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Shooting oneself in the foot

Simon Campion-Brown tunes in

Yesterday I deliberately sat down to watch BBC2’s Daily Politics show, hosted by Andrew Neil. His first guest guests were James Delingpole of The Spectator and Daily Telegraph and wunderkind left-wing commentator Owen Jones, currently of The Guardian.

One of the first topics of the day was the subject of the Labour Party’s current party election campaign for the EU Parliament election on 22nd May. I had previously seen neither the ‘the Tory peas have put  your VAT up by £450’ poster, nor the infamous 1950s B-movie style ‘Incredible shrinking Nick Clegg’ video – in case you haven’t either (and assuming I’ve got my technology to work), both should be displayed somewhere in the vicinity of this article for your delectation.

The poster referred to contained the basic, and one would have thought entirely avoidable, error that – whilst under the Coalition government VAT may indeed have risen by £450 per person – the bulk of the ‘everyday’ items featured in the poster do not actually attract VAT in the first place.

A schoolboy error, you might think, given the decades’ worth of political savvy available amongst the ‘hardworking’ diehard researchers and strategists residing at Labour HQ (now, of course, aided by US election guru David Axelrod who won things for Obama).

In my view, my paragraph above contains the key to what Owen Jones described during the Daily Politics programme yesterday as an undoubted ‘cock-up’.

When you actually think about it, not even a group of over-excited and over-enthusiastic 14 year-olds combining together to make their first election poster, or indeed school magazine, would be likely to make this sort of howler.

But then that’s my point.

When you’re addressing matters to do with the ‘political class’ and/or those wallowing in the Westminster ‘bubble’ – for all their first class politics degrees and years in think-tanks, ‘wonk’, strategy and electioneering committees – far too often you’re dealing with people who know virtually diddly-squat about the real world.

It goes without saying that they’re idealistic, keen to make a difference, ambitious to make the world a better place … but then so is my pet dog.

They come straight out of university into a heady cess-pit of political/sexual intrigue, gossip and supposed power, eager to play the game, ‘score points’ and climb the greasy pole of ‘success’. It’s an intoxicating mix, of course, but one drenched in immaturity – even in those thirty years older. Thus the cock-ups happen.

Then we come to the Labour Party election broadcast.


My point here is less to do with the theme that the vital thing with campaign initiatives, even the negative ones, is that the underlying message has to be positive. Full-on ‘knocking’ copy is best used sparingly or not at all. That’s the fundamental flaw with some of the loonier political viewpoints and parties – they don’t ‘get’ this, which is why (usually) they never get anywhere in the real world of political advances and power.

One of the surest indicators that, with this video, the Labour Party schemers had completely lost the plot is in the strapline ‘Hardworking Britain Better Off’.

Hardworking Britain Better Off?!?!?

What on earth is that supposed to mean, or convey?

I could be shooting wide of the mark here – and I’m no Tory – but my bet is that those inside Tory election HQ are currently cock-a-hoop and breaking out the champagne and canapés. I know that, if I was them, I would be.

Firstly, because a whole raft of viewers – dare I suggest it, those of a Labour persuasion as well as any other – would have been turned off by such a crass and childish piece of work. It would have reinforced the already-held conviction of Tory voters that Labour really cannot be trusted to run the country and indeed may well have frightened some Labour voters as well.

One of its problems was that, compared to the many tens of light-entertainment television sketch shows we have been subjected to over the years, it wasn’t even funny … despite James Delingpole’s surprising comment on the Daily Politics show that he found it excessively so.

Secondly, the notion that all Tories are wealthy toffs who know and care nothing about ordinary people is hardly a novel idea. It’s been the bedrock of Labour and/or left-wing folklore for most of the last 100 years. So, in a sense, why bother to waste a four-minute video relentlessly driving that message home? You’re preaching to the converted anyway and (from a Tory perspective) who cares if your traditional enemy are having their stereotypical prejudices reinforced, they were never going to vote for you anyway.

Yet the Hardworking Better Off strapline is not only incomprehensible but, arguably, actually counter-productive for Labour.

Hitherto, although all parties champion the plight of ‘hardworking families’ (ironically this even applies when they’re referring to those who are unemployed and/or on benefits) the Tories have had proprietorial rights over the notion that those in work should not be worse off than those plugged into the supposedly ‘generous’ welfare system instigated by the last Labour government.

In short, the Tories have been attempting to advance the policy that those who work hard and make the effort to better themselves should be rewarded over those who do not, or indeed cannot.

In that context, Labour’s new Hardworking Better Off line appears to be supporting the Tories’ thrust and not – as presumably Labour’s political campaigners were intending – the cause of those ‘hardworking families’ who are not in work and/or may indeed become worse off under the welfare reforms that Coalition’s secretary of state for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan-Smith is currently attempting to implement.

I’m saying that because presumably – in theory, even should the Tories win the 2015 General Election – hardworking families will be better off.

And so, taking logic to its conclusion, in this election video Labour is effectively saying that – whether they or the Tories win in 2015 – they agree with that statement.

So that’s all right, then …

[You may have noticed that in this piece I have made no reference to Nick Clegg and/or the Liberal Democrats’ part in the Coalition government. That’s a deliberate decision, based upon their likely relevance to anything going forward from May 2014.]


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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts