With 10 candidates running, and only two days until the first ballot, it is hard to know what to think of all the people who want to be our next prime minister. But their branding, especially at launch events, at least shows what they want us to think.
Matt Hancock (“Let’s move forward”) is a distant outsider, for instance, so he can afford to be cheerful and approachable. Having giggled with Piers Morgan about a caramel waffle he had been caught eating on camera before being interviewed on Good Morning Britain, he added one to each of the goodie bags for those who went to his launch. “I can laugh at myself,” this says. The waffle in question was a distinctively Dutch stroopwafel, showing that Hancock belongs at the friendlier end of the seething Europhobia that all candidates are obliged to feel. By contrast, there was an uncompromising tone in the dark blues and masculine capital letters of the event for Dominic Raab (“For a fairer Britain”), projecting his reputation as a granite Brexiteer from the party’s hard right.
The problem for Michael “Ready to Lead” Gove has always been his failure to excite people – at least until last week, when news of his past fondness for cocaine excited people in the wrong way. His campaign launch reached for a Blairish kind of glamour by handing out gold wristbands and playing upbeat music by Justin Timberlake (“Can’t stop the feeling”), Katy Perry (“I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar”) and – somewhat ironically given the band’s own fondness for the white powder – Fleetwood Mac (“Yesterday’s gone”). Meanwhile, Jeremy “Unite to Win” Hunt felt able to play it safe, and statesmanlike, with a union jack lectern in front of a window.
Needing to be bold in order to get noticed, Mark Harper (“Time for a party where everyone is invited”) stood jacketless in the middle of his audience and promised to answer any question asked of him – a high-risk, high-reward strategy, with the result that he had to say a lion would beat a bear in a fight, “because the lion is symbol of Britain”. Perhaps impressively, perhaps incompetently, Esther McVey’s campaign seems to have no logo, no slogan, no brand of any kind, unless you count a framed photograph of Margaret Thatcher propped on the edge of the lectern. A worrying reminder of who she wants to be, but maybe also of who she isn’t.