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Please Sir, May I Have a Sky Dish?

A look at the biggest political drama of the week as the election campaign reaches the halfway stage.

Manifesto week, a time for the parties to stop handing out pledges like sweets at a child’s birthday party and lock their policies down in writing. But it was Skittles, Marshmallows, and Wine Gums galore for the Tories.

The headline promise was a 2p cut to National Insurance, something that will be abolished entirely for the lucky four million self-employed people. The Tories’ tax changes are stated to cost £17bn, which, according to the PM, will be funded by shaving £12bn off the welfare bill (aka yet more austerity) and clamping down on tax avoidance. Let’s hope it’s the multinationals and the super-rich with offshore accounts, the Michelle Mones of the world, that they gun for. Something tells me they won’t. For Sunak, ripping into welfare is part of his “moral mission” to reform the benefits system. It was of course met with dismay, with one disability activist asking: “What is moral about causing huge amounts of stress and anxiety?”

Analysis of benefit and tax cuts promised in the Tory manifesto by the Resolution Foundation found that the richest fifth of households would gain £1,300 while the poorest fifth would lose £250 under the tax cuts and welfare savings proposed.

The Conservatives’ manifesto contrasts directly with the Greens’, which pledges to tax the “super rich” to fund more spending on housing, the NHS, and the climate crisis, to “mend broken Britain.”

The Lib Dems meanwhile promise to increase public spending by raising levies on banks and reforming capital gains tax. It was encouraging that a party actually dared mention the ‘B’ word, with the Lib Dems committing to rejoining the single market to take Britain back into the EU, something that caused the Brexit press some serious upset. “BRITAIN will ride back into the clutches of the European Union and open borders under Liberal Democrat plans,” splashed the Sun.

Labour meanwhile wouldn’t be so bold to announce anything so radical that it would risk negative press. As expected, its manifesto contained few surprises, prioritising economic stability, as it continues its mission to paint the Tories as the party of economic chaos. On the NHS, Labour pledged to reduce waiting lists and deliver 40,000 more appointments weekly. The manifesto also confirmed that Labour will give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote, and immediately reform the House of Lords. 

Talking of Tory chaos. Why did they think the Silverstone Racetrack would be a good place to launch the manifesto? The jokes all but wrote themselves after the Conservative leader said Formula One is a ‘great’ example of the UK’s tech and skills sector and of “all our strengths coming together,” and attempted to argue that the economy has “turned a corner.”

Guardian columnist John Crace summed up the bitter irony on X: “Tory manifesto launch at Silverstone.  Going round and round in circles going nowhere. Wheels coming off. Crashing out at the first corner. Getting lapped. The pits.”

And in failing to address climate change in the manifesto, environmental campaigners hit out, with Greenpeace describing it as a “car crash for the planet.”

As for car crashes, the Tories suffered a series of car-crash exchanges this week.

In a bid to pull on the heartstrings of voters, by making out he had had some kind of impoverished upbringing, during an interview with ITV News, the prime minister, who attended the fee-paying Winchester College, one of the country’s most expensive boarding schools, said that he went without Sky TV as a child. Observers were quick to point out how it was actually the posh kids who went without Sky because satellite dishes were considered uncouth and working-class. Sadly, where Rishi went, Keir was bound to follow, claiming that he hadn’t had Sky either. All those academic papers on childhood poverty will now have to be rewritten to include the new measure of poverty. Why oh why, do politicians just not say ‘I had a pretty good childhood and it’s what I want for kids everywhere’?

Tory aide stops Holden grilling

You would have thought after the D-day catastrophe last week, Rishi Sunak’s trophy for being the worst-performing Conservative minister of the general election would be non-returnable. But making a late charge for the title was Richard Holden, the party’s chairman who oversees the Tories’ election campaign.

It was announced that Holden had been chosen to stand in a safe Tory seat in Essex, some 300 miles from his former constituency in the North East, which Holden claimed to be “bloody loyal” to. To make matters worse, the Tory chairman was the only candidate on the list. In a painful-to-watch interview with Sky News, Holden refused to answer multiple questions about him being “parachuted into a safe seat,” and hoped going on a tangent about Emily Thornberry’s comments about Labour’s private school fees tax would divert from the line of questioning. A CCHQ advisor who was off camera interrupted to complain about the questions and terminate the interview. The exchange was described by uncomfortable viewers as a “car crash interview of epic proportions.”

DWP Minister demolished on Channel 4 News over ‘free’ pension plan for the self-employed

In yet another Conservative car crash interview, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister Mel Stride was asked by Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy if the party was planning on creating a two-tier pension system. The presenter asked Stride a few simple questions as to whether the Tories’ pitch to their voter base by cutting taxes for the self-employed would provide a “free” pension for some, while employed workers would have to rack up decades of contributions to receive their state pensions. Disbelieving what he was hearing, Guru-Murthy explained to the DWP boss that you need a certain number of years of NI contributions to qualify for the state pension. After an unconvincing answer by Stride, the veteran news presenter said: “It doesn’t sound like you’ve worked it out.”

Tories predict they will fare even worse than the worst poll so far

Things have got so bad for the Conservatives that they are effectively conceding, not only defeat against Labour but the Lib Dems too. A paid Facebook post by the Conservatives showed a graph that predicted a Labour win of 490 seats, the Liberal Democrats with 61, and the Tories with just 57, while Reform is on none. The graph is accompanied by the words: “Reform can’t win any seats. But they can help Keir Starmer win. Do you want to hand Starmer a blank cheque.”

Bizarrely, the party’s prediction about its own fortunes is worse than the most damning polls so far. Even a mega-poll by Survation estimated the Tories would claim 71 seats.

Poll shows Tories are running worst general election campaign so far

It comes as little surprise that a YouGov poll, which asked the public who they think is running the worst general election campaign so far, unequivocally found that people think the Tories (42%) are running the worst campaign, followed by Labour (9%), and the Reform (4%).

Reform UK candidate said Britain “should have been neutral on Hitler”

But things have not gone so smoothly for Farage’s company – sorry political party – this week either. Ahead of the unveiling of his party’s manifesto were reports that Ian Gribbin, Reform UK’s candidate in Bexhill and Battle, had said in a blog that the country would be “far better” if it had “taken Hitler up on his offer of neutrality” instead of fighting the Nazis in World War II. According to the BBC, the comment was made in 2022 on the right-wing website, Unherd, when he also said Winston Churchill was “abysmal” and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin.” He also made abhorrently sexist comments on the UnHerd message board, writing: “Do you think you could actually work and pay for it all too like good citizens?

“Men pay 80% of tax – women spend 80% of tax revenue. On aggregate, as a group you only take from society.

“Less complaining please from the ‘sponging gender’.”


Andrea Jenkyns launches bizarre leaflet featuring Nigel Farage

In another incredible move by the Tories, Andrea Jenkyns, the party’s candidate for Leeds South West and Morley launched a campaign leaflet which bizarrely featured a photo of the said Andrea looking glamorous next to Nigel Farage.

Posting the baffling A5 leaflet on X, Dame Andrea, who is a leading Conservative pro-Brexit voice, wrote: “Lots of excitement over my leaflet today… All conservatives [note the small c] must be prepared to come together to prevent a socialist supermajority and the end of Britain as we know it. #CountryFirst.”

Jenkyns had been tipped to join Farage’s party but says she wants to stay with the Conservatives to help “unite” the right-wing parties after the general election. She was also the first Tory MP to reveal that she had submitted a letter of no confidence in Rishi Sunak as prime minister.

In response to the leaflet, Morley James Kendall, Jenkyn’s Reform UK opponent in Leeds South West told the Daily Mirror: “I think it’s disgusting to hide behind Nigel Farage to get the Reform voters to believe that she is for Reform.

Others weren’t impressed either. “Isn’t endorsing another party leader during an election campaign an automatic firing offence?” asked Adam Bienkov, political editor of Byline Times.

Starmer accused of brutal ‘rhetorical bravado’ for ‘Corbyn-style’ manifesto comments

As the Tories self-implode, Labour, sigh, doesn’t seem to do itself any favours. In response to the Conservative’s manifesto, in an interview with the BBC, Keir Starmer referred to it as a “Corbyn-style” document  into which “anything you want can go in [but] none of it is costed.”

The right-wing press’s headlines all but wrote themselves, given that the manifesto came from his own party and was supported by the Labour leader when he was serving as a shadow minister.

“Starmer savagely mocked for calling Tory plans ‘Corby-style’ despite supporting ex-leader,’ teased the Express.

“Sir Flip Flop strikes again: Keir Starmer U-turns AGAIN as he slams ‘Corbyn-style’ manifestos despite praising their ‘decency,” splashed the Sun.

But it was the more neutral Standard that perhaps gave the most brutal critique of the comments, likening them to Donald Trump’s remarks in 2016 as he sought to demonstrate his supreme confidence in the loyalty of his followers. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK? It’s like, incredible.”

In what it described as a “display of brute rhetorical bravado, “the Standard added: “Keir Starmer did not exactly express an interest in violence today, but he exhibited Trump-like reserves of belief in the foundations of his support.”

Comparing Starmer to Trump was pushing it by the Standard but it does bring home the extent to which this election campaign has been characterised by an amazing capacity by politicians to shoot themselves in their collective feet.

Never mind – only three weeks to go!

Right-Wing Media Watch – Pro-Brexit media gets overexcited by ‘far-right surge’ in Europe

Away from the UK election and to the European election, which took place last weekend, and was of course the first time Britain could not elect representatives as Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

Moderate pro-EU parties won around two-thirds of the seats, and as broadly expected, the far-right made gains. While gains among extremists, which have been present in the European Parliament for many decades, is the cause of justifiable concern, their traction seemed to be presented with something of a ‘we told you so’ delight by Britain’s pro-Brexit, right-wing media, which spoke excitedly of a far-right ‘surge’ and ‘takeover.’

“From France and Italy to Germany and Austria, anti-establishment groups increased their vote share and underlined their growing power in the wake of widespread protests across the continent earlier this year,” splurged UnHerd, the anti-Europe, right-wing news site, owned by billionaire Paul Marshall. The hedge fund founder donated vast sums to the Leave campaign during the 2016 referendum and has donated generously to the Tories. 

The right-wing, anti-EU nationals followed the same over-embellished narrative.

‘Far-right; Giorgia Meloni flashes Churchill’s ‘V for victory’ after EU election triumph,’ splashed the Express.

“Giorgia Meloni, the Italian prime minister, has marked her party’s success at the European elections with a nod to Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill,” the article continued.

The irony is of course that for all media’s pro-nationalist, anti-Europe sentiment, the former British prime minister Churchill was an EU pioneer, was deeply committed to the idea of European integration, and was one of the first to call for a ‘United States of Europe.’ And for a double dose of irony, Churchill fought a war against Meloni’s ideological Grandaddy, Benito Mussolini. He probably flashed his famous two-finger salute when the allies secured their hold in Sicily in July 1943. The right-wing media are confused about most things so why not Churchill?  

The Daily Mail meanwhile spoke of a “Nightmare for EU’s titans as Macron and Scholz are humiliated in European elections that see huge swing towards right-wing populists, with Le Pen, AfD and Italy’s Meloni celebrating victory.” The article speaks of how the defeats “unquestionably undermine” the “so-called ‘leaders of Europe’ rule at home, “so much so that the French president last night called a snap election in a move resembling a bloodied boxer on the ropes preparing to throw a final desperate punch before suffering a knockout blow.”

Macron might have taken a gamble in calling a snap legislative election, and the European elections were a humiliation for the French president, with voters giving Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National (RN) 31.4 percent of the vote, double the vote for the president’s liberal centrist alliance, but you can’t help but feel that the UK Brexit media, which has long treated Macron as the enemy of the British people, are all but rubbing their hands in glee.

“It’s EU-xit! Europe on brink of right-wing romp as anti-EU parties surge in Parliament votes threatening to shake union to the core,” headlined the Sun, adding: “It comes as after Macron called for a snap election after heavy defeat for the far-right in the European parliamentary vote.”

Despite the excitement from the Brexit media, the success of the far-right in the European elections was by no means universal, and in many ways was fairly muted.

Far-right parties in Sweden, Belgium and Hungary were expected to make significant headway but ultimately stagnated, with many voters being more concerned about party corruption than immigration.

Hungary’s populist party Fidesz, which has been led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán since 2010, secured around 45 percent of the vote. This marks the first time since 2004 that the party has received less than 50 percent in these elections.

In Sweden, both the Greens and the Left Party made impressive gains, while in Belgium, whilst right-wing parties did make gains, the “expected extremist landslide didn’t happen,” as Politico wrote.

In a typically dramatic bulletin on GB News, also owned of course by Brexiteer Paul Marshall, entitled ‘Europe’s political earthquake,’ the channel interviewed Mike Galsworthy, Chair of the European Movement, the largest pro-European movement in the UK, which was, incidentally, founded by Winston Churchill in 1949. Galsworthy coolly reminded the interviewer that the European Parliament is a big place, and the balance of power hasn’t moved much. “It’s still centre right on balance – and just as importantly, the politics are collaborative,” he said.

Writing in the Sun, right-wing columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer attempted to argue that “the only shocking thing about the rise in votes for the far-right is that anyone is shocked.” The results are not really shocking at all, would perhaps be more accurate, and the extremists, as the European Movement notes, have never driven the European Parliament’s agenda, and “they won’t now.”  

Smear of the Week: Conservatives’ smear about Starmer and Rayner’s ‘power dynamics’ backfires

Would a Labour deputy who was male, southern, and from a more privileged background come under the same scrutiny from the Conservatives and their puppet press as Angela Rayner does?   

I doubt it.

Clutching at anything they can to detract from their disastrous election campaign, the Tories are using the recent speculation about Diane Abbott’s candidacy with Labour as an attempt to prove some kind of power dynamics are at play between the Labour leader and his deputy, with Stamer being the subordinate weakling at the mercy of his domineering deputy.

Amid the rumours about Diane Abbott’s future with Labour, Angela Rayner had told Sky News that she did not think there was “any reason” why the veteran MP could not stand for Labour. Keir Starmer eventually ended the speculation, announcing that Britain’s first female black MP was “free to go forward as a Labour candidate.”

A recent post on X by the Conservatives’ official account, attempted to frame the story as being evidence of a weak and passive Labour leader at the mercy of his fiery deputy.

“Angela Rayner has already pulled Starmer’s strings to get him to let Diane Abbott stand and to surrender to the demands of trade unions. What will she make him do next?”

The attempt to twist the story by turning it into ‘proof’ that Rayner calls the shots over Starmer, seemed to have originated from Rishi Sunak. Speaking to reporters in Bury, the PM had said that the Labour leader “constantly changes his mind” and “It’s clear that Angela Rayner is in charge of his party and not him.”

The right-wing press, which regularly targets the Labour deputy having run a months-long smear campaign about her former housing arrangements, quickly jumped on the same line of attack. “Starmer forced into Diane Abbott U-turn Rayner,” headlined the Torygraph. The Express claimed that interventions from Angela Rayner had undermined Stamer’s authority.

Portraying Rayner as too dominant is no doubt a tactic by the Tories and their supporting media to cast doubt about Labour’s cohesion and readiness to govern.

Fortunately, the seemingly sexist and even classist smear tactic backfired, with onlookers sharing their thoughts. “I know this is meant to be an insult, but it reassures me. I love that we’re going to have a strong, intelligent, sensible woman who the prime minister listens to as deputy prime minister,” said one X user in response to the Conservatives’ post.

“I agree. Having a dictatorial leadership style, where the party leader doesn’t listen to their colleagues would be terrible for government. It’s good to know that there are a range of voices making key decisions,” said another.

Once again, the Tories have seemed to underestimate Rayner’s connection with the electorate. Then again, they don’t seem to get many things right, it makes you worry that they will be as ineffectual as the opposition as they have been in power. And that is possibly the most worrying thing about this election. Democracy needs a strong opposition to hold governments to account. The threat to that lies not in Tory fears of a Labour landslide, but in their own internal divisions which will make them vulnerable prey to the likes of Farage.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Election Watch

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