31 March 2024

CCHQ’s monochrome hellscape


Like most young people maladjusted enough to be interested in politics, I spend much of the time in between waking and travelling to work scrolling through Twitter. Between XL Bully advocates and flag collectors, it generally makes for pretty grim reading. But there’s a masochistic part of me that quite enjoys the cirque du narcissism that plays out on the platform.

This week, however, I encountered something so disturbing that it eliminated any potential for entertainment. In its infinite wisdom, CCHQ released a new attack ad warning Londoners of what a further four years of a Sadiq Khan-run capital could look like.

Instead of sticking to the time-honoured strategy of picking apart the Mayor’s policies, the Tory party machine decided to go full Orson Welles.

But this was more third rate than Third Man. Adopting the film noir style, they painted a dystopian picture of a city where ‘squads of ULEZ enforcers’ patrol the streets, crime is rampant after the Mayor decriminalises drugs and worse still, claimed that Khan had ‘seized power’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of Khan’s. His woeful record on everything from housebuilding to crime speaks for itself (and has been extensively catalogued on CapX). But while it’s one thing to make a reasoned criticism of his policy agenda, it’s quite another to question the legitimacy of a democratically elected Mayor. (On top of which, the video also included clips of a manic crowd in a New York underground station – as if they couldn’t find similar footage of a packed Tube station in London.)

The Tories’ candidate for London Mayor, Susan Hall, sensibly put as much distance between her and the video as possible. She insisted that it had ‘nothing to do’ with her campaign.

Yet since then, the Conservatives have released yet another video, in the same style, warning about what a Labour-run Birmingham would look like.

What these campaigns speak to, sadly, is a fundamental lack of positive vision in the Tories’ messaging. Yes, London under Khan has gone to pot. But where’s the alternative prospectus?

Let’s take housing as an example. The national housing shortage is felt particularly acutely in London. During Khan’s tenure as Mayor, rents have skyrocketed while housebuilding has, according to housing associations, ground ‘to a halt’. Our own Robert Colvile has repeatedly exposed the Mayor’s failure to build enough, and the statistical trickery he uses to disguise the fact.

So why aren’t the Tories shouting about how they will build far more houses, and make the capital accessible for young people? Hall certainly highlights her commitment to building in her Mayoral manifesto. But this obvious vote-winner has gone largely ignored by the central party, with its communications output tending to focus on how much money it’s chucked at the NHS and how gallantly the Tories have protected the triple lock.

Of course, Labour’s social media strategy hasn’t been much better. Who can forget when His Majesty’s Opposition accused the Prime Minister of allowing rapists to walk free?

But still. The stakeholder politics and economic strategy offered by Labour could spell disaster if brought into government. The Tories need to do better at exposing that, rather than adopting the messaging strategy of a sulky teenager.

Both in London and on a national level, those on the centre right are crying out for a positive vision to throw their weight behind. If this isn’t delivered, CCHQ’s monochrome hellscape could soon become a reality.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.