Democracy in Action

1 February 2024

Democracy in Action

The debate.

By Robert Kilconner

I really cannot remember who it was or exactly what they said. Some Tory, I suppose. Either a politician or a newspaper or some other member of the Conservative diaspora. What is more I am not going to spend time looking for it because it is pointless, but quite recently there were reports about Starmer having given advice in his professional career as a barrister to some undesirable organisation. There was no suggestion that he acted illegally or unprofessionally or that he had in some way undermined the national interest. No, it was just a bit of guilt by association. It is wholly irrelevant to whether or not he will make a good Prime Minister.

Then we have the Sunak billions. I forget who sneered at those this week, maybe it was Starmer himself. Again they have no relevance to whether he is good at his job, the argument that rich men cannot deal with the problems of the poor being every bit as fatuous as the argument that the healthy cannot understand the problems of the sick or that legislation on animal cruelty should be designed by a committee of dogs. Malignant sneering is not a one party occupation.

As the election approaches we are going to hear a great deal more of this sort of rubbish from both sides. Not surprising, you might think. In the excitement of campaigning, the parties will become less scrupulous and use any weapon to discredit the other side. But actually it is surprising, not because all those involved are lovely people and not the sort who would strike an underhand blow – actually they are just the sort who would – but because it’s so utterly ineffective, doing little harm to the subject of the attack and making those launching it look mean-spirited and small – “not quite gentlemen” to put it in old fashioned parlance. So how on earth do such tactics come to be used? Let us put ourselves into the Labour campaign headquarters and have a look.

Politician: Right, we need a focus for next week. Something that will really shaft the Tories with the electorate.

Spad 1 (Eton and PPE Oxford): I have been working something up on the Middle East. There is a clear gap there between government policy and public sympathies. We could exploit it, surely.

Spad 2 (son of midlands MP with media degree): Yes, pictures of ministers with blood on their hands. Portrayal of Isrealis as nazis. Would make a great poster campaign.

Spad 1: Yes, with suggestions that policy is driven by arms companies and their bottom lines.

Spad 2: And slavish subservience of our foreign policy to the US. Pictures of US battlegroups with token British presence tagging along.

Politician: Hold on. Aren’t we alongside the Government on this one? We could end up campaigning against ourselves.

Spad 1: Well, let’s change the policy then. It would enable us to…

Politician: I really don’t think Keir would wear that. Anyway, aren’t we trying to reconnect with the Jewish community?

Spad 2: What about education then? Criminal neglect of maths and sciences. The public are always keen on that one.

Politician: Yes, they are, but if you watch the press, the UK (except obviously Scotland) has been creeping up the league tables recently.

Spad 1: OK, too much focus on maths and sciences. Not enough time on life skills, washing up, that sort of thing. Class driven neglect of honest proletarian operations.

Politician: Hmm, don’t think the electorate see washing up as a national problem. What else?

Spad 1: Housing. That is a perennial. With pictures of people living in tents. I could get some of my father’s tenants to pose for those. “Build them with Labour”. That sort of thing.

Polítician: And if we are asked where they will be? Should go down like a bomb in the shires.

Spad 3 (An Australian on secondment who has been busy messaging until now): Bomb the Shires. Brilliant. The electorate love the idea of military action. Vote Labour and we’ll bomb the Shires! Where are the Shires by the way? Eastern Europe or part of Yemen?

Spad 2: No, you ass, they are ours and, in any case, not bomb them but put bomb factories there. Good idea though, Bazza. Could use up the surplus of labour which robotic farming will create. Could boost the arms industry too.

Spad 1: But we don’t like them.

Spad 2: Who, farm workers?

Spad 1: No, the arms industry, except the firms who support us of course.

Politician: I really haven’t time for more of this rubbish. Do me a campaign which does not clash with any of our policies.

Spads: How?

Politician: Focus on how Sunak is too rich to understand the nation’s problems.

If of course we had listened in on the Tories we would have heard a far more mature debate?

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