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Borkowski Weekly Media Trends: Tory Party Conference & PGMOL
Conservative's tactics for the next election, Rishi's speech & Akshata Murty's surprise cameo and Liverpool's VAR controversy
News or Noise?
This week’s Tory Party Conference produced headlines and discussions, providing an interesting picture of the UK’s current political climate. Suella Braverman’s combative use of language talking up a “hurricane” of mass migration and declaring that human rights legislation should be called “Criminal Rights Act” indicates that the current discourse has taken an alarming turn, while incidents like hecklers being expelled mid-speeches and Sunak’s expected decision to abort the Manchester leg of HS2 added fuel to the fire.
But amidst the political theatre, the distinction between sensational diary stories and consequential hard news is becoming ever more blurry. Do these incidents hold significant weight and impact beyond political circles, or are they fleeting, soon-to-be-forgotten stories that never punctured the public's consciousness?
Sunak, once known for steering clear of divisive topics, is now embracing the polarising aspects of cultural wars. His statement, “a man is a man and a woman is a woman”, earned him his biggest applause of the night and stormed social media, sparking large swathes of support across TikTok and X.
This strategy, seemingly borne out of necessity as Labour tightens its grip on the polls, underscores Sunak’s and, by extension, the Tory Party’s inclination to venture into contentious territories. Sunak’s approach to embracing rather than avoiding divisive subjects and his more presidential leadership style, marked by grand policy announcements and personal touches like his wife’s ‘surprise’ introduction, signal a tactical shift (more below).
This likely isn’t enough to stop the bleeding judging by last night's bruising by-election, with Labour's victory in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, winning by a mile and a massive swing of 20.4% from the SNP to Labour. But make no mistake - Rishi and the Conservative party have laid their battle plans, which will get ugly.
Mrs Sunak Goes to Manchester
The appearance of Akshata Murty on stage at the Conservative Party Conference, was apparently not only a surprise to those in the room, but also to her husband, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who supposedly had no prior knowledge of the contents of her adoring speech. Whether this cutesy detail is true or not, it does beg the question whether her self-styled “gate crashing” did more to hinder than help.
One does wonder what the thought process was here, following a week of carefully “leaked” policy announcements which meant that not much else said from the big blue stage was a huge surprise. Unnerving perhaps (see Penny Mordaunt’s attempt to prove her oratory skills are on par with her sword wielding), but not shocking.
What was eyebrow raising, was the Conservative Party’s antiquated adherence to the traditionally American trope of fawning first lady. Murty has courted her own share of controversy (many of us had never before heard of “non-dom” status) so why not just stay safely out of the spotlight?
In 2023, is it really necessary for the public to know their leader is a loving husband and father who loves rom coms? And does it not send feminism back several decades to shove someone’s wife up on stage to utter these banalities? One might charitably assume Sunak’s team are trying to create their own Michelle Obama, but it is clear from this speech at least that Murty does not have the gravitas.
PGMOL Under Fire
Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Tottenham on Saturday evening gave them their first loss of the season, but all eyes this week have been on PGMOL, UK football’s official body for referees. A disallowed goal from Liverpool winger Luis Diaz led to Tottenham’s victory, but the goal was incorrectly ruled offside in a head-scratching breakdown of communications between the video assistant referees (VAR) and the on-pitch officials. PGMOL has spent much of the week managing their self-inflicted crisis, including releasing audio of the incident to prove that the mistake was, at least, incompetent rather than intentional.
But the revelation that the VAR team had been officiating in the UAE just 48 hours before raises the spectre of football’s ongoing ethics problem extending to its ostensible gatekeepers. PGMOL, along with the FA, launched a campaign at the beginning of the season to stamp out abuse of match officials, an important cause worthy of attention in a sport where people are too quick to declare that the “game’s gone” at even the slightest hint of a yellow card.
But PGMOL now finds itself faced with an existential question, having to justify that it is fit for purpose. Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s mercurial manager, has argued for a replay. The Premier League’s independent panel found that another of the match’s decisions, the dismissal of Diogo Jota, was incorrect. There is a long history of games that have turned on a referee’s decision, but the sport’s integrity relies on faith in the officials amongst the fans, players and managers alike. After a week where that trust has been further eroded, PGMOL faces an uphill battle for the rest of the season.