Lloyd Evans

Bleak, vapid and banal: why are the Tory leadership videos so awful?

Bleak, vapid and banal: why are the Tory leadership videos so awful?
Tom Tugendhat delivers a short, bleak and utterly miserable piece to camera
Text settings

The Tory candidates have released a set of videos presenting their claim to become Britain’s next prime minister.

Frontrunner Rishi Sunak has dubbed his pitch, ‘Ready for Rishi’, which sounds, unfortunately, like the cheapest option at a Hounslow massage parlour. His movie centres on his unstoppable rise to world domination. His mum was a penniless immigrant who passed her exams and worked at a chemist’s shop in Southampton. His Dad was a humble NHS doctor. Scratchy old Kodak photos show us the ‘Sunak Pharmacy’ in all its faded grandeur. He omits his public school days and his City whizz-kid career. And he says nothing about his mega-rich wife.

Clearly he wants us to believe that he moved straight from mum’s corner shop to the House of Commons. There we see him holding key meetings with wise decisionmakers and nodding earnestly as they build the future together.

Rishi positions himself as the sober alternative to three years of crazy-haired chaos. Safe, sensible, highly competent. He’s the super slick insurance broker offering you the best deal on the market with a crocodile grin and a clammy handshake (and, incidentally, a pair of ears the size of Hobnobs). But once he’s got your signature on the deeds, he’ll scarper with your cash and never be seen again. His spin is as brittle as cake icing. He vows to lead the country with ‘honesty, seriousness and determination’ rather than ‘by telling ourselves comforting fairy tales… that will leave our children worse off tomorrow.’ But his favourite ‘fairy tale’ is a tax and waste fiscal policy that will rack up debts for the next generation. And ‘honesty’ is a virtue alien to him. ‘Politics at its best is a unifying endeavour,’ says the backstabber whose resignation last week ended the career of the boss who gave him everything. He’s got a nerve all right. The lad could go far.

Penny Mordaunt’s jam and Jerusalem video was filmed from a helicopter which sweeps across the British landscape and shows us plunging cliffs, pearly lakes, gorgeous cricket pitches and St George’s flags fluttering over village churches. Stirring orchestral music captures the patriotic mood. If you watch it in an armchair, you’ll be standing to attention within five seconds, saluting.

A velvety male voice-over advises us to choose a new leader ‘with solemnity and wisdom’. But what does that mean exactly? Up pops Cap’n Mordaunt to declare a new type of leadership ‘that is less about the leader and a lot more about the ship.’ The vapid soundbites pile up and eventually fall back to earth in a verbal mudslide. ‘We need more than just a plan,’ says the voiceover. ‘We need teamwork to deliver it.’ Hang on. What was the plan in the first place? No one wants to join a ship that’s sailing into battle without a strategy. The good news is that Cap’n Mordaunt obviously hangs out with some very talented film producers. Make her head of tourism.

Over to Tom Tugendhat who delivers a short, bleak and utterly miserable piece to camera. No jacket or tie. Just a plain white shirt. He could be a serial killer at a parole board hearing. He drones on about his previous service in uniform (on the prison farm?) and he explains that his appetite for more ‘service’ drew him into parliament. His words are banal and forgettable. His gloomy, sallow face is off-putting and faintly creepy. He looks like a man who enforces safety standards in children’s play-centres. Not a serious pitch for power. Perhaps he did it to win a bet.

Liz Truss’s film shows her trotting around various presidential palaces in her high heels and greeting fat men in suits surrounded by flags. Does she want to be PM or is this a pitch to keep her Foreign Office brief? Worryingly, she sets out a new policy mid-video when she vows to ‘ensure Putin loses in Ukraine.’ Foreign secretary, we’re not at war with Russia. Perhaps she plans to get the ball rolling on her first day in Downing Street. After all, the verb ‘ensure’ is highly specific. As PM she could make good on her threat by vaporising Putin with our nuclear arsenal. Or, less controversially, by unleashing the British army and sweeping Russia’s forces to the gates of Moscow as the French did in 1812. Napoleon Liz has lost it. The small print of this advert is bonkers.

Finally, Sajid Javid. Rather like ‘Ready for Rishi’, the Saj is perennially impressed with his own brilliance. He came from nothing, he tells us. And he goes back to nothing to see how it looks. And it’s not great. In his home town of Bristol he stands with a dark umbrella and stares at the former family business which seems to be derelict. The camera cuts to a pile of abandoned cushions being pelted with drizzle. The subtext is clear. ‘Thank God I got out of this dump.’ But Bristol is a highly politicised city, full of students, like Brighton or Liverpool. Might not the local boy have shown himself reaching out and winning a few supporters from the opposite side?

The Saj’s real problem is his hairstyle. Which doesn’t exist. Javid is not just bald. He’s distressingly so. And we learn from history that hairless Tories rarely prosper. Ask William Hague or David Willetts. Churchill knew of this defect and augmented his look with theatrical props that suggested a life rich in character and passion. The fat cigar, the caddish Homberg, the brandy glass, the thumb suavely tucked into the waistcoat pocket. Javid looks like a mugged tourist wandering the streets asking for directions. And this dreary video seems to be a personal audition for the job of Loneliness Tsar. That would suit him perfectly. He has no friends, it appears. None at all. Only a man with no friends would film himself entering a café to meet his friends – or are they his siblings? – who are conveniently seated around a table and waiting to share an emotional cappuccino and a profoundly moving Danish pastry. We see his actual best friend – his mum – who greets him in her kitchen with a phrase that suggests they haven’t met in decades.

‘Hello my son. My son, I love you,’ she says. The press-ganged matriarch was probably hoping these words would help her ambitious boy. But they don’t. A normal mum says ‘darling’ to her son. And some mums even remember the lad’s name. If Javid’s goal is to project dullness he succeeds. But his sad, tortoise-like face peeping at the viewer in anxious entreaty is worse than dull. It’s hell. Someone should buy him a hat or give him a peerage.

Written byLloyd Evans

Lloyd Evans is The Spectator's sketch-writer and theatre critic

Topics in this articlePolitics