How to make a mockery of politics
‘Gorvid Camerown’, the ‘Labservative party’... The Lib Dems’ spoof election campaign is neither big nor clever.
It’s achingly unfunny, it’s packed full of gimmicks of abysmal pointlessness, and it’s coming to a media platform near you. Yep, that’s right, it’s the latest election campaign offering from a UK political party.
This one is actually a bit slippery. It is a spoof campaign, you see, featuring a non-existent political party. No, not the Lib Dems – they are actually the japesters behind it – but the Labservatives, a parliamentary grouping, to use the words of its mock website, of the status quo. As the gut-wrenching awfulness of the party’s name suggests, the Labservatives represent the Labour-Conservative duopoly that has come to dominate British politics since the end of the First World War. And as the gut-wrenching awfulness of the party’s name again suggests, this is not the most cutting of satire.
If ‘Labservative’ were not lame enough, the rest of the fiction needs a wheelchair. The fake party’s logo features a tree scribbled atop a rose stem (that’s the Labour and Tory logo combined, people). The party colours are purple (that’s Labour red and Tory blue mixed, folks). And the party leader is a man called Gorvid Camerown (that’s… you get the point). If these jokes are more than a little wearisome, then the supposed slogans of the Labservatives are just cynical. ‘Scandal. Recession. War. There’s no substitute for experience’, reads one of the fake posters; ‘Familiarity breeds consent’, reads another.
Of course, there is a serious point to this, which is just as well given the lack of a funny one. The Labservative wheeze is meant to highlight the main parties’ shared record of failure and, in doing so, assert the Lib Dems as a genuine alternative. All the electorate has to do is take a chance. In its website’s ‘Know your enemy’ section, Nick Clegg steps out from the Labservative party’s shadows to make just this point: ‘The political system that [Labour and the Conservatives] have stitched up is now sunk in corruption and sleaze’, he says. ‘In this election you’ll hear the two of them trot out the same old slogans and recycle the same old election promises that they’ve already broken countless times. But the only thing you can really guarantee is that if they get back in nothing will really change at all.’
But it’s a strange way to appeal to voters. Normally, a political party would be concerned with telling people who they are and what they stand for. In this case, however, we have the Lib Dems running an entirely negative campaign based entirely on saying who they are not – that is, they are not the Labservatives, the status quo, the people who have been in power for the past 65 years. They are virtually posing as the ‘none of the above’ party, the party you vote for because you don’t want to vote for the others. It is a deeply cynical move, but one in keeping with the Lib Dems’ recent anti-politics role (see Liberal Democrats: same old story, by Rob Lyons).
It hasn’t always been this way. Historically, Britain’s political parties have represented and channelled the interests of definite social constituencies. The Conservatives, traditionally the party of church and state, appealed to businesses large and small; Labour relied upon trade-union support and, with it, the backing of the working class; and, in the nineteenth century, the Lib Dems’ previous incarnation, the Liberal Party, was able to articulate the interests of the free-trade wing of the British establishment. Now, though, the Lib Dems are trying to appeal not so much to a social movement as to a mood. They want to be the party of cynicism, to mobilise disillusionment and distrust, and to drive it to the ballot box. Hence Shaun McIlrath, the creative director at the advertising company behind the naff Labservatives campaign, explained that they weren’t concerned with ‘patronising an already cynical audience’. He’s right: they clearly wanted to exploit an already cynical audience.
The problem with trying to embody popular cynicism and, in doing so, gain votes from an electorate weary of the endless round of scandal and low-level corruption, is that it doesn’t amount to anything actually worth voting for. What it does mean is that the Lib Dems, or, to keep in the spirit of mashing-up party names, the Dim Libs, look set to become little more than the party of resentment, a party dominated by a petit-bourgeois worldview (see Rise up against King Vince!, by Brendan O’Neill). Which is great if you like your politics to consist of whinging and blaming, which, given the way that Lib Dem economic spokesman Vince Cable attacked the ‘pin-striped Scargills’ of the financial sector, the party’s leading figures clearly do. But this is not a social movement. Properly speaking it is an anti-social movement, based on resenting others, no matter how fictional – whether it’s bonus-bloated bankers or selfish, striking unions.
While the Lib Dems might pose as an alternative to mainstream politics, in truth, as their new ad campaign shows, they are no more than its cynical underside.
Tim Black is staff writer at spiked.
Previously on spiked
Brendan O’Neill called for the public to rise up against King Vince. Rob Lyons argued that the Liberal Democrats only succeed where the big parties fail, and argued that the then leader Menzies Campbell’s age wasn’t the problem. Mick Hume argued that Charles Kennedy and George Galloway could tell us a lot about the state of British politics. Josie Appleton showed the limitations of ‘independent’ politics. Or read more at spiked issue British politics.
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