When looking at a small portion of the hour-long speech David Cameron gave at the Conservative party conference in Manchester earlier this month, “the party of working people, the party for working people – today, tomorrow, always”, I can’t be the only person who is reminded of the Capitol’s address to the populous in ‘The Hunger Games’: “Panem today, Panem tomorrow, Panem forever”. This catch-all approach to highlight the party’s caring side, and move away from the image of the ‘nasty party’, could arguably be working in the Tory’s favour, although it also throws up images of Adam Curtis’ ‘Bitter Lake’ documentary. Some of the key issues which Cameron spoke about – welfare, social cohesion and terror among them – have become so simplified that we struggle to understand their wider context; issues and concerns are stripped back to sound bites, easily digestible and simple to process.
The onus of this, however, cannot solely be placed on Cameron; this form of political dialogue has been consistent for the past decade or so, across party lines. This is one reason why Corbyn, and to a lesser extent, Farage, have become so popular in regard to their public speaking; they are not afraid to say what they actually wish to do within their respective parties. Theresa May followed a similar pattern in her party conference speech; her honesty is undeniable, as she pushes to strike a deal on asylum, stating that “the fewer people there are who wrongly claim asylum in Britain, the more generous we can be in helping the most vulnerable people in the world’s most dangerous places”.
This stands in stark contrast to Cameron’s broad, “one nation” rhetoric, whilst also demonstrating confidence in her power to make this wish reality. Although May’s sentiment is deeply flawed, not to mention damaging towards Britain’s identity in relation to immigration and multi-culturalism, at least we know where she stands. Cameron and Osborne seem more concerned with dominating the common ground, solidifying a political dialogue that speaks directly to the common beliefs of the British electorate. They play the role well; disconcertingly so. If I close my eyes, and my mind wanders towards the lofty heights of idealism and the enactment of policies for the greater good, then for a fleeting moment, I too begin to believe; however, this illusion crumbles as soon as I remember that any sincerity on Cameron’s part is all artifice. It is as if his speeches are centred around an emotive checklist: the vague, catch-all phrase “hard-working families”, the inclusion of his own wife and children (so as to appear human), and of course the crucial reminder that terrorism is bad.
Whilst Labour is shifting towards a more solid identity, the Conservatives seem to be declaring that they can be whatever we want them to be, even going as far as to steal Labour policies and implement them as their own; the national living wage and the national infrastructure commission are two of the biggest examples of this, although this is then balanced out with more overtly Tory ideas, such as Osborne’s rumoured tax credit cuts. Consequently, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the Conservative party is trying to be. The mantra at the conference this year was: “Security. Stability. Opportunity.” However, it is a struggle to find any depth or deeper understanding of what this placid sentiment actually means.
The one thing Cameron was clear on was his view of the Labour party and their “irresponsible” leadership; Corbyn, with his “Britain-hating ideology”, must be stopped at all costs. What Cameron really fears is context, and he will use all the streams of emotive language that he can to try and undermine that. He will twist, steal and manipulate words to form false promises, supported by hollow phrases and a narrative which, try as he might to represent “the agents of hope”, will only result in spreading fear. “Thousands of words have been written about the new Labour leader, but you only need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama Bin Laden was a tragedy”; this statement, also taken from Cameron’s speech, is one such example.
The Conservatives, supported by much of the British mainstream media, are defining what context is. They are attempting to create a monopoly on what is right and what is wrong. Cameron received a standing ovation for stating that a tragedy is the death of Western citizens, although no mention was made of the thousands of civilians who have been killed in retaliation in the Middle East; why muddy the water for the British public? If Cameron continues striving to dominate the maximum reach of the political spectrum, then I cannot see how the “One Nation Conservative Party” narrative will hold up. There is too much contradictory rhetoric, promising everything but delivering very little.