The Conservative party has learned from the last two populist upsets and is deploying a campaign designed to be as noncommital and unaccountable as possible. And, as that backfires, could be preparing to wriggle around democratic principle by readying a rapid leadership replacement.
The Trump and Brexit experiences deployed new kinds of campaign.
Both campaigns understood that what moves people is not numbers and facts, but sentiments, identity, story. Make America Great Again. Take Control. Those ideas resonated deeply with people who felt out of control, people who felt their country was no longer great, no longer sovereign.
While Trump did provide some ad-hoc base-pleasing detail, the Brexit campaign effectively avoided detail and commitment entirely by presenting a hydra of spokespeople and advocates. The “official” campaign itself was fronted by various egos (at least one of which didn’t even want Brexit but was a political opportunist). But on top of that there was the unofficial campaign of Nigel Farage, and plenty of promotion by professional politicians rising to their platform, despite lacking the position or power to enact what they said (Daniel Hannan). Pundits such as Louise Mensch added to the noise.
The vacuum of clear leadership allowed all of the possible versions of Bexit to be scattered to the seven winds to find the nook in which they could take root. It also meant nobody had to take responsibility for the claims they made.
Between them they issued (or came so close via implication that to deny that this was deliberate is disingenuous) promises such as:
- £350 million for the NHS
- Keep free movement
- No free movement
- Membership of the Single Market
- Rejecting the Single Market
- End VAT on energy bills
- Norwegian Model, Canadian Model, WTO rules….. the list goes on
In this general election the Tories have picked the slipperiest parts of both those campaigns.
They opted for an uncosted manifesto full of platitudes and “narrative”, and then as soon as it was published started changing their minds on it. That initial manifesto is no longer the blueprint for governing, it is stripped of mandate.
Their pronouncements equally cannot be what they are held accountable for as they contradict each other on major policy areas such as income tax.
Recently it even became clear that there are already moves within the Conservative Party to unseat Theresa May. Steve Hilton, a former head of strategy for David Cameron, said the Prime Minister should resign. That kind of statement represents more than an isolated sentiment and in all likelihood an indication that even in victory Theresa May will find her leadership severely challenged from within.
We are voting for a party whose leadership may quickly change. The Queen’s speech could be full of non-manifesto policies to be enacted by an unelected leader.
This is troubling. The electorate is getting a bait and switch and in the process accountability is disappearing.
Edit: Just saw this from Amber Rudd silencing a candidate at a hustings when he starts to question her role in Saudi arms deals… The other part of the slipperiness in this campaign is the refusal to answer questions — a typical political technique taken to extremes.
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