Campaign catchup: Grumpy voters, a pottery throwdown, and a mishearing for the ages

<span>Robert Blackstock asked the question of the night in yesterday’s debate.</span><span>Photograph: UNPIXS/BBC</span>
Robert Blackstock asked the question of the night in yesterday’s debate.Photograph: UNPIXS/BBC

Good afternoon. “Look, my friends, we’re not pitching you a new Netflix series,” Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said today. “We’re not putting on politics as entertainment.”

File this along with Keir Starmer’s offer of “realistic hope” and the Tories’ dark warnings of a Labour “supermajority” in your compendium of 2024’s vaulting campaign rhetoric. It’s been that sort of contest – and there is mounting evidence that voters are responding in kind. More on a mood that sits somewhere between indifference and outright hostility, plus the consolation of the greatest doorstep quote of the election so far, after the headlines.

What happened today

  1. Gambling scandal | At least seven Metropolitan police officers are under investigation over the timing of bets, the London force said today. Meanwhile, the Gambling Commission said it was making “rapid progress” with its own investigation, and Rishi Sunak refused to say if he told his aide Craig Williams of the election date, citing the integrity of the inquiry process.

  2. Reform | A Reform candidate has been dropped after it emerged that he had been on a list of members of the British National party (BNP) in 2009. The party withdrew its support for Raymond Saint after the connection was brought to its attention by the Guardian, and accused Saint of failing to declare his BNP membership.

  3. Party funding | The number of people dragged into paying income tax has leapt by an estimated 4.4 million in three years because of the government’s freeze on thresholds, official data shows. The figures show that a continuing freeze on income tax thresholds, called a stealth tax by some, has pulled an extra 1.77 million pensioners into the income tax bracket.

Analysis: ‘People have got bigger things to worry about’

One noticeable feature of last night’s bad-tempered debate was how both leaders chose to focus their closing statements – and where what seemed like their most passionate pitch to the public could be found. Sunak began by saying that he understood why people were frustrated with him and his party, before saying: “If you are not certain about Labour, don’t surrender to them. Don’t vote for any other party, vote Conservative.” Starmer, for his part, repeatedly said that if voters want change, “you have to vote for it”. Both men, in other words, were more concerned with the risks of apathy or protest votes than of persuading the undecided.

Partly, that’s a function of where we are in the campaign: with a week to go, getting your own side to turn out becomes a more effective use of resources than finding new support from the middle. But the need to do so looks especially acute this time around.

Most of the candidates’ interactions with voters have featured a certain amount of bad-tempered abuse, like audience member Robert Blackstock, who asked last night: “Are you two really the best we’ve got?” And in Hull East, Daniel Boffey heard from voters whose disenchantment with the political process matches roughly what reporters and pollsters have been hearing across the country. Sue Hurst, 78, said: “They tell you what they think you want to know – they treat us as stupid. You are born in hope and die in despair.” (That’s not even the best quote from Dan’s piece – you’ll find that in a special section of its own below.)

Members of the public treating the campaign period as an opportunity to have a go at the ruling class is nothing new, and these kinds of anecdotes don’t necessarily mean that it’s gotten worse. But there are factors around this election that seem to suggest an especially acute version of this. Prof Sir John Curtice gave the Independent a pithy summary:

Two conditions are in place that suggest a low turnout. First the large poll lead so it looks as though it’s obvious what is going to happen. Second, there are only small differences between the two largest parties so it doesn’t matter much who wins anyway. To that we can add the fact that none of the main party leaders is popular or charismatic, which is why Farage can make waves.”

More in Common asked people how their friends and family feel about the election – on the basis that most of us overrate our own level of political engagement when we are asked about it. In response, 41% said that their loved ones were more disillusioned this time around than previously; only a quarter said they thought the election could make a meaningful difference to the country.

As you might expect, all this looks most damaging for the Conservatives. In this piece, Paula Surridge notes that only two-thirds of 2019 Conservative voters are certain to vote at this election, against 78% of 2019 Labour supporters and 72% of those who backed Lib Dems.

But Labour are worried about it, too – or at least saying they are worried to keep rank and file members on their toes, and knocking doors. A memo to candidates sent by campaign chief Pat McFadden, reported by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg at the weekend, said that up to a quarter of voters are yet to make up their minds.

In truth, even if that figure is right, they would have to break for the Tories in unprecedented numbers to close the gap. But Sunak’s favourite play of last night – beseeching voters not to “surrender” to Labour, a tactic repeated in a fairly reprehensible ad published this morning (see Andrew Sparrow below) – suggests that the Tories hope they can gain more ground by scaring those flirting with Reform back into line. An unacknowledged byproduct is that messages of Tory doomerism may lead some Starmer supporters to conclude that they needn’t bother to show up.

Even so, Labour keeps its vision deliberately constrained. The view from the Starmer camp is that the mood of disenchantment is precisely because of the big and broken promises of the Brexit era, and that the fulfilment of a more modest offer is the only way to win back public trust.

There may be some truth to this – but it’s hard to pick apart without a counterfactual. A party with a bit more faith in the electorate’s imagination, after all, might have found itself on the brink of office with some actual goodwill, and a mandate for more than the most incremental kind of change.

We’ll never know. As local MP Karl Turner told Daniel Boffey: “I think the big problem is if you’re in a low-wage economy, then people have got bigger things to worry about: paying the rents, paying the mortgages, looking after the family, feeding the kids. Going along to the polling station hardly matters.”

What’s at stake

In New Forest West, Sir Desmond Swayne has one of the very safest Conservative seats in the country – and, although Swayne says he expects this to be the closest race he has contested in eight elections, most local voters tell Emily Dugan that they have no desire for a change. Betty Granger, 97, has her fingers crossed for a Tory win as she drinks tea at the New Milton Conservative Club: “I can’t think what anybody else would’ve done better,” she says of their record, and argues that the Conservatives are “the most sensible of the lot. Never has life been so good as when they’re in.”

In the port town of Lymington, Emily visits the marina:

At the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, John Macnamara, 76, is enjoying a glass of chilled white wine on the terrace. The retired oil and gas manager has already cast his postal vote so he can take his “beautiful” 33-foot sloop across the Channel to France, once the wind picks up.

Low taxes are a priority and he has a 100% record of voting Conservative. He thinks “They haven’t done much to cover themselves in glory” this time – but he voted for them anyway. “Anyone very rich campaigning for Labour, there’s something wrong there,” he says.

Winners of the day

Connoisseurs of hyperbole, after the Daily Telegraph’s Allister Heath – never shy of expressing his anguish at the state of the nation – outmatched even pieces about “Starmer’s sinister plan” and “1,000 hours to save Britain” with his latest: “Armageddon is upon us, and Britain will never be the same again”. “There are signs that Starmer understands the dangers of a drastic Left-wards tilt,” he notes a bit lower down, a fairly unusual thing to say of someone you accuse of precipitating the apocalypse.

Losers of the day

Ravenous guard dogs in battleground seats, as canvassers wary of losing a finger in the line of duty hit on the ingenious precaution of using a spatula to poke leaflets through the letterbox. From the Observer’s Michael Savage.

Did the Lib Dems do this on purpose of the day

What is Ed Davey up to here, as @swedleypops so reasonably asks, and was it broadcast before the watershed? The still doesn’t really do it justice, but in fact, it’s CPR. (And here’s how to do it.)

Quote of the day

Margaret: they’re taxing non-doms, not condoms.” A swing voter clears up a source of confusion to his partner after a Labour campaign visit in Hull East. Read more in Daniel Boffey’s piece.

Number of the day

***

£8,000

Conservative candidate Sir Philip Davies’ bet against himself in Shipley, West Yorkshire, according to the Sun. (The Electoral Calculus website currently gives him a 6% chance.) Davies said in response: “What’s it got to do with you whether I did or didn’t?”

Dubious photo potter-tunities of the day

Easily the weirdest thing to happen during the campaign yet. WHY ARE THEY ALL DOING POTTERY ON THE SAME DAY? Does this count as some sort of throwdown? What is so uproariously funny about ceramics?

Andrew Sparrow explains it all

The pick of the posts from the king of the live blogs

11.17 BST | According to the BBC transcript, Rishi Sunak used the word “surrender” 17 times during last night’s debate. Mostly it was in connection to borders and tax policy … Today, in an advert on social media, Sunak has returned to the theme.

The slogan “Don’t surrender your family’s future to Labour” could be seen as either sinister, or silly (or perhaps both). The picture in this advert presents Labour as an invading army, terrorising families at gunpoint. Presumably Rishi Sunak does not really think of the opposition like this, and so it is just a metaphor – exaggerated, for effect. But it seems intended to resonate with people of a certain generation whose mental furniture has not moved much since 1945.

The slogan also recalls Boris Johnson’s decision to label the bill intended to rule out a no-deal Brexit as a “Surrender Act”, which was provocative because it demonised remain-voting MPs at a time when some of them were getting death threats.

Follow Andrew Sparrow’s politics live blog every day here

Read more

Listen to this

Today in Focus | Returning to Leigh: can Labour rebuild the ‘red wall’?

The Greater Manchester town was a Labour stronghold before 2019. Will it be once again? Helen Pidd reports

What’s on the grid

Tonight, 8pm | Andrew Mitchell, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Flynn and Layla Moran appear on BBC Question Time in Birmingham.

Tonight, 8.30pm | Keir Starmer appears in the latest of ITV’s The Leader interviews.

Tomorrow, 7.30pm | Ed Davey appears in the latest of BBC Panorama’s party leader interviews.

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