Rishi Sunak’s National Service plan validates Labour’s attacks on the Tories as dangerous headbangers that will wreck Britain

by Atul Hatwal

Rishi Sunak’s National Service plan is a trans-dimensional political disaster. Much has been written about it in terms of its questionable rationale and woeful impracticality. Fewer words have been expended about the wider message it sends to the electorate which is where its real legacy will be felt.

Voters don’t process policy proposals, in so far as they cut through to their daily lives, as a discrete set of evaluations, they use them as an indicator in judging the whole. What does policy this say about the people who want my vote?

When political parties strike out into territory outside the mainstream there is risk. Sometimes it’s worth it, when the Westminster consensus is out of kilter with the public (or at least enough of the public), Brexit for example. But for every Brexit there are dozens of disastrous policies that backfired on their authors. The manifestos of Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Foot, William Hague and Michael Howard are replete with them.

Its pretty clear which category the National Service plan falls into. It sends two clear messages to voters.

First, the Conservatives’ priority is evidently not the economy or the cost of living, its forcing young people do community service. Not only is this odd, its quite extreme to focus so much effort and attention on an issue that does not register as a pressing challenge for any demographic, not least when so many are facing rocketing rents and mortgages.

Second, the Conservatives cannot do the basics without it going wrong. The policy was launched but Ministers were sent out on the airwaves to sell it without relevant detail on how it would work – are kids going to get criminal records? Are parents going to be fined? Answers there were none – while some senior Conservatives like Steve Baker have actively condemned it.

For those voters who have noticed it, they will now have a sense that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have different values and priorities and aren’t terribly competent. So when Labour raise the spectre of a Conservative government taking a scythe to the economy, pensions and all that’s good in the world, they will be that bit more inclined to believe them.

Oh, look, here’s an example.

A full page ad from the Mail on Sunday on what will happen to pensions if the Tories get back in.

The National Service plan might have been intended to sway Reform inclined over-65s, and it might speak to a general sense among that demographic of the youth of today not knuckling down, but if the idea takes hold that pensions might be threatened by a Conservative government then it really will be year zero for the Tories.

By positioning himself and his party so far outside of mainstream concerns, Rishi Sunak will likely not only turn-off working age 2019 Conservative voters, he could find he’s inflicted some unforeseen damage on over 65s support for the Conservatives.

I’ve written previously about the last week of the 1997 campaign. Labour had just had a a bit of wobble in the polls and party canvassers were sent out across the country with an incendiary message: tell older voters on the doorstep that the Tories are going to cut pensions. Noone believed that this was likely but it had a material impact on the campaign. The reason the claim was given credence was that the Conservatives, through their conduct and policy focus, had demonstrated themselves to be both extreme and incompetent. Sound familiar?

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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