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I remember a video being passed around at university, one from the early 1970s: black and white, with a government-stamped seal of approval. The host, a balding man with NHS-prescription lenses, dressed in severe tweed, sharing a Very Serious Message from the end of his Very Disapproving nose: “Narcotics,” he said, in clipped RP, “kill.”
These public health scare videos were hysterically funny, of course (though they weren’t meant to be) and have since become immortalised by comedians who revel in apeing their austere atmosphere and staccato tones – think Alan Partridge, think Chris Morris – and so they have enduring appeal.
Why? Well, they’re good because they are so, so bad – so cringey, so awfully contrived, so forced; the person reading the lines as if on autocue (though autocue had probably not even been invented yet) devoid of all emotion or charisma. Wooden, stiff, anally retentive. Which brings me to Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party leadership video.
“Let me tell you a story,” Sunak gurns gormlessly from the start, his wide smile and casual white shirt – open at the neck, never a tie, because the Tories are different now, they’ve swapped suits for slacks – his smile managing to be both vacant and slightly sinister, like a sort of nightmarish version of Tom Hardy on CBeebies.
“...about a young woman, almost a lifetime ago, who boarded a plane – armed with hope for a better life and a love of her family.” Okay – that bit is fine, I’ll say begrudgingly, but then Sunak goes into proper robot mode (and he has an unfortunate habit of pausing for breath every three words, so forgive my commas): “This young woman, came to Britain, where she managed to find a job, but it took her nearly a year to save enough money for her husband and children to follow her. One of those children was my mother, aged 15.”
The story itself is bland but sweet – about his mum becoming a pharmacist and meeting his dad, an NHS GP, and the family settling in Southampton... (are you still awake? Just? Bear with me) but then Sunak grinds it up a gear; really plays on our heart-strings thanks to some dramatic piano backing music that sounds like that moment in The X Factor where you find out that someone has been tragically depressed until the day they were offered the chance to get shouted at in public by Simon Cowell; when you discover that their whole life has led to this very moment, that they exclusively dreamed of one day – one day – meeting Dermot O’Leary.
That’s Sunak, he’s the Michael McIntyre of the Tory Party, you see – the “tells a joke then grins about it, but you smile because you feel a bit sorry for him” guy at a party, the dad who wraps a fake poo up as a present at Christmas.
“Their story didn’t end there,” Sunak says (sorry, but yes, I am still watching all of the 2 minute 52 seconds of the video, though I agree it feels like life is dangerously slipping by, that we’re experiencing in real time together the obliteration of the decades) – “but that is where my story began.” And he tries, he tries to get excited, bless him. He tries.
“Family is everything to me,” Sunak boasts – and look at him, now he means it! Why else would he share snaps of himself as a child, like the awful one your mum still has on her fridge of you where you were seven, when you were in full feather boa and two-sizes-too-big stiletto mode, and she points it out to everyone who visits, even though you are now 41?
There’s little geeky Sunak with his siblings, Sunak on holiday – honestly, this happened to me once when I went to the house of a (now ex) boyfriend for the first time, and his gushing mum took me through the family albums for what felt like days and was definitely hours. Don’t do this to us, Sunak. Nobody wants to see people’s old photographs; that trick only works if you’re desperately in love with someone but are in the honeymoon phase where you literally can’t get enough of them, when you want to know everything about them and do everything together. Save that for Sajid Javid.
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He then shares footage taken in the House of Commons while the piano starts tripping over itself with emotion, but in between the VERY SERIOUS SHOTS of Sunak looking sternly at things (an aside: does anyone remember the blog, “local councillors pointing at potholes”? Because Sunak’s video is giving me vibes) we see the Many Sides Of Rishi Sunak: Sunak in a hoody, Sunak in a mask, Sunak on a train, Sunak with a clipboard, Sunak saying the word “fairytales” with a saucy little arm raise.
“Someone has to grip this moment”... sorry, I tuned off for a moment and didn’t realise Sunak was getting sexy! Phew – his values are non-negotiable, he’s saying now – I bet they are Rishi, you naughty boy – while he’s holding a brick and looking at a bald man next to a river, and there’s something about how well he did during the pandemic (eyes on that), and he’s pulling a rope for some reason and doing an elbow bump – wait! Two elbow bumps! – and talking about something that matters a lot, apparently it “matters most”, but I don’t know what it is because he lost me right at the start with that lol about telling me a story.
“Ready for Rishi”, the slogan reads as the music fades and we all wipe away a little tear. Ready for Rishi indeed. Are we ever. One thing’s for sure, we won’t forget the video.