When Liz Truss # 10 asked permission to hire a “special advisor on digital media” – AKA an Instagram guru – she was only the second cabinet minister to indulge in the idea.
The first, of course, was Rishi Sunak, who enlisted social media guru Cass Horowitz over a year ago.
The services are more subtle and strategic than those of a photographer or stylist – not so much âCan we lose the shine on this nose?â B. âShould the nose be pointing up into the future? Or backwards to Britain’s glorious legacy? How about some Doric columns in the background? Can someone lend us a hawk? “
The famous portrait of the Reformation, in which every prop – the lute, the ruff, the pet – mattered, is the template, but the update is a little less cryptic and the message more blunt: not so much “how to suffer” is more ubiquitous Death when the way to salvation is as unclear âasâ Who wants to be prime minister? I do!”
To that end, Truss’s social media feed is like a Richard Scarry book: What Jobs Could a Lady Do? Here she is sitting on an aircraft carrier, inexplicably dressed for a dogfight; here with a hard hat, building a ship. She may have the body of a weak and weak woman, but in this case she has more than adequate head protection. She can prepare for a speech, or hug a calf, pick grapes, or bargain; In short, it can do all the work. If a picture is usually worth a thousand words, here we have a thousand pictures that speak two: choose me.
Rishi Sunak has a similar grandiosity in his basic assumption that everything he does is inherently interesting. He could be sitting on a sofa or pointing at a pen, glazing a cake or taking a drag, petting a dog, or sitting near a dog. The mood is different, not so much âI can turn my hand to everythingâ as âI can be everything to everyoneâ. However, the message is the same: choose me.
If the battle for the next leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore the nation, takes place on Instagram, is there any clue as to what kind of leader each could be? Truss styling is very populist – she looks like a cross between Emma Thompson in Years and Years (the fascist dystopian drama by Russell T Davies) and Marine le Pen (in fascist dystopian life).
What they have in common is not that they are all blonde and highly coiffed – rather the basic colors and dynamic hand gestures. That kind of portrait begs a question: if a nation worships a leader and longs to be led and administered, what image would it choose to use as a screensaver?
Sunak, meanwhile, is working full-time to create an image for himself as a ânormal guy, but betterâ; Imagine a perfectly normal man, just like you, sir, but now give him 10 good fairies so that his wife is richer than the queen and he can have the physical discipline of Achilles, or at least ride the peloton all day .
It’s a pretty subtle calculation he’s made: there’s no point in pretending he’s not rich (although his most recent statement that he and his wife have “no problems” suggests it be preferred way would be), so why not instead see yourself as an aspiring figure, a man gilded by his own consumption choices?
He carefully reduces his luxury to a price a mortal can afford – a Â£ 180 coffee cup or a pair of Â£ 95 plastic shoes, and the question shifts from “Who is this remote and shallow person and what could they possibly be?” Politics to say? “To” Where can I get a pair of these sliders? “
Narratives take time to fit together, and it’s too early to say whether Liz Truss’s message has landed, let alone accepted by a wider public. Right now, she’s benefiting from an endemic media sexism that dictates that every woman is fine as long as she’s smiling and thin.
Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, has met with unprecedented approval; the BBC showed him, apparently without irony, as a cartoon Superman. Sunak has been called the “Disney Prince”, “dishy Rishi”, his style choices brooding in the Times as if he were a Kardashian. The term âcustomer journalismâ is often circulated, but it is not entirely correct; that means “being so dependent on one or two sources that you lose your impartiality”.
The visual pool provided by Sunak and Truss is in no way restricted or exclusive and cannot constitute a âsourceâ. It’s more like âcompletely crazy journalismâ.
There are those who say that putrefaction begins at the top; Downing Street is obsessed with capturing images and employs three photographers. Their salaries are controversial – David Cameron had to put Andrew Parsons on the Conservative Party payroll after being accused of wasting tax dollars – and obscure, but rumor has it that they are accelerating fast enough that the only explanation is that they know where the bodies are buried. A word to the wise, if you were going to bury something, you definitely shouldn’t have taken a snapper.
The result is that national and international events are visually represented through flattering and pre-approved images. So there’s a new smoothness that they hope will remind us more of American politics than North Korean politics.
Rishi and Liz are running a close race; She goes ahead by saying something more substantial about her, and he then pushes himself forward with a nice scarf.
It remains stubborn that their actual fight will be fought in the area of ââparty members, who would prefer to see a guy with an open shirt, accidentally sleeping in an armchair or, ideally, even without photos.