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4 July 2024

This shabby election campaign is finally over

The Conservatives’ fearmongering did everything it could to guarantee defeat.

By Freddie Hayward

One Tory insider mused to me this week that the result was decided months ago, that their impending failure could be explained by Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Partygate and the mini-Budget explain a lot. But CCHQ has done everything it could in the past six weeks to guarantee the party’s defeat.

This campaign will be remembered for the self-inflicted mishaps that became part of Rishi Sunak’s daily routine, from abandoning D-Day commemorations to his close allies gambling on the election date. One cabinet minister I spoke to a few weeks ago played down the chaos, remembering that the 1997 campaign, when one Tory MP was photographed with a 17-year-old Soho nightclub waitress and another had to resign over the cash-for-questions scandal, had a similar feel. Time was up. And that’s how campaigns are at the end.

This one will also be remembered for what was not debated. Unlike 1997, the economy is not growing. And yet, economics was absent from this campaign. Polling analysis and Tory gaffes have consumed attention. Conservative attempts to discuss policies – such as national service – at the start were met with derision. Party strategists quickly reverted to fearmongering. The Tories decided to scare voters with a Labour “supermajority”, the corollary of which was that they were conceding defeat halfway through the campaign.

Labour was little better. At a press conference on Monday, the shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth stood beside a large photo montage of Liz Truss cackling. He instructed voters to “stop the Liz Truss takeover” of the Conservative Party – a strange intervention in the upcoming Tory leadership contest. He left the assembled hacks confused as to why they had traipsed across London for Tory Kremlinology from the Labour cabinet.

Gaps in Labour’s programme were explained away with appeals to economic growth. From the moment Sunak announced the election in the rain on 22 May, Labour’s message was that the past 14 years were so bad that the country needed change, whatever that may be. The Liberal Democrats performed stunts to get attention, but then spent little time on their policies once they got it. And yet, the Lib Dems could beat the Tories into second place, and become the official opposition (here’s what that would mean). Reform resorted to mass rallies, with Nigel Farage poised to enter parliament for the first time ever.

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This election period was a continuation of the last few years. According to YouGov, the effect of the Conservative campaign was to force even more people to vote tactically against the Tories – a fitting end.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

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