In 2022 it’s almost impossible to put yourself forward as leader of a political party – much less the country – without a social media video.
The glut of MPs standing to replace Boris Johnson as Conservative leader and prime minister have taken to the task with varying degrees of success, their videos ranging from the accidentally comic to really rather good. Given that it’s now such a vital part of the campaign, the New Statesman has reviewed and ranked every campaign video released by the current candidates.
(Jeremy Hunt and Kemi Badenoch have not released videos, and Sajid Javid was disqualified because he re-used the video he made the last time. Lazybones. And he failed to make it to the first round of voting anyway.)
Is this a joke? No, seriously: I’m not entirely convinced that Mordaunt’s video is not, in fact, a sophisticated piece of trolling. The “PM4PM” clip bears an uncanny resemblance to a sketch from the Nineties TV satire Brass Eye, in which City bankers cavort with skipping ropes and a spliff-smoking policeman dances in the park. The similarity – down to the choice of music – is so pronounced one would be forgiven for concluding the Mordaunt video is an acerbic piece of artistic social commentary highlighting how the Conservative Party of 2022 is beyond parody.
It seems to be trying to stir the viewer’s patriotic juices while demonstrating humility and focusing on the importance of character in a prime minister. To do this, it takes the unusual – some may say foolhardy – decision to not include any reference to the candidate in the first two and half minutes of a three minute video. Instead, a montage of images apparently stolen from the Visit England archives is accompanied by the least subtle of possible soundtracks (“I Vow to Thee, My Country”) and a treacly voiceover apparently delivered by the Werther’s Original grandad.
It’s the second half where things really descend into black comedy. In the first published version, at least, the claims of character and pure motives were somewhat undermined by the inexplicable inclusion of footage of the murderer Oscar Pistorius and the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. The first could have been a mistake; the video was trying to hit an inspirational note by showing footage of the 2012 Paralympics and it’s possible the producers didn’t recognise Pistorius among the participants. But the second is entirely tone deaf. Claiming for your own campaign the image of an opposition colleague who was murdered by a far-right terrorist is poor form to say the least.
Finally, having made several pointed statements about integrity, humility and character, the edit rounds off with a shot of Boris Johnson – surely the antithesis of those qualities – making a bad joke confusing “Brexit” with “breakfast” before (at last!) there is an audio-only quote from Mordaunt herself. It’s this, more than anything, which convinces me that the whole thing is a sophisticated prank. Her line, that leadership “needs to be a little less about the leader, and a lot more about the ship”, could have been generated in the Brass Eye writers room. Except it wouldn’t, because it’s not even a good enough joke coming, as it does, apropos of nothing. Ship? What ship? You haven’t mentioned a ship until now.
[See also: Andrew Marr: The Tories’ new nightmare]
Imagine the Cbeebies bedtime story delivered by a besuited banker, recorded at gunpoint in a KGB interrogation room. That will get you fairly close to the video from the “Ready4Rishi” campaign team.
In contrast to Penny Mordaunt’s effort, Rishi Sunak’s suspiciously polished (though somewhat creepy) video focuses almost entirely on the man himself. And his parents. And his grandparents. In fact, the multi-millionaire former chancellor spends the first minute of his campaign video reaching back three generations to dredge up some working-class credentials.
Unlike some of the other candidates, Sunak already enjoys excellent name recognition after years building his Instagram profile as “Dishy Rishi” of Eat Out To Help Out and furlough fame. So it makes sense that his campaign video should attempt to show something of the man inside the designer hoodie.
It’s a shame, then, that it’s quite so… boring. At least, it is for someone browsing social media who really needs to hear the most important points first lest they are distracted by yet another cat video.
Sunak’s recognition, earned from years spent at the highest levels of government, also means that his video could afford to come out swinging with some punchy statements about how he would handle the many crises the country faces. He does get to these points in a well-composed second act, and his admittedly fairly rousing conclusion (if you can hear it through the sudden lift in music volume), but by the time he works his way up to that I fear he will have lost most of his audience.
[See also: Why the Tory contest is missing a Rory Stewart]
The Foreign Secretary has been criticised for her habit of turning major political moments and diplomatic visits into photo-ops for “the ‘gram” (who can forget her Margaret Thatcher fur hat while visiting Moscow?), but one benefit of being so image-conscious is that you end up with lots of well-composed images of you looking important. Which, as it happens, are exactly what you need to make a good leadership campaign video.
Truss opens strong, establishing her priorities in the right order: first the country, then the party and its role in helping “unleash potential”. She sets out her stall, explains the principles with which she would govern, then ends on a positive, uplifting note: “I’m the person to deliver that.” All this is illustrated with slickly-edited stills and videos of her doing things which certainly look very important and prime-ministerial. Here’s Liz meeting foreign leaders! Here she is in front of some flags! And, look, here she’s holding a press conference!
You may not like her but of all the candidates Liz Truss has released one of the best videos in terms of production values, content and, crucially, narrative structure.
She does, however, lose a point for some meaningless phrases (“deliver, deliver, deliver”) and for missing a pun on her slogan. “Trussted to deliver”? Anyone? No?
[See also: Could Liz Truss be our next prime minister?]
Grant Shapps is no longer in the race, but he still wins points for understanding the brief for creating social video, with brief being the operative word. His campaign videos – for there are a couple on different platforms – are extremely short: just 13 seconds for the version on Twitter and Instagram.
Yes, they are light on content, the motion graphics look like someone’s GCSE graphic design project and the illustrations are extremely literal, but one feels they serve a purpose. The Transport Secretary uses his 13 seconds to claim he can “plan” (showing Shapps carrying what one assumes are plans for something), “deliver” (Shapps in a hard hat), “communicate” (Shapps talking), “campaign” (Shapps making a speech) and importantly, demonstrating he understands exactly who this video is for, “I can help you win your seat” (Shapps looking ministerial, filmed from a low angle to suggest authority).
His 13 seconds don’t allow time to explain what he would hope to accomplish as PM, or how he would go about doing that. But given that he’s now withdrawn from the race and thrown his weight behind Sunak, perhaps in this case a minimum viable product does exactly what Grant Shapps needs it to do: act as a CV to impress his future boss.
Suella Braverman, the Attorney-General, was the first to announce that she would be running for the Conservative leadership but one of the last to release her campaign video. For three long days all her potential supporters had to go on was an inaudible clip of Braverman delivering a piece to camera filmed on a mobile phone (or perhaps a potato) plus some footage of her visiting Conservative voters in Beeston, Nottingham. But then Braverman dropped her masterpiece.
The official Braverman campaign video is a tour-de-force which, if it were not mildly underexposed in places and about 30 seconds too long, would be rivalled only by the cinematic efforts of the Truss campaign.
The Braverman video uses a number of filmmaking techniques more commonly seen on longer TV documentaries: a combination of verité-style location footage with a dynamic in-situ interview; narration from a well-composed piece to camera (seemingly in her lounge, which lends warmth and familiarity); a selection of slick B-roll footage, including some well-chosen aerials of the city; all accompanied by a soundtrack chosen from the “positive and uplifting” category of the editor’s stock music library.
Narratively, the piece is tightly structured and unfurls like a flower: starting with a micro view (“I’m Suella Braverman” – unlike Sunak she really does need to introduce herself) and widening in scope, first to her background – only slightly overcooking her credentials as an “ordinary” person – then to her personal economic values and finally to her position on the national economy and taxation. The video ends with a return to the opening scene: Braverman in her local constituency, at an event which makes her “proud to be British”. The soundtrack changes to diegetic sound of a brass band playing a patriotic tune while Braverman in voiceover extols the benefits of functioning public services and, as she sees it, fulfilling the promises of Brexit.
It’s a well-packaged piece, though it’s unclear whether the effort that went into making it will pay off in audience reach. By publishing her potato-shot placeholder first, Braverman exposed that travesty to over 100,000 viewers. At the time of writing the full launch video is on 48,000. Sunak’s video is weaker but has had over eight million views. The question is, will Braverman’s video reach the audience that matter: Conservative MPs and party members?
Tugendhat hasn’t been a secretary of state. He doesn’t have lots of shots of him looking important. He can’t show off his fur hat or his designer hoodie. So, cleverly, he chooses to keep his campaign video characteristically simple: him, in an open-collar white shirt, apparently in his kitchen, speaking directly to camera. Everything about it telegraphs that Tom Tugendhat is a Serious Person.
His accompanying tweet says, “Let’s get straight to the point”, and that’s exactly what he does. He delivers his message of “seriousness and integrity” with the kind of severe expression you’d expect from a doctor delivering bad news, but for all that the effect is not without appeal. If the aim was to present Tugendhat as the antithesis of Boris Johnson, with all his bluster and blather, this video has succeeded.
That said, it is mystifying that politicians seem unable to get the most basic principles of video communication correct. Recording without a lapel mic means Tugendhat sounds like he’s speaking in a cave. The camera is positioned slightly too low, giving him the impression of looking down on his audience. I’d like to say that’s a deliberate tactic, a carefully-curated facsimile of ordinariness to make him more relatable. But were that the case he’d be playing exactly the same game as Johnson, with his deliberately unkempt hair and ill-fitting suits. It’s far more likely that Tugendhat’s technical oversights are simple mistakes.
If there’s one thing that sets this election apart it’s the number of candidates running who are either the offspring of immigrants, or were immigrants themselves. Nadhim Zahawi plays that card front-and-centre in this video centred around his rousing, passionate delivery.
His pitch opens with a sales technique apparently learned from those JML video stations normally found flogging non-stick pans and miracle dusters in hardware stores (“Do you spend hours scrubbing greasy pans?”; “Do you want a battle-tested prime minister?”). But it’s a cliché because it works; Zahawi’s presentation does a good job of hooking the audience on his main selling points before launching into his CV best bits and his personal background as an Iraqi refugee who rose to become (very recently) Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Zahawi goes into some detail about his policies on tax, the economy and the challenges facing the UK, and even addresses allegations of wrongdoing in his personal finances, which he denies, by promising to release his tax returns.
There are some questionable B-roll choices (why choose a shot of your candidate addressing a near-empty Commons?) and the music – yet more identikit “positive and uplifting” copyright-free drivel – is far too loud. Zahawi’s video is not as tightly constructed as Braverman’s, nor as photogenic as Truss’s, but what it lacks in finesse it makes up for in strong presentation. And unlike Sunak with his bunker-dwelling bedtime story, it does actually sound like the current Chancellor believes what he’s saying.