spiked geist: Day 15

Sanitised debate and cynical stunts.

Josie Appleton

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Topics Politics

Sanitised debate

Labour Party general secretary Margaret McDonagh has written to the BBC, ITN and Sky, accusing them of ‘inciting and colluding with protesters at campaign visits made by senior politicians’.

Did the farmer heckler bring his own microphone, or was it given to him by the BBC? Did TV cameras know that Sharron Storer was planning to earbash the PM? (And where did the Welsh farmer get his eggs from?)

Who knows? But the one thing that could be said for the egging last Wednesday was that it broke up the monotony of staged interviews surrounded by groups of cheering Labour luvvies. It broke up the slick, sanitised routine – which was why New Labour hated it.

New Labour cannot bear confrontation or arguments; it cannot bear spontaneity. ‘We want to meet members of the public’, Gordon Brown told a press conference this morning. Yes – on their terms. ‘We need a dialogue’, Blair explained. A ‘dialogue’ is calm and measured; both sides know pretty much what to expect. A dialogue is not the unexpected fury of Sharron Storer, as the look of absolute panic on Blair’s face showed.

McDonagh argued that the orchestration of conflict ‘puts at risk the safety of Labour Party staff, politicians and the public’. Hardly. A few shouted criticisms over the cheers never hurt anybody. And (unless you hit back) an egg won’t hurt anybody either. What is ‘at risk’ is the delicate balance of New Labour’s planned, sanitised debate.

Not that the protests threatening the calm are authentic (as the Daily Mail would have it). They have their own formula. The protests are theatrical displays of anger, staged for the media, which rely entirely on the discomfort of politicians for their effect.

And before the Tories start to gloat about Blair’s inability to cope with ‘real people’, we should remember that last week Hague conducted the first indoor walkabout in the history of political campaigning. JA

Cynical stunts

The Labour Party is annoyed that the ‘issues surrounding election coverage’ are distracting from the substance of its policies. At a press conference this morning, Tony Blair said that the public are ‘more interested in schools, health and mortgages, than they are in issues of process. There is a hunger among the public to move away from issues of process to issues of policy’.

Yes: all across the nation people have been forming groups with their neighbours to discuss Labour’s proposals for baby bonds and the threat of Tory tax cuts. And then they turn on the TV and that bloody media are still dissecting the deputy prime minister’s left hook from various angles. How tiresome.

Not.

The point is that this election campaign is not touching people. It is a virtual campaign, occurring in the media, not in the lives of voters. New Labour’s campaigning has descended into a series of gimmicky stunts, behind which lies a cynical, contemptuous view of voters, as people who can be manipulated by soapstars on soapboxes. It ill befits New Labour to complain when others stage stunts of their own with the TV cameras in attendance.

Publicity for the Oliver Letwin affair has involved no fewer that three TV formats. Labour strategists began with Sherlock Holmes (looking for Letwin with a microscope) and the Wild West (Letwin: ‘Wanted’), and have now moved on to Letwin starring as ‘The Fugitive: a man on the run’. They used Corrie‘s Liz Dawn to publicise health policy in ‘Your Family’, their summary election manifesto. And they have produced a series of posters based on the ‘horror genre’, threatening doom as the consequence of Tory economic policies.

Apparently, these are serious issues being presented in an ‘engaging’ way. What must they think of voters, if this is what it takes to get them ‘engaged’? JA

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