The Worst Election Campaign Ever?

When Theresa May announced her cabinet last July, I remember thinking how it seemed redolent of John Major’s cabinet: incompetent, crooked and potentially sleazy. Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary? You’re having a laugh! The disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox as Brexit Secretary? What have you been smoking?  Priti Patel as International Development Secretary after she said how she wanted to see the department abolished? Did I fall asleep and wake up in Bizarro World?

Last week, a friend and I were chatting about the election when he said to me “I think the Tories are trying to throw the election”. “Really?”, I asked. “I wouldn’t credit them with that much intelligence”. To be sure, May’s Tories are an arrogant bunch but brainy? I don’t think so.

When May called the election a few weeks back, it reminded me of Ted Heath’s petulant ‘Who Governs Britain’ snap election campaign in 1974. Heath, whose own government was pretty incompetent, went to the country confident of a massive victory. He lost. Like May, Heath’s campaign was run along narrow lines. For Heath, it was about his macho image and facing down the National Union of Mineworkers. For May, it’s apparently about getting a mandate for the Brexit negotiations. Something she already got when Article 50 was passed by the Commons. The Cat thinks the negotiations should be conducted by representatives from all the parliamentary parties and the party in government, but that’s a subject for another blog.

Few people can be in any doubt as to how shambolically the Tory election campaign has been run. From the day she called the election to the launch of the manifesto and now the sudden and apparent volte face over the what’s  been dubbed the Dementia Tax, the Tory campaign has been a disaster. Not even the exceptionally dull ‘Strong and Stable’ slogan can mask the evident ineptitude with which the campaign has been conducted.

Compare Corbyn’s campaign to that of May. Corbyn is happy pressing the flesh, having selfies taken with people and holding babies. When May’s been exposed to the public, she looks uncomfortable. She’s not a people person.  I mean, when did you last see her having a selfie taken with one of her followers? May’s appearances around the country have been highly stage-managed and local reporters have been locked away from the main event, while specially selected journalists are permitted to ask Chairman May vetted questions.

What about that manifesto? Oh, the manifesto. Didn’t that seem as though it was thrown together at the last minute? When Labour launched their manifesto last Tuesday it was met with the predictable sneers and swipes. All of our favourite clichés were summoned up: “it doesn’t add up”, “Labour is the party of high taxation”, that sort of thing. But Labour’s manifesto pledges of the renationalization of key infrastructure, the abolition of university tuition fees and general decency – all of them popular –  put the weak and unstable Tories into a spin. The day following Labour’s manifesto launch, the Tories arranged a hasty press conference where they ‘warned’ (sic) of the ‘dangers’ of electing Jeremy Corbyn (not the Labour Party).  It was panicky and, frankly, the whole spectacle was rather comical. The dismal May and her equally dismal sidekick, Philip Hammond, trotted out their stock of anti-Labour tropes. “There’s a black hole in Labour’s manifesto” claimed Hammond. Actually, Phil, the black hole is in your mind.

Yesterday’s campaign posters today!

There’s a vacuum at the heart of Tory thinking and, at times, it’s felt as though the Tories have recycled the 1992, 2010 and 2015 General Election campaigns and simply pressed them together in the hope that no one would notice. Themes from each of those campaigns have made an appearance in this campaign: the tax bombshell, the bold claims of being ‘economically competent’ and the ‘coalition of chaos’ have all been dusted down, patched up and sent out to fight the enemy once more. But this is a combatant that should be seeing out its last days in a retirement home  instead of being ordered to fight again.  Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor, the Tories’ apparent election masterminds, have clearly lost their touch.  Maybe they should employ someone like, say, John McTernan instead? He couldn’t do any worse, then again…

I can’t remember when a manifesto u-turn has happened in the middle of a General Election. Surely this is a first?

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How Much Will It Cost? (Revisited)

The questions of “how much will it cost?” or “How will you pay for it?” are always posed by the media’s journalists to the planned spending proposals of Labour and all the other parties, bar the Tories. That the Tories have dominated the economic discourse since the 1980s cannot be denied.  Indeed, political journalists have accepted the economic orthodoxy uncritically in the decades that have followed and there are, in my mind, two reasons why they do this. First, they’re not economists and second, they’re lazy. Even the economics editors of the major news organizations tend to be drawn from the Thatcherite School of Household Management Economics, and will base their analyses and their questions on its flawed logic.

Now, I’m not an economist but my instincts regarding national finances are correct: household analogies are nonsense and journalists who repeat them are foolish. The reductivist economic dogma of the Tories and UKIP has dragged this country into recessions (there were three during the Thatcher years) and have forced people into ever greater poverty, while the rich have seen a manifold increase in their incomes.

In an article by Richard Murphy of Tax Research (two days after my piece), he puts to bed the myths that have passed for economic competence and credibility for over 30 years.  He opens by saying:

The most dangerous question in political debate in the UK is the one always rolled out by every journalist, on air or in other media, which is to ask a politician ‘How are you going to pay for it?’ where ‘it’ is whatever the politicians has just proposed to do.

He then provides three reasons why this question is a dangerous one and provides handy replies to the clueless hacks who insist on asking the question.

You can read the rest here.

All governments borrow and spend money. That’s how national finances work. In seven years, the Tories have racked up more debt than the previous Labour government did in 13 years. Moreover, Labour has a better record of paying off debt. In 1976, the Wilson government was forced to take out a loan from the International Monetary Fund to pay for the Sterling Crisis, which was caused by the Heath government’s economic mismanagement. It was paid off by 1979. Thatcher’s Tories continued to use the IMF loan as a stick to beat the Labour Party even though the loan had been repaid. Yet Kinnock refused to counter these lies. Finally, the Corbyn-led party has awakened to the need to counter the Tories’ myths and lies about the national economy and borrowing/spending. And about time too.

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Tory Election Fraud: No Charges

Few people can be surprised that the CPS will not be prosecuting Tory MPs and agents for failing to correctly declare their elections expenses.  This is a serious blow for democracy in the United Kingdom, which continues to operate the archaic First Past The Post system to elect its legislators. It is well known that the Conservative Party is awash with money from shadowy donors, who are themselves drawn from the 1%.

The BBC only really started reporting the story in its television and radio news when it appeared certain that no charges were to be brought. Now, one could suggest that this was a non-story and that is the reason the BBC avoided it. However, The Cat would narrow his eyes and say “nonsense”.

The response from the Tories was predictable and shrill. Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative Party chairman claimed  “false and malicious claims” were made about his candidates on the Internet and added:

“After a very thorough investigation, we are pleased that the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed was the case all along, that these Conservative candidates did nothing wrong.

“These were politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time. We are glad that this matter is finally resolved.”

Make no mistake, if  Labour or Green candidates had been accused of falsely declaring their election expenses, the Tories would have made a lot of noise. Hypocrisy much?

Karl McCartney,  the Tory candidate for Lincoln, said:  “This whole saga amounts to no more than a politically-motivated witch-hunt.” You clearly don’t know what a witch hunt is, Karl.

Jeremy Corbyn told BBC: “I am interested and surprised by it. We will have to look at the details.”

One case, that of Craig McKinlay in Thanet South, remains in the hands of the CPS. There could still be prosecutions.

Democracy is for sale.

EDITED TO ADD; 10/5/17 @ 1612

Tory Party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, has threatened to sue anyone on the Internet, who he claims have made:

“A number of false and malicious claims continue to be spread on the internet. People should be aware that making false claims about a candidate’s personal character and conduct is an electoral offence, as well as being defamatory.”

Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads was forthright:

The Tories are bullies (qv. Lucy Allan, Mark Clarke, Grant Shapps et al) and will threaten anyone that speaks up with the courts. Why? Because they have the money and money talks. The legal system doesn’t work for the majority; it works for those that have the money, power and influence.

To McLoughlin, I’ll say this: come and get me.

 

 

 

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BBC Complaint

The BBC must think we’re all as stupid as their journalists. I recently complained about a puff piece that Newsnight ran on Theresa May a couple of weeks ago, and Laura Kuenssberg’s appallingly biased Tweet. Naturally, the BBC saw nothing wrong with either of them. Here’s their reply to me:

Dear Mr Hell

Reference CAS-4338575-LYC8NX

Thank you for contacting us about BBC News output.

I understand you feel a recent interview with Theresa May in ‘Newsnight’ amounted to a ‘puff piece’ and Laura Kuenssberg’s post on social media regarding Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigning in Scotland and the Prime Minister’s absence in comparison displayed bias against Mr Corbyn.

We were naturally concerned to learn of your unhappiness but we’d explain that all BBC correspondents, reporters, presenters and editors are very well aware of our key commitment to impartial reporting at all times.

All staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our viewers, listeners and web users to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News and the BBC Board keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.

We always strive to be robust and consistent in our dealings with politicians and figures of public interest. The interviewer’s role is to put the questions that audience members want to know the answers to.

Our journalists seek to hold politicians and public figures to account by asking them pressing questions on a variety of topics, however the nature and tone of these questions may well be different depending on the programme or juncture the interview is broadcast on.

As the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura can’t publish ‘personal’ views on politics. Her role instead brings a professional and informed insight to events, based on her specialist knowledge and experience in the field.

This tweet conveyed the contrast in the two leaders, reflecting the tactics and mindsets in each party’s campaign. Laura was making the point that because of the conflicting positions on Trident within the Labour party, the Conservatives had made a conscious decision not to engage on the issue at that time. Senior staff are engaged in making sure that all BBC News output, including social media, is in line with our editorial guidelines.

Please be assured we do value your feedback about the points raised. All complaints are sent to senior management and in this case the BBC News team every morning, and I included your points in our overnight report of audience feedback.

These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.

Thank you again for contacting us.

Kind regards

Nicholas Bannon

BBC Complaints Team

First, I put it to the BBC that if they were going to run a puff piece on May, were they going to do that same for the other party leaders. The silence, as this reply illustrates, is deafening.

As for Her Ladyship’s tweet, you will notice how Mr Bannon swats away my complaint by telling me she (Kuenssberg) “can’t publish ‘personal’ views on politics”. Oh? So why did she take to Twitter to air them? She certainly wasn’t doing that in a personal capacity.

The BBC’s claims to “impartiality” don’t stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, Mr Bannon’s reply to me amounts to little more than gaslighting.

I will be escalating my complaint to Ofcom.

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That’s My Club!

I love this story. Tomorrow, the Kop will unveil a massive banner of Jeremy Corbyn. Yesterday, the BBC’s Six O’Clock News told us that support for Corbyn’s Labour Party was “crumbling” in the newly-created Liverpool City Region.  I kid you not.

Come on, you Blues and Whites (Tranmere), let’s see yours!

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn may have had a tricky week – but he is set to play a starring role atAnfield tomorrow.

A special banner will be unveiled on the Kop for the Reds’ lunchtime clash with Southampton in recognition of Labour’s success in this week’s Liverpool Metro Mayor election.

The banner depicts the Labour leader as well as his shadow chancellor John McDonnell and also shows support for the Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

In a message to Labour supporters and working class voters to get behind the party, the flag includes the slogan: “What unites us is greater than what divides us”.

You can read the rest of the story here.

 

 

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The Tories, Time And Selective Memory

Many of you will know the phrase ‘The victors write history’, some of you may know Marx’s famous line from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”. We live at a period in time in which lies have become the new truth and history itself is being rewritten before our very eyes. The revised version of history, which has been constructed to serve the interests of Britain’s socio-economic orthodoxy, is simultaneously tragic and farcical. Tragic because the historical revisionism that we now find ourselves watching can only end badly. Farcical, because the historical claims made by commentators, politicians and armchair pundits are easily challenged if you make the effort.

Yesterday as I was watching the impartial coverage of the local election results on the BBC, I noticed how commentators and politicians alike kept referring to the 1980s.  Indeed, since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, the media can’t help but refer to the Eighties. Peter Kellner of YouGov, for example, reminded John McDonnell that Labour’s losses, in what are traditionally Tory heartlands, was reminiscent (for him and those like him) of the Local and General Elections of 1983.

Naturally, Kellner couldn’t resist summoning up the ghost of the much maligned Michael Foot. But McDonnell snapped back that perhaps 1974 was a better reference point than 1983.  Kellner grudgingly conceded but appeared to stick to his original position. So what is this obsession with the 1980s? Well, as someone who lived through that decade, I can tell you that the public memory of that decade is faulty both in terms of history and the wilful mischaracterization of Foot as some radical left-winger. This is a recent historical revision of the 1980s and it must be challenged.

In this previous blog, I pointed out that May’s calling of a snap election was actually more redolent of 1974 and Edward Heath’s “Who Governs Britain?” and not the 1980s. The Tories and, seemingly, the media would rather you didn’t remember what happened in 1974.  They would prefer that you remembered the decade’s specially selected highlights: the power cuts, the three day week and the mythical ‘Winter of Discontent’ (coined by The S*n).

So why don’t they want you to know what actually happened in the 1970s?  Is it because Heath’s government was pretty inept but also hellbent on smashing the trade unions? Maybe it’s because the Tories and their allies in the media imagine that history only began when Thatcher was elected in May 1979? Are we now living in the Year 38AT (After Thatcher) instead of the (much contested) 2017AD/2017CE?

Many people forget that it was the Heath government, not Wilson or Callaghan, that introduced Value Added Tax and abolished free school milk (overseen by Thatcher). A few weeks ago I had to correct someone when they claimed the three day week took place under Labour.  They even had the gall to conflate it with the ‘Winter of Discontent’.  Where do historical revisionisms like this come from? Who is responsible for producing these lies? It is possible that the media’s opinion formers play their part with the collusion of politicians – especially Tories and right-wing Labour MPs who join in with their game – in the production of these warped narratives? Of course, it is. You only have to look no further than the likes of Hilary Benn and his license with Spanish Civil War history to see it in action.

Since the 1980s, a cult has grown up around the personality of Thatcher and this cult replaced the earlier cult of Churchill. For these cultists, what Thatcher represented is more important than either her personality or her ‘achievements’. She was either ‘The Iron Lady’, ‘The Saviour of the Nation’. Theresa May might have poured herself into Thatcher’s power suits but it’s a bad fit. Thatcher, for her part, was a Churchill cultist (she also belonged to the Powell cult) and channelled his spirit during the Miners’ Strike and her final days in power. It helped to finish her off.

Adam Curtis’s series The Living Dead examines the way in which politicians will use history to suit their objectives – with disastrous consequences.  Below is an episode from the series, titled ‘The Attic’, which looks at Thatcher’s adoption of the Churchillian mantle as a means to appear tough and in control.

History is a contested space in which each of us writes our histories every day.  We write about our own lives and our interactions with others when we tell colleagues and acquaintances what we did yesterday or the day before.  The word ‘write’ is important here: the French word for story is histoire, which also happens to be the same word for ‘history’. That tells us that history is a narrative and is subject to, and a product of, an individual’s or a group’s ideology. Events on their own don’t make history, they need a backstory to make sense. If you can add some lies, then you have a full blown propagandized narrative that blinds people to the truth about their own pasts.

So what about Michael Foot? Wasn’t he some crazed hard left loon? Well, no he wasn’t. He was considered rather soft left; a ‘safe pair of hands’; the compromise candidate. Sure he was a member of CND and a unilateralist, but they were pretty common in the Labour Party in the days before the Thatcher’s cultural Year Zero (0AT).

So, whatever anyone tells you: this is not 1983, 1987 or even 1974. The year is 2017 and future cannot be divined by poring over past events and summoning up their spirits. If you want your fortune told, there are plenty of seaside mystics and other ‘scryers’ out there who will take your money. But don’t waste my time with your cod second sight baloney.

Reference

Marx, K. (nd.) The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. Marxist Internet Archive. Available at: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/18th-Brumaire.pdf . Accessed 6/5/2017

 

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The UK, The European Union And The Golf Club Analogy

Historically speaking, Britain has been the European Union’s worst member. It constantly demanded special treatment and blamed almost everything it could on the institution.  Now it’s leaving.  In one sense, Britain’s relationship with the EU can be likened to its joining a swanky golf club and abusing its membership privileges.  Below is a short story about that relationship.

For ages,  a man (we’ll call him ‘Tommy’)  wanted to join this really exclusive golf club, but each time he applied, his application was rejected. This happened for 20 years. Then, finally,  Tommy’s allowed to join. So what does he do? First, he celebrates by getting hammered on bottles of  Gold Label barley wine in The Dog and Duck. Then he walks down the road to the club, waves his membership card at the concierge and promptly relieves himself  in the potted plants near the front door. Then as Horst walks past, he shouts “Oi! Jerry! Faaaack off”! [makes lewd gesture]. “Remember the faaaaacking war? I faaaaaacking do”!

Staggering towards the pro shop, Tommy proceeds to fill his pockets with golf balls, tees and whatever else he can stuff into them. “I wish I’d brought a faaaaacking bag for this shit”, Tommy mutters as he grabs a wad of cash from the till. “What are you faaaaaacking looking at, froggy?” he demands, as Jacques looks on disapprovingly.  From there, Tommy, worse for wear, walks into the club’s swanky restaurant and proceeds to take a dump in the middle of the room to gasps of astonishment.  Pulling up his pants, he shouts “I don’t want to be a member of this shit-hole any more. You can all faaaaaack off” and stumbles out of the golf club swearing as he goes down the road. Minutes later, Tommy falls into the gutter dribbling and mumbling something about cancelling his direct debit.

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