September 26, 2023


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‘Deserves arthouse cult status’: our film critic reviews the Tory leader campaign videos | Movies


Sajid Javid

Classic old movies usually get rereleased on some big anniversary. But just three years on, Sajid Javid is once again bringing out his non-masterpiece, the leadership campaign video from 2019. That is … the one that wasn’t good enough for him to beat Boris Johnson, the man who is now resigning in disgrace. So here it is again, the goldenfinger-oldie from 2019, complete with the bit at the end where Saj says “I believe I can deliver Brexit …” Is Saj somehow trying to gaslight us into thinking that he was the one who “delivered” that?

The opening scene is truly unnerving. With a voiceover saying he lives “between Bromsgrove and London”, perhaps unwilling to narrow it down for security reasons, the film shows us Mr Javid with his wife and children and cavapoo bitch Bailey in their sunlit kitchen, smilingly having their breakfast, and then Mr Javid leaves for work as his daughter says: “Don’t forget the samosas!” There is some worrying Sherwood energy to this happy opening scene, which feels like the curtain-raiser to a brutal crime drama. Surely the last moment is going to show Sajid slumped to the floor with an arrow sticking out of his chest and a samosa rolling from his nerveless fingers, as Suella Braverman scampers back into the forest with her hi-tech crossbow slung over her shoulder?

Actually, we get the now traditional “tough immigrant parent story” with mandatory flickering Super 8 and Sajid revisiting his mum and dad’s old shop in Bristol. Then it’s on to his rip-roaring career in the private sector and the glassy-eyed platitudes of how and why Sajid “got into politics”: to help people, apparently. But that is a biographical issue which is far more complex than this film will ever allow.

Grant Shapps

Radical film-makers are always worrying about how to address the new age of TikTok, and Grant Shapps is challenging the middleaged mainstream head-on, with a video campaign all the more intriguing because it has now been abandoned.

Shapps actually released two microvideos. One is a TikTok of Shapps walking around, wearing a suit, smiling, and walking some more, to the accompaniment of To Be Real by Austin Millz. It’s shot portrait-style, but also with two blurry bits either side of the screen, like amateur smartphone videos of factory fires featured on local news. He is very keen on looking up as he walks, as if graciously acknowledging crowds of cheering fans all around him.

The other video is more conventional, though almost as short, with Grant again walking about a bit, saying in voiceover: “My case for leadership is simple. I can plan, I can deliver, I can communicate, I can campaign, I can help you win your seat.” Each of these bland claims is accompanied by a graphic enclosing it as a brain-numbing slogan with a still image of Grant in some bold down-to-business pose. The final image has Grant stopped still, gazing into the middle distance, eyes narrowed, transfixed by some epiphany about how he’s going to help nervous MPs win their seat.

Cheekily, intriguingly, Grant made explicit what he imagined his voting constituency have on their minds, a vulgar consideration which is below all his rivals. Could it be that with this videos, Grant was taking the mickey just a tiny little bit, and was only auditioning to be the quirky backroom ideas guy for a real contender?

Tom Tugendhat

A masterclass in dullness here from Tom Tugendhat with a torpid, unsmiling performance which looks like a medical warning on taking OxyContin. He sternly addresses the audience like the careworn housemaster of a boarding school who has called a sixth-former into his study for firing over the fence at passersby during Army Cadets.

Like every single candidate, he has an obsession with the meaningless concept of “delivering” but his own delivery to camera is mind-bendingly boring and deadpan, though he seems to perk up a tiny bit on mentioning the army. Like the gung-ho Governor Danny Chung in Armando Iannucci’s US politics satire Veep, he has a great need to mention his military service. “I’ve served our country in uniform and in parliament …” he intones.

Wearing a tie is really not cool for the serious contenders, and Tugendhat actually has the top two buttons undone on his white shirt, but this is a supremely buttoned-up performance. The most extraordinary moment comes when Tom drones: “I have a vision and I have a 10-year plan. I will deliver.” Wow, Tom. Ten years! Bold! The Reign of Tom is going to be up there with Maggie and Tony. So what’s in this ten-year plan of Tom’s? Surely this is the moment for some flashy graphics giving us details.

But no. That ten-year plan remains a mystery as dead-eyed Tom rumbles on to his deathly cliche-finale as he talks about becoming prime minister of this great United Kingdom, at which point the corners of his mouth twitch modestly upward, just a little.

Penny Mordaunt

Penny Mordaunt launches Conservative leadership campaign – video

Here is the most purely bizarre campaign video, from Penny Mordaunt, culminating in the gobsmacking slogan: “Our leadership needs to become a little less about the leader and lot more about the ship.” Huh? This sentence, evidently rendered via Google Translate into something approximating English from a voice inside Mordaunt’s head, would appear to be a reference to her status as a Royal Navy reservist.

But, bafflingly, there is nothing about this bit of her CV in the actual film itself. It’s like hearing Jean-Luc Picard campaign for the top job with: “Our starship needs to be less about the star and more about the ship.” This is a nightmare of patriotic stock footage, showing everything from the Houses of Parliament to Stonehenge, with a pleasant-sounding chap doing the voiceover about the need to regain our core values, and all to the accompaniment of Holst’s I Vow to Thee, My Country – exactly similar, as many have gleefully pointed out, to the emergency post-nuclear “optimist” broadcast on Armando Iannucci’s 90s TV satire The Day Today.

With staggering effrontery and without permission, Mordaunt used clips of people such as Prof Susan Gilbert and Paralympian Jonnie Peacock and even Oscar Pistorius (has Mordaunt heard the news about that particular international treasure?). She has now had to cut them out, but – chillingly – her shot of Jo Cox is still in, shown with a supercilious, faux-modest remark about Tories not having a “monopoly” of decent values. She uses images of Churchill, Thatcher, Cameron/Clegg (together in their coalition bromance) and Theresa May, and even a sheepish clip of Boris doing a gag: “Let’s get breakfast done”.

After what seems like an age, we finally get to a still photo of Mordaunt, with her robotic voice intoning her weirdo slogan. How very odd.

Rishi Sunak

Ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak launches Tory leadership campaign – video

Ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak gives us the slickest film, which does at least look as if some work has gone into it – work that might even have begun before his actual resignation.

It’s a smooth montage of Sunak elbow-bumping the public, occasionally wearing a Covid mask, taking meetings, dynamically striding around, all interspersed with the regulation drone/stock “British things” footage and Sunak doing Autocue-eyeball-wobble pieces to camera about the need to take tough decisions to secure our future.

He begins by re-using a catchphrase from the late Max Bygraves: “Let me tell you a story …” And then there’s a heartwarming tale about his grandmother’s arrival in this country as a hardworking immigrant, then his pharmacist mum and NHS GP dad. But sadly nothing about his experiences at Winchester, about his wife’s family and he unsportingly doesn’t use the now legendary clip from his appearance on the 2001 BBC documentary Middle Classes – Their Rise and Sprawl, in which young Sunak says: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class … well, not working class.”

Sunak isn’t going in for low-tax rhetoric and finally he asks: “Do we confront this moment, with honesty, seriousness and determination, or do we tell ourselves comforting fairytales?” His own style seems to be a triangulation of this approach, a social-realist Grimm brother, about the little kid who works hard to buy the beans to grow his wife’s Nondom Magic Money Tree.

We finally get his slogan: Ready For Rishi! Due to the underlining, it looks more like Ready For Rish! A rhyming-slang reminder of his great moment, and the sort of thing he might have shouted during the pandemic when he suddenly appeared at people’s restaurant tables with their garlic bread.

Rehman Chishti

I’m standing to be the next leader of the Conservative Party and your Prime Minister. For me it’s about aspirational conservatism, fresh ideas, fresh team for a fresh start taking our great country forward. (Full video on my Facebook page).

— Rehman Chishti (@Rehman_Chishti) July 10, 2022

Rehman Chishti is the British-Pakistani Tory MP for Gillingham and Rainham, appointed as a minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by Boris Johnson. For its sheer low-budget chaos, his leadership campaign video deserves some kind of arthouse cult status.

It is simply a three-minute clip he’s stuck up on his Facebook page, with no graphics of any kind, talking about his vision for the party and country’s future, outdoors, in front of what looks like a bush of nettles and a dark cloudy sky with the phone at an unflatteringly low angle while the wind in the microphone rumbles off-puttingly in the background. And perhaps due to Chishti hitting the end-record button too soon, it actually cuts off before he’s finished speaking.

Stirringly, he says: “Our great country is a great country because of its great people, who believe in resilience, who believe in resourcefulness and who are …” And there it stops. What was Chishti going to say? Is there a director’s cut somewhere in which he finishes “… controlled by lizard people on the planet Neptune who need to be placated with regular human sacrifices and I am the only Tory leadership contender who fully appreciates this”?

Otherwise Chishti’s approach is almost unbearably bland as he witters away to his smartphone about unexceptional things such as mental health and gestures incessantly with his hands as if doing a private form of sign-language. This is the half-hearted video of someone who expects to withdraw his candidature in return for supporting someone else.

Liz Truss

This has to be the most fantastically dull and self-satisfied of the videos so far: Truss goes in for the same kind of patriotic stock footage and drone shots that Mordaunt loves, but interspersed with her own pieces to camera (not a generic voiceover) and her script is sometimes unbearable.

“We need to deliver, deliver and deliver to the British people …” she says solemnly, a phrase which is three times more meaningless and cliched than: “We need to deliver to the British people.”

As foreign secretary, Truss is able to use loads of images of herself importantly meeting world leaders on the world stage and so far, she is the only candidate who is breaking out the U-word: “We need a prime minister with experience, who can hit the ground running from day one, whether that’s ensuring Putin loses in Ukraine or getting the economy going.” Stirring stuff, though how exactly would Truss be “ensuring” that Putin loses in Ukraine? Sounds like a very big spending increase on the military – and how are we going to pay for that? Well, never mind.

Truss goes on to say: “I am tackling the impasse in Northern Ireland through the protocol bill that will fix the problems of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement” – though there are no clips of her shaking hands and smiling happily with Jeffrey Donaldson or Michelle O’Neill. Disappointingly, she doesn’t at any stage rant about the influence of Michel Foucault, the French philosopher whom she has in the past blamed for undermining educational values. Most unsportingly of all, Truss doesn’t capitalise on the one thing that has cut through with the public: Jan Ravens’ impression of her for BBC Radio 4’s Dead Ringers. Her slogan is “Trusted To Deliver” when of course it should be: “I KNOW!”


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