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6 November 2019

The Tory campaign launch has been a hugely enjoyable debacle. But I’m not convinced it matters

Today’s Evening Call column, coming soon to an email near you.

By Jonn Elledge

Tory campaign launch is going well, isn’t it? Unless you actually support the Tory party, for some reason, in which case I should say: Tory campaign launch is going horribly, isn’t it?

Let’s remind ourselves of some of the things the party has done over the last few days – not because you need reminding, necessarily, but because listing Tory gaffes will always be a joy in these dark times. Jacob Rees-Mogg went on the radio to say that the lack of “common sense” shown by the victims of the Grenfell fire contributed to their deaths. Then Andrew Bridgen went on the radio to explain that this was all fine because Jacob Rees-Mogg is very, very clever.

Alun Cairns was forced to resign as Welsh Secretary – though not as a Tory candidate – after he was found to have lied about his knowledge that another Tory candidate had collapsed a rape trial. Still another Tory candidate, this one in the Gower, was forced to apologise for a bafflingly undeleted old Facebook post in which she had called for the people on Channel 4 reality show Benefit Street to be “put down”. (More on the Tories’ Welsh discomfort from George Grylls, here.)

Elsewhere, Downing Street is under fire for blocking the publication of a report into Russian interference in British politics, not because it’s expected to be particularly damning but because it might make the ex-Tory ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve look in some way good. And CCHQ was caught red-handed doctoring a campaign video to make it look like Labour’s Keir Starmer replied to a question with stunned silence when this was not, in fact, what had happened at all. Sent out to defend the Tories on all these gaffes was party chairman James Cleverly, who promptly became the story himself when he didn’t appear on Sky News and Kay Burley got angry about it on television.

“I can’t remember a worse start for a governing party to a general election campaign,” Christopher Hope of the the Telegraph – not a paper with a record of being unduly unkind to the Conservative party – tweeted this morning.

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All this has been tremendous fun for fans of shitshows, and for those of us who don’t particularly want the Tories to win another election. But I can’t help but feel that, somehow, it might turn out not to actually matter.

The Tories, after all, are leading in the polls – narrowly, according to some pollsters; by quite a long way, according to others. The received wisdom for a long time was that election campaigns didn’t actually matter half as much as activists and journalists like to think. (A big reason the 2017 election was so unusual was that that, on that occasion, they did.)

And I can dimly remember another election campaign in which the Tories got off to a terrible start, robotically repeating nonsensical slogans, being repeatedly attacked as low-energy, and with a leader who couldn’t even remember which football team he supported. And yet, in 2015, David Cameron went on to win the first Conservative majority in 23 years.

The Tories have had a horrible couple of days. But let’s not get the bunting out quite yet.

Good day for…

Conspiracy theorists, as ex-Speaker John Bercow has finally told us what he really thinks. “Brexit is the biggest mistake of this country after the war,” Antonello Guerrera, a report for Italy’s La Repubblica reported him as saying, in a lengthy Twitter thread. That’ll shut the people who think Parliament has been blocking Brexit up once and for all, won’t it?

Bad day for…

Chris Williamson, who the NEC has blocked from standing as a Labour candidate next month over his comments about the party’s anti-Semitism problem, likely bringing his career in the party to an end. Stephen Hepburn and Roger Godsiff are out, too. Stephen explained what it all meant here.

Everybody’s talking about…

A chair, or more specifically the fact Tory chair James Cleverly wasn’t sat in it, despite the fact that Sky’s Kay Burley spent two minutes chucking questions at it this morning. The Press Association reported earlier that Ofcom was considering investigation after receiving a number of complaints.

I tweeted earlier that the empty chairing of James Cleverly was unlikely to be any more embarrassing for the party than an actual interview with James Cleverly – but this excellent piece from Alibhe about the way we mock Cleverly’s intelligence but not, say, Rees-Mogg’s has got me wondering about my own subconscious biases.

Everybody should be talking about…

The fact Britain is still very much in the EU. Earlier today new Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wrote to Boris Johnson to remind him he should be proposing a new British commissioner right about now, and that he might like to suggest a woman.

As Patrick noted earlier: Kate Hoey is at a loose end these days.

Quote of the day

“If I were the Conservative party, I would simply avoid multiple gaffes on the day of my manifesto launch.”

Guardian reporter Alex Hern, late of this parish, giving off big Jacob Rees-Mogg energy. (The manifesto isn’t actually out yet – today is just the campaign launch – but I liked the quote so much I decided not to care.)


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