Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

The Tory press in denial

This has been a campaign devoid of excitement and imagination - in the national papers as well as from our politicians

Image: The New European

When Tony and Cherie Blair walked to Downing Street on May 2, 1997, the sun was shining and the crowds were cheering. There was a palpable feeling of hope after 17 years of Tory rule; the Conservative government had died of sleaze and exhaustion and now, after a landslide win for Labour, everything was going to change for the better.

The Sun had made a big fuss about endorsing the winning party and the Mail had clung, right to the bitter end, to the idea that a hidden army of don’t knows might yet prevent the inevitable.

Tomorrow another Tory government is likely to be history, brought down after 14 years by sleaze and exhaustion. Labour is expected to win by a landslide. The Sun has again made a fuss about endorsing the favourite in a two-horse race and the Mail is still hoping that its mythical don’t knows will return to the Tories rather than vote for Reform. 

But the forecast for tomorrow is rain, not sunshine. Keir and Victoria Starmer may not find the streets lined with cheering supporters. And the prevailing feeling is more likely to be relief than hope.

The country is drained and hardly dares to dream that things can only get better; the ambition – on both sides of the political divide – is simply that they won’t get worse, that the pain will stop. 

From its rain-sodden start, through one of the dreariest Junes on record, this has been a depressing campaign, devoid of excitement and imagination, in which the participants and their press onlookers  – with Ed Davey the honourable exception – have relentlessly accentuated the negative and all but eliminated the positive. 

The only paper determinedly looking on the bright side has been the Express, with its “Rishi says” brand of journalism. “I’m fighting for our future”; “I’m on your side! PM pledges bumper pension rise!” “Rishi floors Starmer!” “Up the workers! PM promises 2p cut in national insurance!”

But even that soon turned from basking in the sunshine on this side of the street to the shadow across the way: “Labour’s £1,000 tax raid on OAPs”, “Don’t fall for Labour’s hidden £8.6bn tax trap”; “PM: Labour will run riot with your money”; “PM: Labour will tax you years of savings in weeks”, “Labour’s £2bn black hole”, “Rishi: Starmer will unpick Brexit and rejoin EU by back door”, “Starmer to wreck Britain in 100 days”.

In Express world, everything about Britain is great – or will be jolly soon, so long as Labour isn’t allowed to spoil it. Things may not have been perfect over the past 14 years, but who could have done it better? And anyway, now Britain is booming – according to Tim Newark on Wednesday’s leader comment page. We mustn’t let Labour ruin everything. 

Agreeing with Newark – and with Rishi, who was inevitably on the front page urging “Express readers” to use their vote wisely – the editorial cautioned voters against handing control of the country to a “band of leftwing zealots who have no experience of running a government” (which would preclude any other party ever taking over at any time in the history of the world). 

“We must,” it continued, “persuade our friends and family to back the blue team who delivered Brexit and got us through the pandemic and energy crisis”. A new poll had shown that if people who planned to back Reform got behind the Tories, they would be within touching distance of Labour. “There is everything to play for and every reason not to give up.”

So if all potential Reform voters, who have rejected and denounced the Tories, turned out for Sunak… he’d still be behind. But where there’s life…

The Mail was on the same page with “Boris and Rishi unite to stop STARMERGEDDON”. Except they hadn’t united. Johnson had “dramatically intervened” with an “impassioned speech” in a “surprise appearance” at a late-night rally. Whether Sunak had anything to do with it is far from clear. Probably not. Johnson does not seek permission from his forlorn successor to make himself the centre of attention. 

The Mail was also clutching at poll straws. If 34,000 voters in marginal constituencies switched to the Tories, Starmer’s potential majority would be halved – to 100. If 132,000 were to do so, he would lose it altogether. Tantalising figures – just 0.3% of those registered to vote – that showed “how vulnerable” the Labour lead was. It also showed how few people actually decide who runs the country – barely more than the number of Conservative party members who installed first Truss and then Sunak without any reference to the wider electorate.

Boris – as ever, “the party’s greatest electoral asset” – had “hit the campaign trail with electrifying effect”. Does one appearance constitute joining the trail? But no matter. Hyperbole is in order when you need to stop Labour in its tracks. Reform was a façade, with no structure and no prospect of achieving anything (when the chips are down, the Mail can even resort to the plain truth). “A vote for Reform is a vote for the Starmer supermajority all Conservatives should be desperate to avoid.”

An Ashcroft poll had shown that more than a fifth of 2019 Tory voters had yet to decide who to vote for – or whether to vote at all. “When pressed”, three-quarters of these people said they’d prefer a Conservative to Labour government. “They could still make it happen, but only if they vote Tory tomorrow. If Boris can put the betrayals and letdowns of the past aside, so can they.” 

The Mail was clearly so pleased with this last phrase that it repeated it almost word for word as the payoff in its full-page election day leader comment, which – like its front page and the previous day’s effort – was all about begging readers not to vote for Reform. The Express went down the same road for its polling day cover and leader – using the compelling phrase “inalienable right” in an interminable preamble to its “Vote Tory” front-page splash headline. 

Like Sunak himself, the white-tops were determined to fight to the end for the very last vote, but with what weapons? They could hardly point to a glorious Tory legacy and they soon gave up promising a glorious future. So, as successive wheels came off the Sunak campaign, the rightwingers resorted to scare stories about supermajorities and a lifetime of socialism. 

On Sunday last week, Sunak gave an interview to Sun on Sunday editor Kate Ferguson that was headlined “11 days to save Britain”. The next day the Mail had an “exclusive” interview with Sunak that was headlined “10 days to save Britain”.  

Last Sunday he told the Sunday Telegraph that voters had only four days to save Britain. On Monday he made a speech saying there were just three days to save Britain. On Tuesday he tweeted that there were just 48 hours to save Britain. 

On Wednesday night there was another tweet (featuring a video of Martin Lewis, much to his annoyance): 14 hours to stop a Labour supermajority. At least he appears to be able to count, possibly because he studied maths to the age of 18.

From what are we saving Britain? A Labour supermajority? Which is effectively the same as any working majority. Boris Johnson had one of 80. That was sufficient for him to do what he wanted to do. He wouldn’t have been able to do any more had it been 180 or 280. Other than change the electoral system.

 Do the Tories and their backers think that’s what Starmer will do? If so, they’re not saying so. They are instead concentrating on the absence of any “effective opposition”. But they don’t believe in opposition. They have done nothing but moan about Labour voting against its Rwanda laws, its anti-strike laws, its anti-protest laws. How very dare they?

And how is this supermajority going to keep the party in power forever and a day? We’ve had threats of “A decade of Labour”, “Labour for a generation”, even – in the Express – “18 years of Labour”. Heaven knows where it dug up that figure; the electoral cycle is five years. Voters will have an opportunity to think again in 2029, if not before. It is far from a given, especially when you consider the mess the country is in now, that Labour will be allowed the time to complete the job. 

And besides, Sunak says it’s going to wreck everything in the first hundred days. So the argument is that they’ll ruin the country in double-quick time, but our citizens will be so forgiving that they’ll never vote them out. I suppose that logic works if you think that those forgiving citizens are gullible enough to overlook the chaos rained on them by the present incumbents and can therefore be persuaded to give them yet another chance. My brain hurts.

The delicious irony of all this, as noted before, is that the Brexity papers that pulled out all the stops to convince the country to abandon the status quo and take the leap into the great unknown, are now pursuing the exact opposite argument. Having denounced Remainers over “Project Fear” with all the dire warnings (that have come to pass), they are now following the same playbook. 

But this time they are not using expertise or experience to back up their threats. They are parroting government ministers (particularly Sunak and Jeremy Hunt) who have been inventing secret policies that Labour are “bound” to pursue. These surmises have been presented as gospel unless they are explicitly ruled out. And if they are ruled out, it’s because Labour has been “forced” to backtrack or come clean. 

To be fair, Labour hasn’t helped itself by being so coy in spelling out detailed plans and explaining where the money is going to come from. It has been so cowed by the “taxes are too high” chorus, that it has refused to countenance that people might actually be willing to pay if only things worked.

Such reticence means that the negative campaigning has not been the preserve of the right. Without much to trumpet, the Labour-supporting papers have done exactly the same. The Mirror, for example, has carried 85 news pages dominated by stories showing how awful the Tories are, against 67 showing Labour in good light (there were only two that reflected badly on Labour and none at all giving the Tories any credit). 

Even its election day front is dour. Who paints almost the entire page black to spread a message of optimism?

The paper did find its happy place on Wednesday morning, when its editorial said that Starmer was channelling Barack Obama and his message of hope to inspire disillusioned voter,  and again in its election day leader comment, which thought Labour would usher in a new age of prosperity and restore the nation’s pride. 

But before that, more than half of its leaders through the campaign had accentuated the negative about the Tories rather than Labour’s positives. 

And what of the other parties? Well, Farage got all the publicity he wanted, posing with beer, fishing rods, guns or pulling silly faces. The right wingers, desperate for anything to enliven their lives, seized on his appearance centre stage and then soon regretted it when they realised their battle-weary champion was now fighting on two fronts. 

But, as ever, they couldn’t help themselves, and even as it is telling people not to vote for him today, the Express is this morning giving him a spread to say he’s planning to form the government in five years’ time.

Farage was not, of course, the only one with a nose for a photo-opportunity. The bungee-jumping, paddleboarding, water-sliding, Jenga-bashing, domino-tumbling leader of the Liberal Democrats knew how to grab attention – but only as a jolly picture to brighten up a spread. 

He might conceivably be the leader of the opposition on Friday, but no one was interested in what he had to say. Through a campaign that brought countless interviews with Sunak, Starmer, Hunt and Farage and dozens of guest bylines from the same folk (plus an army of cabinet ministers), Ed Davey was conspicuously absent, making not a single front page. 

At least Carla Denyer of the Greens got one interview in the i and her party did make a splash for the Times (the only paper to lead on the election every day of the campaign, bar the one where Trump was convicted), albeit in a negative “antisemitism row”. Apart from that, it was all the two main parties, polls over policy – and Farage.  Count Binface beat both, with three page one appearances and an endorsement from the Daily Star.

The dispiriting nature of the campaign can be exemplified by examination of the Telegraph’s output. While its front-page election splashes have been evenly split between those booing Labour and those cheering the Tories (excluding the handful that were unhelpful to its party or helpful to Farage), its opinion columns have been overwhelmingly negative, with 56 op-ed pieces and 23 leaders having a go at Labour compared with just 11 looking on the bright side. 

This negativity even extends to the Conservatives, with nine columns (including one from Suella Braverman on Wednesday) complaining that the party leadership has been too wet or too leftwing.

The daily having told readers early on that they should vote Conservative, the Sunday weighed in last weekend to beg people to “vote Tory to save Britain from Labour”. Barring a polling error of historic proportions, Labour was set to secure a massive majority despite only shallow public support. Sir Keir shouldn’t be trusted, his party was flirting with “open borders extremism”, Brexit could be crushed, a raft of taxes would go up. It would, it concluded, be a disaster for Britain if Labour were given unparalleled power to refashion the country in its spiteful, intolerant, “progressive” image.

By Wednesday, the daily was resigned to a Labour future and dreading the prospect of David Lammy becoming foreign secretary on Friday. “A foreign secretary needs experience,” it pronounced – clearly thinking of David Cameron and completely forgetting that Theresa May sent Johnson in to bat for Britain while Johnson trusted Liz Truss to the role. But of course she had experience. She’d been gallivanting all over the globe signing all those trade deals.

Its election day offering was again full of the horrors ahead (though not quite as terrifying as Allister Heath’s op-ed). Boris Johnson’s Tuesday intervention had come too late, but was spot on. He had predicted “uncontrolled immigration, mandatory wokery and kow-towing to Brussels…If you actually want higher taxes – if you feel you have a few thousand to spare – then vote Labour.” 

What’s more the middle classes, who already paid the lion’s share of income taxes, would become a milch cow with their pension and property targeted.  In this latter, the paper was reinforcing its lead story – that homeowners would face a council tax raid under Labour.

Just as the Tory papers have conceded the “missteps” and failings of the outgoing government, so the left-leaning titles have admitted that the incoming Labour administration has hardly set the world alight with its agenda. 

The Guardian complained that it had become defined by what it was not, rather than what it was. It had managed expectations to the point where they were bound to be exceeded, but it had yet to have a “proper conversation” with the public over its plans. Even so, the Tories had to lose to end five years of “unremitting cruelty and chaos”.

 Two days later, the Observer was welcoming the chance for the country to dump “one of the worst governments this country has ever endured” and replace it with an administration characterised by integrity and a respect for public office.

For the Sunday Times, the Tories had forfeited the right to govern, for the FT they had run out of road. For all but the diehard headbangers, it was time for a fresh start. After running 24 pro-Tory/ anti-Labour leaders in 40 days, the Sun announced its much-anticipated switch to Labour on Wednesday afternoon, declaring that England needed a new manager. It wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic endorsement.  

The Times at least stayed true to its instincts in declining to endorse Labour, while conceding that it couldn’t defend Sunak either. So it had to conclude its limp “duty” editorial: “This newspaper wants the next government to succeed, and it will not be ungenerous in praise if that is the case.”  Starmer had been sparing with the truth on what he had in store for the country and needed to start earning the trust that was about to be bestowed upon him.

The i makes a point of not endorsing any party or candidate, which leaves the Daily Star. For much of this administration it has provided the punchiest opposition, with some glorious takes on the scandals of the Johnson years. For the past six weeks, it has adopted a clear-eyed, pithy, “a plague on both their houses” view of the campaign, culminating with another ace front page this morning. 

Its ice-cold plain English leader on the D-Day debacle was the best of any, but today it returns to its Jonathan-Pie-without-the-extreme-expletives approach: “PMs Boris “Bozo” Johnson, “Lettuce” Liz Truss and Rishi “Biggles” Sunak and their ministers have lurched from disaster to disaster while treating us with utter contempt. They have lied, bulls****ed, weaselled, cheated, squirmed and flat-out buggered things up all over the place. Partygate, D-Day, Matt Hancock’s a***- grabbing, that cataclysmic mini-Budget – the list goes on and on and on. It has been an omnishambles for the ages…

“What is clear is that it is absolutely time for a change. We thought Count Binface was probably the best option but we’re willing to give this other fella and his party a chance… Let’s just hope for the country’s sake they don’t bugger it up like the outgoing mob of scoundrels and chancers.”

And so say all of us.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.