/William Watson: Do our Tories need a Boris?

William Watson: Do our Tories need a Boris?

So many people are telling Canada’s Tories what to do maybe the U.K. Tories’ election platform can provide some guidance.

It’s called “Get Brexit Done: Unleash Britain’s Potential.” Unleash Britain’s Potential sounds focus-grouped vague but Get Brexit Done is short, sharp and full of content. A dollar to anyone who can remember what the Tories’ slogan was in our campaign, which has now been over for not many more days than it lasted. (Stumped? Their platform was called “Plan for you to get ahead.” But try to find it on the party website. It’s gone. Vaporized. Sucked down the memory hole of “Server not found.” The Liberals’ motto — “Forward” — was actually more memorable, if only for its brevity and almost kitsch banality.)

The U.K. Tories’ platform is in the style of modern platforms: 59 pages, full of bled-to-the-edge photos. But also small print and longish sentences, as these things go. The target audience is clearly more literate than in this country, which is sad, given our high rates of post-secondary education.

The most common photo subject is of course the party’s leader, Boris Johnson. He’s in seven, plus a nice cover shot of him giving a thumbs-up, which you couldn’t do in Canada because the spin doctors would find it too reminiscent of Don Cherry. (Or maybe a little Cherry would help in the 905? But intersectionals would be offended. What do you think? Let’s run some polls.)

But there are also lots of photos of other Tory candidates — 21 in total, including seven women and seven who appear to be non-white, though let’s none of us become too expert in who is or isn’t white. Among the apparently non-white are the sitting Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary, two of the three biggest jobs in Cabinet along with Foreign Secretary. Remarkably, none of the 21 is advertised as a lawyer. There are: two former cops (one shown in uniform), a female farm owner driving (presumably) her tractor, a sheep farm owner, two nurses, two teachers, a female engineer, two doctors, a former Royal Air Force squadron leader, a veterinary surgeon (shown with a very photogenic black Lab), a male administrative assistant, a pharmacist, an ocean conservationist, and the founder of a kind of charter school.

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative leader Boris Johnson talks at a Q&A session during a general election campaign visit to Fergusons Transport in the town of Washington, west of Sunderland, Britain, December 9, 2019

Britain’s Prime Minister and Conservative leader Boris Johnson talks at a Q&A session during a general election campaign visit to Fergusons Transport in the town of Washington, west of Sunderland, Britain, December 9, 2019

Ben Stansall/Pool via Reuters

Our Tories were running a young, charisma-free first-time leader chosen on the 11th ballot of a leadership convention. Yet they made almost no effort to show him as the leader of a team of capable and (in some cases) experienced potential cabinet ministers. If even such a character as Boris Johnson is emphasizing his team, Andrew Scheer should have, too.

As for content, the British Tory platform’s writing is spirited and has personality — certainly in Johnson’s foreword, which compares the United Kingdom (that “awesome foursome … the most successful political partnership in history”) to a caged lion or “some super-green supercar” stuck in traffic, with a “pent-up tidal wave of investment” waiting to engulf it once it rids itself of Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party, who “detest the profit motive so viscerally — and would raise taxes so wantonly — that they would destroy the very basis of” prosperity.

Alas, the platform’s substance reveals a party that, like modern political parties everywhere, wants to be all things to all … no, not to all people, but to whatever percentage will get it into power.

The phrase “we will” appears 405 times in the 59 pages. Even if some of the uses are warning (e.g., if Labour get in, “we will” have another referendum on Scottish independence), my guess is it all adds up to more promises than even in Justin Trudeau’s 2015 platform, which contained 325.

I particularly liked: “we will bring forward cat microchipping, giving cat owners peace of mind and increasing the measures we have available to tackle cat theft.” Cat theft? Maybe there really will always be an England. Another favourite “we will” promises to lower the price of a bottle of Scotch whisky by more than the 30 pence a two-year freeze on excises has already done. (Tax on Scotch represents almost three-quarters of the price of a bottle.) The only negative here is that the commitment is sold as a measure to help the 42,000 Britons (mainly Scots, presumably) who produce the stuff. What about the rights and interests of Scotch-drinkers?

The party’s headline promises, usefully listed over Johnson’s signature, are: 50,000 more nurses, 50 million more primary physician visits per year, 20,000 more cops, tougher sentencing, a points system for would-be immigrants (“Australian-style,” not Canadian-style), more spending for schools, science, and apprenticeships, net zero carbon by 2050 and no increases in tax rates, whether on income, consumption or payrolls.

Our Tories might do better with a Boris-style leader. They certainly would do better with a Boris-style platform.

Financial Post

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