spiked-geist: Day 11

'Your Family' and other stereotypes; The BBC: Licence to patronise; Socialist Alliance: What's left for the Left?

Various Authors

Topics Politics

‘Your Family’ and other stereotypes

Labour’s summary manifesto ‘Your Family’, to be distributed to one million families in marginal seats, looks like the kind of free magazine you get plied with on the London Underground. This is New Labour trying to sell itself to Mr and Mrs Smith – who presumably were not tempted to pay £2.50 for the dense 44-page complete manifesto, ‘Ambitions for Britain’ (1).

‘Your Family’ opens with what the government imagines is Mr and Mrs Smith’s number one priority: their mortgage. Because, as New Labour explains to the civil servants and media who will read ‘Ambitions for Britain’, one of the things that most concerns ordinary people is ‘stretching the family budget’.

Under the Tories interest rates reached 15 percent – under Labour they are five and a half percent. If people’s heads really are governed by their pockets, then their choice of vote should be clear. But the booklet makes the slip-up of saying that Labour took the ‘politics out of interest rate decisions by giving independence to the Bank of England’. If interest rates really are the big economic issue, but they have nothing to do with which government is in power, what’s the point in voting?

The manifesto was obviously made in a rush, because its creators didn’t have time to type up the notes from Tony Blair’s notebook – which are neatly printed under the headings ‘A lot done’ and ‘A lot more to do’. These add a nice informal touch to the booklet, and give the reader a feeling of connection…wait a minute! As Mr Blair himself might say, perhaps it is not by chance that we get to look at his notebook, but by choice. They are so clever, those New Labour people.

Tony Blair is on the cover of ‘Your Family’, but he barely appears inside. New Labour know that Blair’s smiling face can get a bit much after a while, and so instead it chooses to fill the booklet with the smiling faces of Liz Dawn (Vera on Coronation Street), Gordon Carruthers, Alex Ferguson (manager of Manchester United), Ross Kemp (Grant from EastEnders) and Matthew Puddy….Evidently a nice combination of ‘people like you’ and ‘people you like’.

The ‘people like you’ say how much their lives have improved since New Labour came to power. Andy and Sue Bushnell have four children ‘and they admit life was a huge struggle under the Tories’. But now: ‘Life’s a lot better for us than it was five years ago’, says Andy.

The ‘people you like’ give their assurances that Labour is the best party for the country. Alex Ferguson is pictured clapping Labour from the sidelines, with a ‘well done my son’ look on his face. Labour, he tells us, are ‘committed to tackling crime’. ‘I believe that Labour has both the leadership and vision to take Britain forward.’ And he likes the colour red, too.

Coronation Street‘s Liz Dawn says that Labour is ‘getting it right on health’ (although she limited her remarks to breast cancer – coincidentally, the current Corrie storyline). Ross Kemp from EastEnders, who famously fell out with New Labour over Cool Britannia, comes up with the luke-warm endorsement, ‘I’m voting Labour. You’d have to be a mug to vote for the Tories’. He is pictured next to the grinning mug of Michael Portillo (Mr Boom) and the frown of William Hague (Mr Bust).

In the bottom right hand corner of every second page are blue warning boxes that remind voters what the Tories would be like: ‘Don’t go back…to Tory cuts.’ A youth is pictured painting slogans on a wall, an old man with a bandage around his head is waiting in a hospital corridor, there is a street with all the houses for sale.

The blue boxes provide the contrast with the other pictures on the page. Even if you can’t be bothered to read a word of the manifesto, the choice is clear. It’s the choice between graffiti or ManU, a dejected old man or a smiling nurse, houses for sale or children skipping in the drive.

Who could fail to make the right choice? JA

(1) See No dreams – and little reality, by Jennie Bristow

Licence to patronise

BBC 1 last night allowed 10 minutes of valuable airtime to be consumed by its political editor, Andrew Marr, with what was effectively a party political broadcast against the apathy party. In the great tradition of Greek philosophy, the programme was a dialogue between two characters, both played by Marr. One was apathetic/cynical/anti-globalisation. The other was Marr as politico.

Marr the politico had the moral high-ground. Apparently, politicians are generally good, well-meaning people who care about what they do (they could earn more elsewhere, you know!). It was pointless to be cynical because the future of hospitals and schools was at stake and we should make our views known. Those who don’t vote are simply being lazy and negative, wasting a democratic right only recently won.

As somebody who takes a very live interest in politics and will not be voting, I was not convinced, merely patronised.

This is not the BBC’s only initiative on the subject. Its website features a series of alleged non-voters putting their case for why they won’t be at the polling booths this time, and other readers trying to persuade them otherwise (1). It seems the BBC’s public service function now runs to guilt-tripping us to the polls. That ain’t what I pay my licence fee for. RL

(1) Persuade me to vote II, BBC News Online

What’s left for the Left?

I could tell I was nearly there by the balloons. Attached to railings, lampposts and even car windscreens, red and white Socialist Alliance balloons led those who ‘hate the Tories but are sick of New Labour’ to a downstairs bar in Euston, London.

Perched on stools and snooker tables – and barely able to see the stage for the smoke – about 200 people had gathered on Wednesday 16 May to hear the Socialist Alliance set out ‘the only alternative’ to New Labour and the Tories.One keen young advocate accosted me at the door: ‘Politics doesn’t have to be boring’, he said. ‘It’s not just about elections. We have a choice, but only if we make that choice for ourselves.’ It was a shame such youthful enthusiasm dissipated as I entered the room – where the average age was about 50 and rising.

Those at this meeting may have been, in the words of the chair, involved ‘in the same battles for donkey’s years’, but they were still keen to make a dent in British politics. ‘The fact is’, said one man brandishing Socialist Alliance manifestos, ‘we are the only ones worth your vote – unless you’re a Tory, in which case you should vote Tory, New Labour or Lib Dem’.

But what does the Socialist Alliance really represent? They are certainly critical of New Labour, taking every opportunity to describe Blair, Blunkett and Brown as ‘a disgrace’. Yet I couldn’t help feeling that this is another form of ‘friendly criticism’ (albeit with unfriendly undertones), that New Labour are more than used to. Even the slogan, ‘Hate the Tories? Sick of New Labour?’, suggests that the Socialist Alliance hasn’t totally given up hope in a Labour government. Hatred is one thing, but sickness can at least be cured, albeit with a bit of caring advice.

Candy Udwin, standing for the Socialist Alliance in Holborn, spent most of her speech contrasting today’s Labour government with Labour governments of the past – pointing out where the current government had slipped up and undone some of Labour’s ‘good work’.

She recalled that ‘time gone by’ when the Labour Party cared about ordinary people, and now ‘they’ve got Geri Halliwell in their election broadcast. Geri Halliwell!? Where are the ordinary people now, the pensioners and the single mums? No, it’s just all glitter, gloss, and the rich and powerful’. But the Tory ‘Willie Horton’ election broadcast surely indicates how bad things get when politicians pretend to portray ‘ordinary people’.

According to the chair, the job of the Socialist Alliance is ‘not just to say how bad New Labour is – otherwise we might as well all go home and listen to Leonard Cohen records and get depressed’. Instead, the election campaign was a chance to ‘send a powerful message’ to the Labour Party about the need to ‘have a radical alternative’. The question is: do they really believe that New Labour has any intention of listening? BON

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today