Monthly Archives: April 2010
Fancy a jump to the right, courtesy of Charon QC?
The blame for what follows is entirely Charon QC’s, for his Rocky Horror Show themed tweets.
Jonathan Dimbleby was ill
The Day that Brum Stood Still
David told them where to stand
And Flash Gordon was there
In Sarah’s underwear
Nick Clegg was The Invisible Man
Then something went wrong
For Balls it was all Pete Tong
Labour got caught in a bigot-gate jam
For from a Rochdale place
We saw Gordon’s other face
And this is how the message ran…
Bigot woman (ooh ooh ooh) all Sue’s fault
Sky News Mic (ooh ooh ooh) I’m such a dolt
Like defaming (ooh ooh ooh) Richard Dannat
Mandelson tries to (ooh ooh ooh) get them to can it
Wo oh oh oh oh oh
Before the late night, Leaders Debate, picture show
I knew Gordon Brown
Would muster a frown
If the Guardian went to the Libs
And he really got hot
When he saw an old trot
Voting for Scargill and pals
James Purnell read the runes
So he left soon
But Labour just stuck to their man
But When People Vote
And Government’s smote
They’ll wish they had reached for the gun.
Leaders Debate (ooh ooh ooh) competent leader
Baron M (ooh ooh ooh) will build a future
See faction fighting (ooh ooh ooh) Balls and Johnson
Millibands stars in (ooh ooh ooh) Back to the Future
Wo oh oh oh oh oh
At the late night, Leaders Debate, picture show
I wanna be – Oh oh oh oh
At the late night, Leaders Debate, picture show
By B.B.C – Wo oh oh oh
To the late night, Leaders Debate, picture show
Who will we see – Oh oh oh oh
At the late night, Leaders Debate, picture show
What’s the only thing worse than an election?
A popularity contest between politicos.
Blofeld-like, House of Twits has decided to subvert the Twitsphere in the run up to the General Election by launching a popularity contest between political tweeters.
Aside from presenting some utterly random rankings – as I write this, I’m three places below Sunny Hundal, and thirteen ahead of Kevin Maguire – it strips all that superfluous policy from the politicking.
Some people are voting party line; Lib Dems certainly seem to be reacting as you’d expect. There’s no way Evan Harris one of the top five political tweeters, and what on earth is Nick Clegg’s broadcast account doing in the list?
Whatever the final 100 list looks like, it’ll be an interesting glimpse into the mindset of Twitter’s political class.
When I wrote about politics descending into self-parody on Tuesday, I never imagined it was going to go so much worse so rapidly. In 1983, Denis Healey offered his “first law of holes” – when you’re in one, stop digging. While Healey himself was talking about the then-current arms race, the First Law of Holes has fairly general application.
So it’s Healey’s maxim that springs to mind when I hear that Gordon Brown has announced he intends to “dig deeper” following the final TV debate.
After all, his declaration, less than a week ago, that he was going to “up the tempo” of his campaign went so well: the decision to share the stage with an Elvis impersonator was widely ridiculed, then triggered an investigation into a potential breach of the Licensing Act.
Still, that was all a couple of news cycles ago. All Brown needed to do this week was to steer a level course, and avoid embarrassing himself ahead of the final Leader’s Debate on Thursday.
Tuesday’s Big Event was a visit to a Sure Start Centre, but clearly Labour forgot about not working with children or animals. Their event was promptly overshadowed when a fictional cartoon pig decided she wasn’t prepared to back Labour publicly.
The next day – amidst predictable tabloid glee over Peppa’s absence – Labour chose what should have been a safe option, and sent Gordon to wander through a Labour heartland like Rochdale?
Damn you, Sue!
By this point, I imagine the Baron Mandelson was toying with the idea of having a bottle of whisky and a revolver sent up to the Prime Ministerial suite at Gordon’s hotel ahead of Thursday’s debate – although he no doubt figured the inevitable result would be
“PRIME MINISTER KILLS FOUR IN DRUNKEN RAGE, SHOOTS SELF IN FOOT.”
Could things get worse? The Independent is today reporting a rumour that the Conservatives may have asked the Sun to “go easy”, prefering to let Labour swing in the wind.
Even across the Atlantic, “Bigot-gate” was raising a smile – here’s Jon Stewart’s wonderful take on it, courtesy of Gawker.
On a more serious note, the Economist finally picked sides, throwing its support behind the Conservatives. I can find little of substance to argue with in their editorial, which concludes that a detailed analysis of policy – the thing Labour has shrilly insisted it would be favoured by – voting Conservative is the only choice for liberals.
Last night’s debate we can almost ignore. Brown did worst of the three – as he has in the two previous debates – and his final plea to the nation had a wonderful tone of desperation.
I may be a functional atheist, but this week could make me suspect God is a Tory. Think that’s just hyperbole?
This morning, just to provide proof, Labour’s new poster launch was briefly interrupted by a car crash.
Tomorrow, I confidently expect to hear that Ed Balls has been struck by lightning.
And there was much rejoicing!
Politics often lurches dangerously close to self-parody – as Neil Kinnock would no doubt acknowledge – but occasionally it drives head long towards it, laughing manically as it speeds towards the canyon’s edge.
Witness the decision to have Gordon Brown share a platform with an Elvis impersonator last week:
Either Peter Mandelson is getting lazy – and can’t be bothered to conceal his attempts to undermine Brown anymore – or Brown himself has finally and irretrievably taken leave of his senses. I’m not sure any other scenario can possibly explain the decision to place in close proximity a man pretending to be an important and popular figure…and Gordon Brown.
I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitresses.
And then there’s the last Liberal Democrat Party Election Broadcast
We are, of course, supposed to take from this video that the broken promises of the “Labservatives” litter the streets. Personally, however, I merely hoped the LibDems cleaned up after themselves.
One would assume that whoever scripted the broadcast had never seen Terry Gilliam’s Brazil – or else appreciated the irony of recalling the sequence in which Harry Tuttle, played by Robert De Niro, is literally consumed by paperwork.
This tendency of political messages to open themselves to alternative interpretations fosters in local politics a perceived need for simple messages. Nuance – and the true clarity which it fosters – is abandoned in the name of the ersatz clarity of simplicity.
But this tendency towards unambiguous messages is itself ripe for parody, as wonderfully demonstrated by Glum Councillors, a blog cataloguing our local representatives’ photographic unhappiness at potholes, fly tipping, and boarded premises. There’s something surreal about these images: men in suits awkwardly bent double to point a finger into a pothole, or two people flanking and gesturing towards a lopsided, undressed Christmas tree. Stripped of the context of a political leaflet or website, and presented without explanation, these simple images – and the obligatory unhappy expressions of their subjects – make an interesting artwork.
At the other end of the scale, Birmingham blog Lolitics weaves surreal stories out of a combination of local politicos’ photographs and LOLspeak. Focusing on Conservative Councillor Deirdre Alden and Labour MP Gisela Stuart (now the Conservative and Labour candidates at the general election) the site has built up some brilliant running gags and exploited the unintentionally amusing way in which political photographs are posed.
Personally, I prefer these sort of parodies to the like of My David Cameron – it’s funnier when politicians own images tell the story without editing.
Experience of conflict varies, but a common thread for most people is the degree of mediation to which their experiences are subject. My guest posts at FACT over the past few weeks have explored different ways in which this happens, from the operators of drone aircraft in Afghanistan to
faked television news coverage in Georgia.
For those not involved in conflict, mediation can become moderation. A media focus on Israeli attacks on Gaza, over rocket attacks on Israel,
creates a particular perception of that conflict, while military
attempts to censor coverage can perpetuate skewed
which are rarely matched by personal
But conflict is followed by rebuilding, by fragile elections and
political change, and a process of learning lessons.
This weekend’s symposium at FACT, Changing Perspectives on
Contemporary Conflict offers the opportunity to hear about conflict without mediation, without moderation, and provides an opportunity to discuss and explore their experiences with them.
Changing Perspectives on Contemporary Conflict, Sunday 18 Apr 2010, at 1:00pm
Are people in politics allowed to change? Are their views allowed to develop and progress?
No, says Labour’s LGBT campaign, citing the fact that eight years ago David Cameron vote against the omission of “married” from a list of criteria to be used when deciding adoption applications.
No, says the Daily Telegraph, citing the fact that two years ago, an 18 year old Ellie Gellard vented her feelings about Gordon Brown’s conduct during the 2008 Glasgow East by-election in a blog post.
Politics is supposed to be about debate, about making arguments and testing beliefs. We accept – indeed, pin our beliefs about elections – on the idea that people will change how they vote. So why do we expect our politicians to be different?
I think LP Hartley was right – the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Look at your own beliefs, political or otherwise. Are they static or unchanging?
Mine certainly aren’t. I wasn’t yet old enough to vote in 1997, but my immature impulse was to favour the programme Tony Blair offered the country. If I was anything, I guess I was a social democrat, but early contact with committed Labourites at University stopped that, and somewhere between then and now, I became an anarchist. Do I now have to stand on the beliefs of my teenaged self?
There must be scope to learn and develop – and to continue to do so. Will I look back in ten years time at a younger self who thought abolishing government was desirable, and smile wryly? I hope not, but I don’t discount the possibility.
It’s perfectly reasonable for David Cameron and Ellie Gellard to be challenged to explain how they came by their change in views, but expecting them to stand or fall, today, on what they believed and said then is wrong – and moreover is poisonous to our politics.
But this is not the same as absolving them of responsibility for those beliefs and statements, not the same as arguing that they must not take responsibility for them.
Stuart McLennan, Labour’s ex-PPC for Moray, wouldn’t have walked down the street insulting his prospective constituents – but he was happy to announce his views to the world. Personally, I could care less that he used obscenities about other Labour politicians: it’s his behaviour towards the people he claimed to want to represent that was the problem.
If McLennan wants to, he should have the opportunity to explain to a subsequent electorate why he’s changed, why he should be given another chance. And it’ll be for them to decide.
Just as its for Cameron to explain his change of position on LGBT rights, or Gellard to explain how she came to view Brown as she does.
Personally, I’d rather hear from someone who’s views have developed and been tested.
Underneath this all, I think there’s a problem with our approach to information. McLennan’s tweets weren’t secret, anymore than Gellard’s blog or Cameron’s vote. But our society has previously relied on aggregators – or as they prefer to be called, journalists – to conveniently package information and present it to us.
The likes of Daily Telegraph, splashing Gellard across the front page, still want to believe that if they cover it, it’s news – even if what they’re covering is two years old. The Sun, reprinting McLennan’s tweets, are just as bad.
[On a side note: I wholeheartedly agree with Juliet Samuels (aka
The Laughing Hyena Emily Nomates), who argued that the Telegraph and the Mail behaved the way they did at least in part for sexist reasons.]
But political parties are as bad. How could Labour select McLennan as a PPC without bothering to check his past public statements? Gellard’s blog was on a Labour party system, for pity’s sake. Did they think nobody would use Google?
One change the growth in the internet has wrought is a persistence of what would previously have been transient, and a dissemination of what would previously have been private. A young woman holding forth across a pub table about Gordon Brown is unlikely to be held to account for her views two years later, any more than a young man texting a friend about the person seated opposite him.
There’s a choice here: either we censor ourselves, withhold our views, and accept the blandness that follows, or we accept that people change their beliefs, develop their views, and sometimes say things they shouldn’t.
I went to see “Songs for an Airless Room” at FACT back in February, and it was an incredible experience. Another attendee subsequently called it mildly traumatising, and in some ways – some good ways – I think it was.
The performance – calling it a piece seems somehow too constrained – is the brainchild of producer Martin Parker, and centres on the virtuoso percussion of Joby Burgess (whose Powerpoint: Electric Counterpoint is also highly recommended).
But special mention has to be made of vocaliser Phil Minton, whose improvised, frankly inhuman sounds, give the performance its most visceral edge.
Being locked into a windowless room – FACT’s The Box – with the wall of sound they produce was an unnerving and exhilarating experience, and I’m pleased to see you can now get a taster of what it was like – via the FACT player.
The video omits the Hikikomori, which showed before the live performance began. You can check that out here.
Check it out – and let me know what you think.
While it’s not clear whether they actually targeted their anti-tory “Cancer” mailing to cancer sufferers – and Andy Burnham denies they did – it is clear they targeted it.
Targeting is after all the purpose of direct mail, and the reported use of a specific digital printing house (Tangent Communications’ Ravensworth) adds further weight to this.
What has been interesting about the response from Labour is the failure to take the most straight forward option for ending speculation – explaining the selection criteria. Andy Burnham has said:
It is categorically incorrect to imply that we targeted cancer sufferers and we regret if any offence or anxiety was given to people who have suffered cancer.
This denies the allegation, but doesn’t answer the question – how did Labour target this mailing?
I’m not interested in conspiracy theories or Kremlinology, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to simply brush this aside as Labour would like to. The examples cited by the Times make clear that the targeting was not simply “women”, nor even postcode or age.
Burnham’s approach is also the approach taken by Labour’s supporters, along with attempts to turn the story around, and demand that people who question Labour’s conduct provide evidence of wrong doing.
Unity, who writes for Liberal Conspiracy, typifies this. He would like to rest on the fact that any large scale mailing would include a proportion – he estimates c.10% – who had suffered from cancer. This, again, fails to address the question of what targeting Labour undertook – something I’ve pointed out in comments on his post:
Labour sends mailings to 250k specific people, selected from a database covering the majority of people in the UK. Are you seriously suggesting that they just picked 250k random people to receive the mailing?
I keep having to say this to people defending Labour on this issue, but go back and read the specific examples the Times gave in their original article. These mailings were clearly targeted. At best Labour picked specific Mosaic codes; at worst, they used other data from National Canvasse to select recipients. If the latter, there is a valid question about how they were selected.
If a business had done this – think of Virgin Media’s “Bullet Hole” direct mailing from 2008 – there would be demands for a proper explanation. The media would not allow that business to blithely say “Oh, statistically some of the recipients would have been victims of gun crime”, and leave it at that.
In the meantime, another leaflet story came up – Zoe Margolis, author of Girl With A One Track Mind, posted photographs of a leaflet issued by Andrew Charalambous, the Conservative PPC for Edmonton. This differed from fundamentally the Labour cancer mailshot in not being targeted at specific individuals, but also because it used a striking – arguably graphic – illustration of a bloodied machete to grab attention.
It was picked up by
Sunder Katwala on Next Left Left Outside in a stinging post which tied back to the earlier controversy over crime statistics. (Liberal Conspiracy republished the post here. There’s also a later and rather similar – if not nearly as well put together – post from George Eaton at the New Statesman in exactly the same vein).
I share the distaste for the imagery used on the front of leaflet but it bears saying that Left Outside
Sunder only picks up on that side, and on its claim of a 44% rise in violent crime under Labour. He doesn’t take issue with the statistics that Andrew Charalambous put on the back of his leaflet:
- 160 children are convicted of crime every day, official figures show
- 2 violent crimes are committed every single minute
- Only 1 crime in 100 ends with a punishment in court
- 1 in 5 criminals caught with a gun or a knife, only get cautioned
- 80,000 criminals let out of jail early. Including 15,000 violent offendors. Those released went on to commit 1,500 crimes, including rapes and murders.
I look forward to seeing one of the left-wing bloggers show me that all of the above is made up.
Yesterday I was arguing that political advertising should be regulated by the ASA. Guess what – I think the concerns about Andrew Charalambous’ leaflet strengthens that argument. He should have to defend his claims, and his artwork, against the same standards we apply to any other advertisers.
Perhaps, instead of trying to downplay Labour’s cancer mailing, we could some cross party consensus going here on the need to remove the exemption of electoral publicity from ASA regulation?
I realise some may find this a bit difficult to grasp, but arguing that everyone does it doesn’t make it right – just as arguing that, statistically, shit happens, doesn’t excuse it.
It’s encouraging to see that the BNP’s having trouble finding local council candidates in Liverpool. Lancaster Unity and Liverpool Antifascists both note that the eight candidates standing are four less than at the last local election:
The BNP today revealed it would be standing only eight candidates in the local elections in Liverpool on May 6th. This is eight too many, but it is one third less than the twelve it put up in 2008 and represents the effects of a determined anti-fascist campaign against them and of the internal divisions within this racist party.
BNP candidates in Liverpool down by a third
Of those two factors, I think the latter – internal divisions – is far more important. I’ve always been sceptical of the idea that a “determined anti-fascist campaign” has much impact on support for the BNP generally, and I’d be concerned that the more vigorous aspects of that campaign actually serve to bolster it.
On balance, I believe more time spent talking about the BNP’s woeful record when they achieve office – which Lancaster Unity do – would pay dividends. As the expenses scandal proved, people are far more likely to viscerally take against politicians for their behaviour.
And lets not forget the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s decision to sue the BNP, which has caused them serious problems. It may yet prove to have done what no amount of placard waving and no-platforming ever could: pushed the BNP towards collapse.
The real test comes when the votes are counted – each of the BNP candidates managed to get ten people to sign their nomination papers; can they get many more to vote for them?
You can see the full list of Liverpool council candidates here (PDF).
Both the Times and the Telegraph carry a story today that is by turns bizarre and wearily inevitable.
LABOUR has become embroiled in a row about the use of personal data after sending cancer patients alarmist mailshots saying their lives could be at risk under a Conservative government.
Labour hit by cancer leaflet row
It’s not clear whether Labour actually targeted people who’d had cancer or cancer scares, but The Times sets out some anecdotal evidence which strongly suggests there was some targeting involved. Despite this, the Telegraph reports:
A Labour spokesman insisted that the leaflets – which were addressed to recipients by name and bore the words: “are the Tories a change you can afford?” – were not targeted at cancer patients and came from socio-demographic research that is commercially and publicly available.
The “socio-demographic research” in question appears to be Experian’s Mosaic database, used by both Labour and Conservatives to target particular voters. Having been an in-house lawyer for two organisations that made extensive use of direct mail, I’m familiar with Mosaic, but I’d never realised it had this kind of classification in it:
The data management company Experian confirmed that both Labour and the Conservatives use its Mosaic database, which divides voters into 67 groups and identifies likely cancer patients using anonymised hospital statistics, including postcodes and the diagnoses of patients.
As to the campaign itself, I hope the
idiot marketing genius who thought this was a good strategy works for Labour rather than the Tangent Communications group.
That said, I suppose this was only a matter of time. Electoral print advertising in the UK – including direct mail – is relatively unregulated. In fact, political advertising associated with elections is exempt from complying with the CAP Code – which means the ASA can’t rule on it.
Eventually, some bright spark was going to say “Hey, I know! Let’s frighten cancer sufferers into voting for us!”. I expect shortly we’ll see the families of road traffic accident victims being asked to back policies on speed cameras, and the families of murder victims targeted to support the DNA database.
(Actually, that last one has kind of already happened. Leave it to Gordon Brown…)
This shouldn’t be a party political issue (and frankly it wouldn’t be if the Labour party, strapped for cash and needing more bang for its buck, hadn’t gotten here before anyone else). Why on earth should our politicians enjoy such an exemption? Why shouldn’t leaflets pushed through your door, or mailed to your house, be honest, decent, and truthful?
And why should political parties have license to abuse direct marketing – in a way Government ministers would cravenly queue to condemn were it done by a business – without fear of sanction?
Time for some amendments to the CAP code, I think.