The TUC: getting Blue Peter with politics
The TUC’s sponsorship of an X Factor-style banner competition shows just how pointless its annual march has become.
When future generations look back and wonder when the tired, annual ritual of TUC members dragging themselves down to London for a three-mile march moved from tragedy to farce, perhaps the TUC-sponsored colourful banner competition, ‘Make the March’, will be seen as the turning point.
Make the March is a pretty desperate project. According to the TUC, it is meant to ‘inject a little creativity and individuality’ (patronising, much?) into this Saturday’s ‘March For A Future That Works’. Here’s how the TUC describes it: ‘We hope [the banner competition] will become a kind of “The 99 Per Cent’s Got Talent”, so if you enjoy getting all Blue Peter with your politics and making yourself a unique placard, or feel inspired to pen an October 20 protest song, online video, poem or Photoshop satire, go visit the site and upload something now.’
‘What fun!’, you can hear marchers cry. ‘We were just going to show up and grab one of those “Don’t ConDem Our Futures” banners and rip the Socialist Worker masthead off the top. But this competition has filled us with inspiration. Not only do we have the chance to impress the TUC’s very own Simon Cowell – the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire no less – but, as a “sweetener”, we stand the chance of winning one of five prizes of £100! Plus our submission might “go viral” online.’
The TUC is keen to stress that this is not a top-down initiative, and not just because it doesn’t want to be responsible for ‘any content you might find on [the Make the March website]’. No, it is a ‘fantastic grassroots project’ that just happens to have its prize money donated by the TUC, and that just appears to have had its web domain registered by the TUC’s campaigns and new media officer and which just by chance features prominently on the TUC’s official website for the march.
Many more words are spent gushing about the banner competition than explaining what next Saturday’s march is actually about. In fact, fewer than 200 words are spent on the reasons for the march, including such semi-platitudes as: ‘[I]nstead of just letting the banks go back to business and bonuses as usual, we need policies that promote new and old industries.’ This is so vague and catch-all that not only could Labour leader Ed Miliband take to the streets (as he says he intends to do), but ‘ConDem’ leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg could also do so, too. Who, after all, is for a future that doesn’t work?
There is, of course, nothing wrong with designing colourful banners with individually crafted messages. I have spent many hours doing so myself, from my 1980s childhood drawing images on banners about the miners’ strike and the abortion-restricting Alton bill, to more recent protests defending animal experimentation and the building of the third runway at Heathrow. But when the act of designing lively, sparky banners is given prominence over the message of the protest, it’s a sure indication of the march’s lack of purpose.
Worse still, the Make the March team actively encourages irony on the posters. This, as one of the site’s contributors explains, is because ‘outward signs of today’s economic pain are often hard to capture without resorting to cliché’. The website provides examples of supposedly effective banners including: a subversion of David Cameron’s 2010 General Election campaign poster, ‘I love the NHS so much I want to cut it into little pieces and give it to my friends’; the plebgate-referencing, ‘Yo plebs, we is all in dis ting together, yeah?’; and the extremely popular image, ‘Vote Conservative, or I’ll kill this kitten’.
The problem with using irony or sarcasm in this way is that it only says what the march is not about. What does this really amount to other than an attempt to portray Cameron as a Very Bad Man? Where is the alternative, the political message? Nowadays it often amounts to nothing more than the banner slogan preferred by TV’s Father Ted: ‘Down with this sort of thing’ (which, indeed, was often wielded ironically by young protesters on the London student protests during 2010-11).
Despite being a ‘fantastic grassroots initiative’, the Make the March website has singularly failed to resonate with the TUC’s grassroots. With only a few days before the march, only 20 of its six-and-a-half million members have felt sufficiently inspired to get their sticky-back plastic out, Blue Peter-style – and that’s despite the very good odds of winning some cash. Most of the submissions aren’t original: some are old banners recycled from previous demos, and there’s also a song and a poem. The handful of original submissions include two by the Communications and Workers Union, one which says ‘Keep Calm and Let’s Fix It’, and another which features David Cameron as Edward Scissorhands (‘don’t leave the future in David’s scissor hands’, geddit?). Liverpool Socialist Singers, and the Green Party have simply submitted their stock banners. As of writing, the most-tweeted submission has appeared on Twitter a whopping 19 times and the Make the March Twitter avatar only has 165 followers.
That the TUC would fall behind such an initiative speaks to just how detached it is from its base. The reason for the annual obligatory trudge around the streets of London is now so obscured that it barely bothers trying to explain why the march is taking place on its website. Instead, the TUC funds gimmicks to try to spark life into proceedings, an attempt to emulate popular TV shows in order to try to click with the masses they think they represent.
Here’s a creative idea for the TUC: how about calling off the march and only holding a public demonstration when you’ve come up with a good political reason to demonstrate in the first place? Then lively, catchy, colourful banners and catchphrases will emerge spontaneously – and without the need for gimmicks or cash prizes. Can I have my £100 please?
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