19 May 2024

Campaign mode activated


The general election may still be months away, but Labour and the Conservatives have both activated campaign mode. This week, the leaders of the main parties set out their visions for Britain, should either be lucky enough to lead us for the next five years.

First up was Rishi Sunak giving his defence of the last 14 years of Tory rule and making the case for more. Considering the battering the party took in the last round of local elections, articulating that convincingly is no small task. Nevertheless, on Monday, the Prime Minister took the stage to warn us about what a Labour government would mean for Britain’s security.

From the emergence of an international axis of evil to gender activists hijacking sex education to Scot Nats wanting to tear the Union apart, Sunak painted a chilling picture of the challenges facing us. And why wouldn’t he? The world does feel like an increasingly terrifying place. The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza are not only wreaking havoc for those directly involved, but have also brought to the boil long-simmering cultural tensions in the West, all of which have made the Anglosphere feel more polarised than ever.

These problems and more, Sunak argued, would only be made worse by the arrival of Keir Starmer in Downing Street. Sunak cautioned that a Starmer government would embolden our enemies, evidenced by Labour’s refusal to match the Tories’ pledge to boost defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2030. (However, as has been pointed out on CapX, the scale of the dangers we now face could require even more of a commitment than that.)

Sunak also questioned his opposite number’s principles, highlighting the way that Starmer has gone in the space of a few short years from championing Jeremy Corbyn to embracing Natalie Elphicke. Rather rich, you might say, coming from the leader of a party which has given us five very different flavours of conservatism in the last 14 years.

Starmer’s response came on Thursday, where the Labour leader laid out his ‘first steps for change’ should he win the next general election. As much as it pains me to say it, it was a pretty good show.

Rather than opt for Westminster grandiosity like Sunak, Starmer, with his sleeves rolled up, held his event in Thurrock, a decision in keeping with his now well-documented man of the people routine.

Venue aside, the messaging this time was entirely domestically focused. Rather than fear-mongering about World War Three, Starmer used the occasion to make six new pledges: to deliver economic stability, cut NHS waiting lists, launch a new Border Security Command, set up Great British Energy, crack down on anti-social behaviour and recruit 6,500 new teachers. While Starmer was optimistic about the future, he also made it clear that he appreciated the severity of our national predicament, impressing on the audience that he is not a man for quick fixes or gimmicks.

The problem, of course, is that while the presentation was impressive, the policy offering is the same old expensive, interventionist schlock that Labour have been churning out for the last 124 years. Take the commitment to new teachers. This recruitment drive is to be funded with the revenue from imposing a 20% VAT charge on private school fees. Not only is the policy a pointless act of class war, but the Adam Smith Institute calculates it could cost as much as £1.6bn and potentially raise no money at all. Further costings can be found here.

But regardless of what you or I might think about them, it’s looking increasingly likely that these policies will be the ones that come to define the next government. And although Sunak could never admit it, we are in this position largely because of the open goals left by the Conservatives, and their failure to deliver on the major issues facing our country. There’s no denying that the Tories are facing an epic uphill battle in the war for hearts and minds – but if the Prime Minister wants to be in with a fighting chance, he needs more than just a few more visits to the podium.

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.