(Submitted to The Spectator on 12th June 2017)
General Election 2017 — ‘The scrap for the centre ground’
Sir: The shameful scrap for the political centre ground always amazes and annoys me in equal measure — it is shallow and disingenuous. By seeking this, Political Parties are cheapening their message and showing a complete lack of integrity in their pursuit of power. They will ultimately lose all credibility with the public.
If the recent unexpected rise of Corbyn(ism) with his long-standing socialist principles has proved anything, it is that politicians should stand for election based on what they believe and represent. It is surely then up to the voters to either accept or reject that position.
But instead we see Politicians on both sides of the argument trying to work out what is popular and run on that ticket alone. This is pure opportunism and inevitably unravels once the ‘offending party’ is in office once opinion or events change with the social or political mood of the time. Blairites are a perfect example of this — what’s popular is not always what’s right!
In a healthy democracy, the parties should make their best case for their policies to the public, without a need for an ugly scrap for the centre ground. This would also reduce the number of unavoidable ‘U’ turns as politicians discover they cannot deliver.
Seeking the popular vote is damaging to democracy and leads to voter anger and feelings of having been ‘duped’ into casting a vote for a party based on a policy without foundation. With the inescapable scrutiny of social media and a return to two-party politics, this ugly truth will have to be addressed.
The sooner Politicians realize this and campaign on a positive, clear and honest mandate, the better for all of us.
(Submitted to The Spectator on 13th June 2017)
General Election 2017 — ‘A good campaign does not make for good government’
Does running a good election campaign automatically equate to being fit to govern? Does one necessarily follow the other? I think not.
It is generally accepted that the Tories ran a poor campaign with May-botic empty slogans. They failed to use the strongest weapon in their armoury — management of the economy. They did not convince the public in their debates; the one’s where they attended that is. They were also guilty of calling the election for selfish reasons (vanity no less) under the pretence that securing a larger majority would strengthen Theresa May’s hand in any Brexit negotiations.
It is now also acknowledged that the Labour Party ran a good campaign – mobilizing the young vote, convincing people that a vote for their Party represented a vote for change, for hope. There were long compelling speeches, lots of waving and cheering, nice clear soundbites and the finest populist slogans ‘for the many, not the few’ with promises of what Labour will do if (only they were) elected.
But does the ability to run a good campaign mean that the successful party automatically is of the right pedigree to establish an effective government?
There are obviously minimum requirements for any executive body, especially the most important one in the land – the Cabinet – intelligence, articulacy, competency, honesty, transparency as well as being able to make a convincing argument in front of an often hostile audience.
However, campaigning requires different skills, namely an abundance of energy, an effective social media presence, marketing experience, a big shiny red or blue policy booklet and matching bus to go with it. It is one long sales and marketing campaign, without having to deliver on anything at all. Zip. Zilch. Nada!
Yet, none of these skills are required once in office.
We want (and need) our elected leaders to be strategic not tactical, have a vision for the country, play the long game, be tenacious, display considered judgment, be calm under the pressure of world events. Good strong Government requires sanity and calculated decision making, not endless gimmicky ‘buy now, pay later’ slogans.
This distinction seems to be lost on the electorate but is fundamental to decent Government. The two sets of skills are mutually exclusive.
Given the choice, thank goodness we have an awful campaigner as Prime Minister, yet one who is diligent, dedicated, detailed, determined and a (bloody) difficult woman.
(Submitted to The Spectator on 5th June 2017)
General Election 2017 — ‘The Reporting bias of the General Election 2017’
From the first moment the snap General Election was announced and set for 8th June, it was widely reported that a landslide Tory majority was to be expected — no other result was possible. No-one questioned this prediction, the outcome seemingly inevitable.
Within a few days the media, realizing the prospect of four weeks of mundane reporting and the formality of a Tory landslide victory might leave them with little to do or say, went into full discovery mode to try and manufacture a story where originally there was none.
Where would the cutting-edge reporting be if the mainstream media was simply reporting the facts and outcome that everyone expected? Where would the value-add come from? What would the sagacious, political commentary and opinion be about? And more crucially, how would these businesses sell newspapers and maintain their revenue? A General Election is akin to the lucrative Christmas season in the Retail Sector; the World Cup of Politics was happening now and there would be nothing to report. The much needed spotlight and resulting cash injection for these struggling and outdated establishments should be seized, whatever the cost. It was about business survival, the truth can go hang.
And so it began. The dramatization of the election narrative was released onto the unsuspecting Great British Public. The BBC were the worst, or the best, depending on your perspective. Our dear Laura Kuenssburg, the Political Editor at the Beeb, I am afraid has been the most consistent embellisher of the story. Her over dramatic commentary on the goings-on in the election campaign has been bordering on the farcical. Her words coupled with her zoom-in and zoom-out filming of Politicians and shots of the Westminster landscape – The Houses of Parliament coming into focus mid report looking down Whitehall through the black railings outside Downing Street remind me of Top Gear with the original trio, before the ‘punch’. Her filming and commentary on the lonely figure of Theresa May walking into a Party Rally speech and then walking away to get straight into her Ministerial car without stopping and chatting to anyone, or so it would appear on camera, looking aloof, alone and isolated is breath-takingly biased.
The same event format but for The Labour Party, at a Rally with Jeremy Corbyn shown waving and clapping as he approaches the lectern, addressing a whooping crowd and then departing amongst cheering voters and party activists, makes him look popular and a man of the people. The narrative thus becomes ‘Surely the voting must be closer, I mean look at this guy, he is popular, a great speaker, the crowds are cheering’ blah blah etc etc.
They are trying to narrow the gap and pump some excitement into the campaign. Is this in the national interest? Is this to further the career of Laura herself? Or is this simply to add some much needed street-cred into the political arena? It is becoming popular to be interested and involved in Politics, a sort of ultimate reality TV? Whatever it is, it is dangerous, unfair and influencing opinion. The polls narrowing is irrefutable evidence of this. Shame on you BBC for riding this populist wave, shame on you!
On a more serious point, her technique is undermining the issues and detracting from the policy debate and real challenges that the country will face. It is almost impossible to watch the BBC news now, without expecting Laura to close with a hugely dramatic point. Perhaps a stint on local news reporting on pot-holes in the roads across the county, would ground her (pun intended) before she cam back into the mainstream political arena.
Please Laura, stick to good old fashioned British reporting on the tax payer funded and (supposedly) impartial BBC. Report the news, speak the truth, credit the voters with enough intelligence to interpret this for themselves and above all, let them decide, not you.
Similarly, Sky News has been guilty of bias too. The audience at the Leaders Interviews with Jeremy Paxman and Faisal Islam were completely biased towards Labour; the Question Time Special with the Leaders on 2nd June was the same – lots of cheering for JC and polite applause sprinkled with heckling for TM, follows by disgraceful sound-biting on the later flagship 10pm News coverage, thank you very much.
It seems to be completely lost in this debate, that being in office means you have a record to defend and it is actually hard to deliver with all the constraints of Government. World events can often take over and shape your time in office differently than otherwise planned. Why have the interviewers on the BBC or Sky not challenged Jeremy Corbyn on his shopping list of promises? If it was possible to do a word count on his speeches, I am sure the word ‘and’ would be at the top of that list. As Jeremy would say, ‘We will be introducing a new tax threshold where if you are earning over £150k you will have to pay another 1% under a Labour Government (applause directed at nasty rich people)………………AND…………..we will be putting an extra 10k Police Officers on the street (applause)…………..AND………..’ Yes Jeremy, and and bloody and. You will do everything AND everything else. We get it. But nothing is free Jeremy, it is paid for by the tax payer.
Whilst I am disappointed with some of the things that the Conservative Party have not delivered both in office and in Coalition, it has not been reported once that there is a difference between what you would LIKE to do in office and what you are actually ABLE to do once elected. Not once!
I suspect this is because there is no story here for the media. From their point of view, there is no need to point this out, as it would only cement the overall Tory lead and lessen the drama of any potential story. And so we come back to the risk of a dull news agenda with low newspaper sales. This is at best sharp practice by the media and at worst, complete mismanagement of the truth.
If Jeremy Corbyn himself, as distinct from his campaign, had been effective enough to capitalize on the complacency of the Conservatives, then he could well have been a force to contend with in this whole process. Seizing the initiative of those fake Twitter accounts to drum up support to hear the ‘voice’ of Labour voters, promising that he would give ‘free everything’ to ‘everyone’, with the argument that is has been fully costed and assessed by the IFS. Alas, he is still not able to assert himself to be of Ministerial stock. Even Theresa May, beats him in the shoe department with this comfy college lecturer look. He can hardly be a formidable sight for other World Leaders to confront and negotiate Brexit with. Still, maybe that is the point, he is the counter argument to posh Tories in every way – from shoes, suit and tie with his top button always undone, to his nanny-state Socialist policies.
To get back to the main point, the media were facing the prospect of a routine General Election where everyone knew the outcome, it was just about how big the margin of win would be. This would involve bland speculation about who would be in the next Tory cabinet, so I believe a closer election race has been manufactured.
With their role in public life and sometimes outdated methods, there has never been a more critical time to establish the truth and report it through the channels on which we all depend. Those that seek to influence, will be found out, those that speak with integrity must prevail.