I read, with interest, this recent article from fellow Ciceronian James Plaskitt, in which he very articulately argues the rewards and pitfalls of the Conservative narrative of Strong and Stable Leadership.
It is no doubt a clear message and one that cannot be misconstrued – at least not without wilful intent. And yet there is a sense of going through the motions. It is almost as though the sheer enormity (and unprecedented nature) of the spectre of Brexit that looms over everything at the moment (political or otherwise) has dampened the rhetoric.
You may have noticed at the weekend that comedian Andy Hamilton amused / outraged us (depending on your newspaper of persuasion) by suggesting that Theresa May repeatedly uttered these same syllables due to an early onset of dementia. Regardless of your views on what is ‘acceptable’ comedy, there is no doubt that good observational comics make their audience pinch themselves as to the absurd obviousness of their joke. So, beyond the headlines, I would be surprised if the Conservative machine didn’t pick up on this finer point: maybe it is time to advance the narrative a little.
For Strong and Stable Leadership we can substitute ‘Safe’. And – as much as Jeremy Corbyn may be a white knight in the eyes of his dedicated supporters – for many voters he is simply not a leader they would trust with the nation’s security or economy. We may (openly or otherwise) admire his conviction and, maybe if the world was a different place, a lot more people would want to vote for him as leader.
But the world is as it is. And Theresa May is basically a shoo in.
When something becomes a fait accompli then it ceases to be compelling viewing. And this is the real danger of having a Labour Party that could not credibly take government. I, probably like many people, winced inwardly as Diane Abbott was taken to task about the cost of recruiting the number of police officers Labour put forward. A sound idea, lacking any substance. It all felt so typically Labour.
Strong and Stable Leadership feels like the type of slogan we might have read in a George Orwell novel. In a way, it doesn’t really put anything forward or give away too many hints as to the direction of travel. And yet, for now at least, they will feel like soothing words to many. Inspiring? No. Exciting? Clearly not. But how many people are really looking for inspiring or exciting right now? A turbulent couple of years has left many a little fragile and at this moment; what they want is something that works.
It will be interesting to see, in the long run, whether the simplicity and vanilla nature of the current Conservative narrative can sustain itself. But when people switch off and await the inevitable then does it really matter where it goes from here? A less engaged (and even bored) electorate suits the Conservatives right now.
It certainly leaves us yearning for a credible Labour opposition.