If the age of deference were still with us, the mortuary tag has now been tied to its toe following Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview. I saw him a couple of weeks ago at a military charity event where he did a good job, showing how the royals frequently but quietly add value to important causes. His performance in front of Emily Maitlis, fast becoming Britain’s best interviewer, was (to put it politely) less impressive. As is often the case, the advisers get a good kicking when such moments go wrong. But it was the words that came out of His Royal Highness’s mouth that were the problem. Boris must be chuffed by the ongoing royal carriage crash. It almost kept Jennifer Arcuri, the pole-dancing entrepreneur who won’t divulge details of their friendship so as not to ‘bring him down’, off the front pages. A decade ago this story would have done for any party leader. But public mood over such headlines has shifted. Mind you, quite how ‘For the Jenni, not the few’ has failed to make it on to a tactical Labour poster is beyond me.
I watched the first TV debate with my ten-year-old, Finn, whose last encounter with a PM was at Chequers in 2011 when he enjoyed a bounce on my old boss’s knee. Finn’s verdict on the Labour leader, who he insists on calling McCorbyn (SNP spin clearly working on the Year 5 demographic): ‘I don’t like his tie, and I don’t like his eye.’ Doesn’t stop him from revealing that if he had a vote, which he might well at the next election if Labour wins, JC would get it.
The introduction of TV election debates is among the reasonably long list of things for which I’ve been blamed. To be fair, there was some twitching in the team when, after the first-ever debate in 2010, Nick Clegg polled higher than Winston Churchill. But I was always clear they were the right thing to do. Perhaps it was the journalist in me, but it seemed reasonable that anyone seeking to be PM should be scrutinised on live TV. It’s the small moments in a debate that are the most revealing. Like the way a candidate chooses to pronounce ‘Epstein’.
The idea to rename temporarily the CCHQ Twitter account ‘factcheckUK’ during the leaders’ debate reveals a tin ear to one particular truth… that the words ‘facts’ and ‘politics’ no longer belong in the same sentence. This own goal aside, the Tory campaign has been solid but unremarkable. It needs more dynamic imagery to demonstrate Boris’s 24-hour, obsessive focus on moving this country forward. Energy and optimism have always been his key campaigning advantages. But I wonder if these are taken for granted: they need to be refreshed and repackaged. I get why the team are risk-averse, given the positive state of the polls. But Boris’s force of personality, when properly deployed, could be the difference between a Pyrrhic victory and the chance to transform the country. Right now, it’s all a bit boring.
Make no mistake: large parts of the 2019 Labour manifesto have wide appeal. Any Tory who thinks otherwise is delusional. So Conservative cannons should not be aimed at Jeremy Corbyn’s ideology but instead his ability to deliver. Anything. At all. Ever. Nationalise broadband? I doubt Corbyn knows how to plug in a router.
I’ve been hearing opinions of clients from various industries, with Remain and Brexit allegiance. The common logic: 1) Another year of uncertainty will kneecap the economy; 2) The only route to certainty is a government majority; 3) No party, other than the Tories, is capable of getting that majority. Which leads most, although not all, to conclude: ‘I’ll hold my nose and vote for Boris.’ One Remainer client puts it well: ‘If we were to win a second referendum would we now go to best of three or maybe five? We lost and it’s time to move on.’ I suspect there’s a shy but increasing Remainer vote which secretly Just Wants To Get On With It. Boris should be sending them a more direct ‘You don’t have to love me to back me’ signal.
The Tory mini-festo launch in Telford was light on policy but thick with rather good one-liners, including the inspired: ‘Let’s go Corbyn-neutral by Christmas.’ But the best gags in the world won’t divert attention from the now clear and confirmed gulf between Labour and Tory spending plans. That bar chart, on a TV screen and Twitter feed near you for the remainder of this campaign, tells the simplest of stories. Promises of more police and nurses — and a pivot to longer-term investment projects — may not cut it for those voters who have money, as well as Brexit, on their minds when they step into the booth on 12 December.
Andy Coulson is a former Downing Street director of communications and the founder of www.coulsonpartners.com