A few months ago, it seemed unthinkable that our government could get more scandalous. From Dominic Cummings’ impromptu visit to Barnard Castle, to the A level grades fiasco, it was farcical to imagine it could get any worse – how naïve we were. Faster than you can throw on a snapback and a choker necklace, we have been launched back into 1990s style Tory Sleaze.
When images of Matt Hancock’s extra-marital affair with his university friend and aide Gina Coladangelo were released by the Sun on the 25th of June, some heckled the Health Secretary for breaking the very coronavirus rules he put into place. Outrage seemingly cut across party lines with Tory Councillor Ian Houlder demanding the ‘selfish and egotistical man’ to resign.
Meanwhile, others felt a sense of nostalgia.
Perhaps it was the parallels drawn to David Mellor, the former National Heritage Secretaries affair with actress Antonia De Sancha. Alternatively, it could remind the public of Conservative MP Gary Waller fathering a child with the secretary of another MP. Or, maybe Steven Norris’ five highly-publicised flings. The nature of these stories clearly mirror that of the scandals occurring in 2021.
Regardless, this blast from the past will inevitably have an impact on the political landscape. All evidence points to these scandals culminating into a rise of theatrical politics reminiscent of the 1990s. And, true to this revival, smear campaigns and adversarial politics could come back into fashion – may we see the return of ‘New Labour, New Danger’-type propaganda?
We are already seeing a return of 90s rhetoric, with both key parties using pre-crafted catchphrases to illustrate their points. Whilst a rule of three seems to be Boris Johnson's go-to literary device, with Covid-19 advice such as ‘Hands, Face, Space’, Keir Starmer also seems to be picking up on his lingo. ‘Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze’ was his response to the Cash-for-curtains debacle, perfectly mimicking Blair branding John Major as ‘weak, weak, weak’ in 1997.
Don’t we want our opposition to provide real scrutiny, rather than being forced to play the Executives word games?
We could question whether this flowery language has provided an all-too convenient distraction from the government's fatal mistakes. With the death toll coming in at 120,000+, it is possible that these attempts at humour are a calculated cover up tactic.
Ultimately, with the rise of social media, this increasing use of witty word play and rules of three threatens our democracy. Being able to share short sound bites in a single click means simplified statements can reach many in seconds, turning valence and complex political issues into tools for “clicktivists” to stir controversy and encourage adversarial politics rather than genuine debate.
Whilst this divisive use of rhetoric is not new, its soaring prevalence is a clear and concerning consequence of Tory sleaze – with affairs stacking up, how quickly will our politics regress back into an age of slander, scandals and strife?