The Election Campaign Suffers from a Lack of Optimism - Latest Global News

The Election Campaign Suffers from a Lack of Optimism

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The author was head of the political department in Downing Street under David Cameron.

When the election was finally announced, it was a disaster. Forget the sewage in our rivers, the queues at hospitals and the overcrowded prisons: this Government was unable to even find an umbrella for the Prime Minister as he braved the pouring rain on the steps of Downing Street.

Many of us feel relief that the uncertainty is over. It is 14 years to the month since David Cameron came to power, and for five years he led a coalition that was consistent and stable. But since 2016, Britain has been battered by Covid, the war in Ukraine, the self-inflicted damage of Brexit, and four different governments masquerading under the guise of the Conservatives. Rishi Sunak is trying to run on his own track record in less than three years. But the country will judge the Tories on the past 14 years.

The power of a prime minister at such moments lies in setting the terms of the election campaign. Sunak’s problem is that the country is barely listening. Those who want more vision from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer underestimate how much voters would welcome not having to run to the polls all the time. Never before has a political party been able to be re-elected after such a long period in office – and certainly not one that has produced such volatility.

Sunak’s decision to portray himself as the man to keep Britain safe in a dangerous world is a tricky one, as voters’ top three concerns are domestic: health, the economy and immigration. The Cabinet Office’s bizarre announcement that Britons should stockpile three days’ worth of food and water for future disasters was presumably intended to reinforce the “safety” message. It’s legitimate to ask whether Labour will match the Tories’ defence spending, but why further demoralise a country that is already anxious and angry, and force us to think about potential blackouts, cyberattacks and floods?

What Britain needs is hope. Not bombast or magic – we already have enough of both – but clarity and optimism. The Conservatives’ positive message that the economy has turned around is at odds with this strategy of fear-mongering.

Starmer is also cautious about the strained financial situation, knowing that many vested interests will expect handouts from a Labour government, no matter what Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves says. He at least strikes a slightly optimistic tone, speaking of a “spirit of service” and promising to “unleash pride and potential”. Unlike any of their predecessors, both he and Sunak are encouragingly earnest. But a little more positivity wouldn’t go amiss.

Starmer remains vulnerable because he has not provided enough detail about what he will do in office. He has played his cards so carefully that the public cannot tell whether he is hiding a secret plan or has none at all. He will probably get away with a cautious prospectus; voters will give him the benefit of the doubt. But he must ensure that his future cabinet signs off on all the details. It is easier to unite a party before an election than in office. The country cannot afford another period of infighting at the top.

Had the election been held later in the year, Labour might have been under greater scrutiny. But elections are rarely decided by political decisions. The outcome depends on values ​​and trust: the Conservative Party has squandered that. Boris Johnson’s nepotism and courtly politics made the public a laughing stock; Liz Truss’s “idiot bonus” after the mini-budget disaster made Britain unattractive for investment. A side effect was a growing cynicism towards politics.

It is therefore encouraging to see so many talented and moderate people standing for Parliament for the first time. In some ways it is astonishing that young people with other options are choosing a career that has rarely looked more thankless or destructive to personal life. But it gives me hope – as does the Conservatives’ decision to deny Lord Frost a seat and Labour’s refusal to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the party.

The timing has angered some Tories who say Sunak has denied them a chance to recover from painful council losses. But had he stayed in office much longer, the prime minister could have been accused of “occupying” Downing Street, as Gordon Brown was in 2010. He and his advisers have also been desperately trying to contain the momentum of the Reform Party, which, unlike its predecessor Ukip, aims to fill every Conservative seat with candidates. Setting the July date has made that less likely and has knocked out Nigel Farage, who will not fight for a seat or take on a leadership role.

Over the next six weeks we will hear a lot about the economy from both major parties. The Conservatives will point to falling inflation and high employment rates; Labour will talk about stagnating living standards and energy costs. What we need to know are their plans for the future. We will hear little about possible tax rises – despite the IMF’s dire predictions – or about the EU. The Tories do not want to remind voters of Brexit, Labour fears raising the issue again, and even the Liberal Democrats talk just as much about the NHS and housing.

Sunak’s start could hardly have been less promising. But Starmer will be under more pressure than ever in the next six weeks. Neither man has led his party to a general election; neither is an experienced campaigner.

We cannot expect great orators. Many voters will perhaps want to watch the European Football Championship. But after a series of unelected politicians, the power is now back in the hands of the voters, who can give someone a clear mandate: and that alone is a reason to celebrate.

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