BEST BEFORE: Mock-the-Week of an election

by Mhairi Beken | May 30, 2024

Last week’s announcement of a general election, given by Rishi Sunak in the pouring rain, will likely have put a damper on some people’s evenings (yes that is a water pun, yes I think I’m funny, yes there will be more). A week in, we’ve already had enough memorable moments to fill a scrapbook. For anyone caught up in sixth week work, or for anyone disinclined to read reams of articles saying slightly different variants of the same thing about the newest gaffe, here are the flattering and not-so-flattering highlights.


First up is a party that I would be willing to bet my degree will not be first up after polling day: the Liberal Democrats. Disappointingly, they’d had a comparatively semi-competent go at things to start off, and hence had been completely forgotten in the media. That was until Ed Davey got sent to Cumbria to talk about sewage, and someone in the fountain of wisdom called Lib Dem HQ decided to have him talk about it while paddleboarding. He fell off. Multiple times. At least one of which he claimed was on purpose. They may have finally made a splash in the headlines, but a success this was not.


Next up is Nigel Farage and the Reform party, which he sorta-maybe-kinda represents. While giving a firm “no” to actually standing for the election, Farage has nonetheless made several media appearances about said election in the last few days. Because Reform plan to field candidates in every seat, most pollsters see them largely as a drain on the Tories, rather than as a party with a legitimate chance of gaining many (any) seats. However, with Farage declaring them the “new Conservatives”, and with increased coverage in the Telegraph, perhaps future weeks will offer the party a chance to become a bigger fish in the big pond of politics.


Then there’s the Labour party, who up until Wednesday were having a wonderfully boring and boringly wonderful time. In an election where one of the public’s top priorities has consistently been stability, boring doesn’t seem like that bad of a look. Throw in the end of the police investigation into Angela Rayner, and things were going swimmingly. Or perhaps I am a little biased. Either way, even the most arch-Conservative couldn’t find a sharper insult than boring (so what?) or accusing Labour of having “no plan” (it does, six pledges anyone?). This Wednesday, however, the news cycle picked up the Diane Abbott saga once again, with revelations on Newsnight that her internal investigation had been completed months ago, and yet a decision on readmittance had not been taken until Tuesday. Coupled with conflicting accounts between Abott and Keir Starmer over whether she was “barred” from running again as Labour’s candidate for MP in Hackney North and Stoke Newington (she claimed she is, Starmer says no decision has been taken) and something of a hole has been poked in Labour’s previously watertight PR.


To explain in its entirety how we and Abbott got here would require more words with greater insight into Labour’s factional politics than I have time to write or you have time to read. But it caught the media’s attention, and once something reaches the top of BBC Live, little can move it. It’s probably not the headline that Starmer was looking for, but it’s certainly one journalists will enjoy.  For what captures the journalistic imagination more than the appearance of internal party strife?


Finally, we turn to the party presumably best prepared for an election their leader decided to call, the Conservatives. Now I am no fan of the Tories or their government, but I don’t even have to try to twist the past week in order to make it look like a series of meanders and mistakes. The “gray vote” (i.e. the votes of pensioners and over-65s)  grabbing policy of National Service was the victim of miscommunication, with one minister claiming it would be enforced by legal measures and another stating it wouldn’t. In an attempt to appeal to those older voters tempted by Reform, Sunak promised a “triple lock plus” on pensions. And then came the promise to eliminate pointless degrees and boost apprenticeships. Some of the youth might be starting to feel a little targeted. All of this is fully costed of course. Only Labour would send our hard-earned taxes down the swanny, announcing policies without considering the cost, despite that being the most repeated attack line against them. No Tory would ever do that.


But it is not policies that truly determine the course of an election. There is only one thing that matters to us common people, only one thing that will decide our votes. I am of course talking about football. More than one article has suggested that England’s fate in the Euros could impact the election. Did this get taken into Sunak’s calculations? If so, he’d clearly forgotten it shortly after, getting into hot water for cheerfully asking a Welsh audience whether they were looking forward to a tournament that they hadn’t qualified for.  Starmer, an unapologetic Arsenal fan, offered more insightful commentary on some guy called Phil Foden (presumably a decent player) and his place in England’s Euros squad. I’m sure this will matter to voters more engaged with football than me. If we’re judging these candidates by their football knowledge, then I think this election already has a clear winner.


Has it only been a week? It truly feels longer. The “short campaign” (the final five weeks before an election that have slightly different rules on campaigning) has now begun, and I’m sure there will be plenty more mishaps to keep us buoyant until polling day. While, to many, the election outcome might appear predetermined, I for one will not be calling it until the final vote is cast. In these final weeks, I predict many more surprises will come over the horizon, and many more scandals will resurface from the depths. I’ll stop with the puns now: like this campaign, they have long lost their cool.∎

Words by Mhairi Beken. Graphic courtesy of Alice Robey-Cave.