GE2015 minus 29: the hobgoblin of little minds, or “WHAT did you say?”

Posted: 8 April 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

2010 was the first UK general election since the introduction of YouTube. Well, not quite, but since the first YouTube video was published a fortnight or so before the 2005 election, only a few people in the world really knew about it. Certainly at the time, no-one foresaw on 23rd Aprl 2005 how important it would become for the spread of everything from cute kittens:

to tortoises’ sex lives:

to the drug habits of spiders:

to political ads and, of course, satire about political ads… this one about the Labour Party pink van…

As well as – and because of – social media, this general election campaign is being fought online just as much as by using the old fashioned methods of canvassing, speaches, pieces for sympathetic newspapers and political interviews. Indeed, the talents of party activists to spread ‘bad news’, gaffes and U-turns about their political opponents seems to grown with every week that passes.

One of the problems the parties are only now discovering is the ease by which people (by which I mean both voters and activists) can dig up something from the past that is either contradictory, inaccurate or just plain embarrassing.

Take today’s wrangle about the non-dom status. Even if you’ve paid attention to the news, I suspect that the only things most people are up to speed about it are: (a) it’s 200 years old (b) rich people can use it to reduce the taxes they have to pay, and (c) that Labour want to abolish it.

Well, anyone who knows all three is… almost right. On all three.

The non domiciled status was introduced in 1799 by Prime Minister William Pitt (“Pitt The Younger” to distinguish him from his father, who was also Prime Minster) to protect British subjects who were overseas, in the colonies. Not only ‘the rich’ use it. It’s often used by foreign students who come to the UK to study, and also by people who work for overseas companies who temporarily work in the UK. But yes, some rich people use the status (which can be inherited) to reduce their tax bills. And yes, Labour want to abolish the status, and replace it for temporary students/workers with something else while not replacing the status at all for people for whom the status is currently legal but entirely inappropriate.

I’m entirely on board with this change; it’s long since time that it was abolished and I’ve not read any justification for keeping it other than the usual nonsense about “well, rich people will move overseas”. I call it nonsense because that’s what it is; every time a tax change is proposed, this argument is bandied around as if it had any evidence to support it. It doesn’t. Yes, some businesses will move to a place for better tax rates, and some people also. But the numbers are small and only increase when the tax change is a huge one, like say doubling a tax rate or some such.

So what’s all this got to do with social media, and the ability to fairly instantly pull up something from the distant (or in this case, not so distant) past.

Well, Labour didn’t do enough due diligence on this before Ed Miliband announced it, and by not doing so, they handed a gift to the Conservative Party, who within minutes of the announcement found a video clip of the Shadow Chancellor  being interviewed in January, saying in effect that were you to abolish the non domiciled status, far from raising money, it would in fact cost money. And they followed up their discovery with the following online image which has had thousands of retweets by now.

Now Labour, of course, have hit right back with… erm, well, they’ve used that classic excuse so beloved of everyone who’s made a boo-boo on camera and been caught at it: the Tories haven’t used the full quote, or in other words, the comments were taken “out of context”. Yeah, sorry, that’s not good enough. Either Balls said it, or he didn’t. If he didn’t, then call the Tories liars. And if he did, well… learn from the screw up and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I’ve no objection to people making mistakes. I used to have heated discussions with contemporaries when I was a financial director. “I’m not paying my staff to make mistakes,” they’d say. And I would listen to this rubbish in disbelief. Of course you’re paid to make mistakes, genuine mistakes. That’s how you learn. What you’re not paid to do is to make the same mistake twice.

So if this was a genuine mistake by Labour (the way it was announced without sufficient due diligence, I mean, not the policy) then for heaven’s sake, Labour… learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again. But it might not have been a mistake per se. The policy might well have changed, which leads me to a final, small but  important point. 

Whatever Balls said, it was said long before the campaign officially started, long before the mainfesto was written (we’ve still not seen the big three’s manifestos), and quite possibly on the best information that existed at that time. Since then, we’ve seen new official statistics as to wage growth, GDP, tax revenues, a lot of information, and the interaction between the main parties has been malleable to say the least. It’s quite possible, indeed probable, that policies from even three months ago aren’t relevant any more; indeed, that such policies are no longer economically viable and others, even those contradicting the former policies, are. 

Moreover, this is why parties refrain, sometimes despite enormous pressure, to reveal policies much in advance of an election. For when they change them, when circumstances dictate that policies should and must be changed, the media and rival parties get to play their favourite electoral game: no, not hammering on about incompetence, but taking a joyful pop at inconsistency. 

  1. Mindy says:

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