The election campaigns as movie plots

Ex No 10 Insider: Corbyn's going for a Lion King remake, while Johnson's doing a Star Wars.

by The Secret Brexiter
Last Updated: 19 Nov 2019

As Yuval Harari argues in Sapiens, history’s victors are very often determined by who tells the best story - hard facts are relatively powerless in the face of a compelling narrative that frames how people see events and who they believe themselves to be. 

Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Dominic Cummings proved themselves master storytellers during the referendum campaign, spinning a silky narrative of bent bananas, Turkish hordes, £350m a week and remote elites that ensured the debate on EU membership was held on their terms.  

Johnson, Corbyn, Sturgeon and Swinson are as we speak trying to do the same in the general election campaign that will likely determine how Brexit pans out. And where better to get inspiration than the global epicentre of big budget storytelling, Hollywood?

Nostalgia has been in the air in movie land over recent years, with a distinct fashion for remakes and for revisiting past glories, and the same seems to be true in the general election.

Labour and The Lion King remake

This year we saw the new "live action" remake of the Lion King. The storyline stays the same as the beloved cartoon version, but has been brought up to date with cutting edge special effects technology. 

For Labour, you can replace Mufasa with Clem Atlee. Corbyn is trying to recapture the magic of the 1945 Labour government, which created the welfare state and the NHS on the back of the earlier Beveridge Report. 

It was no mean feat to beat Winston Churchill in the polls, but Labour was backed by a literal army of returning soldiers and a long-smouldering discontent that the land fit for heroes promised in 1918 never came to pass. It allowed a radical, almost revolutionary change to British society.

Like the new Lion King’s director, Corbyn is sticking to the blueprint as faithfully as he can - to tackle what he sees as the root causes of discontent in our society, unfairness and inequality - while giving it a modern makeover focusing on digital technology as a progressive means of generating societal value. Hence the announcement on nationalised free broadband. It’s a plan to remind people what they have lost and in a more modern way give it back to them.   

Boris Johnson’s Star Wars romp

The Tories have also borrowed from the Disney playbook. This December will witness the ninth and, we are told, final instalment of the Star Wars series, The Rise of Skywalker. 

If the previous effort by director JJ Abrams - The Force Awakens - is anything to go by, we can expect the film to carefully revisit, recreate and recast what has gone before in a familiar plot with some new heroes and some old, in a fast paced romp with lots of bright lights and intergalactic car chases.

So too Boris Johnson’s electoral strategy - a bit of free market Thatcherism here, some one nation Disraeli there, a few roguish characters, a spot of throwback (in Johnson’s case, quite consciously to Churchill) and a tonne of optimism, and hey presto, you have a campaign, light on numbers but a lot of fun. 

Get ready for some bad reviews

You could do the same for the other parties: the SNP (yet another director’s cut of Braveheart), the Lib Dems (The Perfect Storm - dramatic unrealism against all the odds), even Change UK (Titanic). But on a serious note, there isn’t much radical reimagining in here - the big campaigns will do well at the box office, but there’ll be no best picture awards.

Frankly, Britain could do with some visionary politics and maybe we will get it once the cloud of Brexit has lifted and we can really debate what type of country we want to live in. Perhaps the manifestos will surprise us, however if the campaign so far is anything to go on, and following May’s catastrophic effort in 2017, it is far more likely that they will be evasively light on detail.  

It could be that we will have to wait for 2024 or after for a more innovative set of proposals, but equally with Labour beginning to rise in the polls, perhaps we will be back voting sooner rather than later. This is the age of sequels, after all. 

Image credit: Leon Neal / Staff via Getty

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