventh hour, are they airing proper Conservative ideas, which they have had every opportunity to put into practice.

I felt that last week when Jeremy Hunt declared that inheritance tax is ‘profoundly anti-Conservative’. Hang on! You’re the Chancellor. Why have you and your predecessors done nothing about this fundamentally un-Tory tax — not least because, as far back as 2007, George Osborne, then shadow chancellor, inveighed against it, and won widespread public approval?

When Rishi revealed his plan for national service (blindsiding most Tory MPs) I wondered why this interesting idea hadn’t been raised before. The same might be said of the announcement that people receiving only a state pension won’t have to pay tax on it, as well as the war on Mickey Mouse courses.

Why unveil such policies when the Tories may be on their death bed? A good question. But it’s surely better to see the light late in the day rather than never. The stolid, secretive and unimaginative Sir Keir Starmer sometimes gives the impression of not being able to glimpse any light at all.

My prayer is that these genuinely Conservative policies are not gimmicks that will be forgotten, either in the still rather unlikely event of the Tories retaining power, or of defeat. Let these not be ideas just for an election campaign but for government or opposition.

On Tuesday Rishi declared in a newspaper interview that he was a ‘Thatcherite’. It’s an easy thing to claim. Yet in the past few days, largely liberated from the business of governing, the PM has rediscovered his inner Tory.

He also — unlike Sir Keir — appears to be enjoying himself, and is constantly wreathed in smiles that would easily win him a part in a toothpaste advert.

Rishi admittedly has had the advantage, which Sir Keir did not, of knowing when the election would take place, and therefore being able to prepare a series of eye- catching policies.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks in West Sussex on May 27, using the word 'chaos' nine times in his speech

Sir Keir Starmer speaks in West Sussex on May 27, using the word ‘chaos’ nine times in his speech

Yet Sir Keir has had four years as leader of his party. He may have expunged the wilder Corbynite elements (though let me add that his punishment of Labour MP Diane Abbott, of whom I am no fan, has been disproportionate and inhumane).

But he hasn’t offered us much clue as to what Starmerism might be like, other than extremely dull. I can think of no leading politician in recent times who has been more buttoned-up and less fond of engaging. It is as though he lives in constant terror that anything he says might be misconstrued or used against him.

The Labour leader often invokes his alleged triumphs as Director of Public Prosecutions. He is more familiar with the workings of the courts than most of us. I reckon his disinclination to be frank and candid would drive even the sanest judge mad.

Will it irritate the British public? Undoubtedly, if he becomes Prime Minister. He’ll be infuriating! But during the campaign? None of us can be sure. All one can say is that whereas Rishi seems genuinely excited and is bursting with new policies, the perennially cautious Sir Keir has so far had feet of clay.

Some Tories have been grumbling that Rishi is too presidential and apt to put himself in a vain way at the centre of things. They should desist. In the first week of the campaign he has had the edge — more than the edge — on Sir Keir.

I realise one shouldn’t grasp at straws but it’s impossible to ignore a new poll by J. L. Partners that gives Labour a reduced lead of 12 points over the Tories, as against 18 points in April and 15 points earlier this month. Rishi’s new policies — and in particular his assurances on the state pension — may be having an effect.

Next week the two leaders go head-to-head in their first television debate. The difference between an upbeat Tory leader brimming with fresh ideas and a glum Labour leader frightened of disclosing new policies (or not having any) could be stark.

Perhaps it’s too late for the Tories. Perhaps the electorate won’t forgive them for the parties during the pandemic in No 10, or for Liz Truss, or for the economic privations of the past two years — even though these can hardly be blamed on the Government.

But maybe, just maybe, in this most fascinating of elections something unexpected is taking place. Whatever happens, win or lose, I shall rejoice if the Tories emerge as more authentically Tory.



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