GE2015 minus 20: straw men and false flags

Posted: 18 April 2015 in general election 2015, politics
Tags: , ,

In October 2002, then Chairman of the Conservative Party, Therese May, told the party conference that too often the party’s aims and priorities were wrong, and that the party was seen too often as “the nasty party”. It was, I’m sure, just another conference speech for her, and as so often with these things, it wasn’t teh phrase that she expected to become associated with the party forevermore. Ah, well… if only she knew, eh?

But self-identifying as that gave the party’s political opponents what they’d been anxious for, and a turn of phrase which – surprisingly enough – they’d not found particularly easy to come up with themselves. “The nasty party” label stuck, partly because it was true, and more importatly because it was seen as true. One wonders whether – knowing the tag’s future longevity, if she had her time again, whether Mrs May would have chosen a different epithet to hang around her party’s neck.

However, no-one from the party can truly complain about the label, precisely because it was created and publicised by one of their own. Harder to resist protesting against a label that’s stuck on you by your opponents, truthfully applied or otherwise.

But if the Tory party has been described as the “nasty party”, pretty much every election for the past twenty-five years has been described as the “nasty election”. I’m reminded of the question and answer to the American bank robber Willie Banks, asked by a judge “Willie, why always banks?” to which the sensible and inevitable answer came forth: “that’s where they keep the money.”

I’m reminded because people ask “why do campaigns go negative?” The answer, equally inevitable, is “that’s where the votes are.” Negative campaigning, sad to say, works. People are more eager, on the whole, to discover, and rediscover, what’s bad about their party’s opponents than they are to learn about what their party plans to do in office. The culture is one of “whatever we do, it can’t be worse than what they’d do…” and people fall for it, every time.

It’s notable that party political advertisements aren’t covered by the Advertising Standard Authority. So, they’re not obliged to be truthful, to present opinion as that, rather than as an inviolable fact.

A neat trick that’s arrived from over the pond the last couple of elections is the straw men. I use the plural because there are two sub-divisions of the same thing that do the rounds. 

The first is to flat out lie about what the opposition has said they’d do and then show why such a policy (that they’ve made up, I remind you) is bad, disastrous, economically unsound and a breach of people’s rights. Hence you get the Labour Party saying that the conservative party secretly plans to shoot the homeless. Or you get the Tories saying that Labour intend, once in office, to castrate the rich. Both policies are daft, both policies are made up, yet leading politicians from both parties will attack their opponents with similarly made up policies or proposals.

The cousin to the above is to go one step further: accuse your opponents – again, completely without foundation, of accusing you of something wild and daft. And then say why you wouldn’t bring in such a policy. So, Labour politicians accuse Tory politicians of saying that Labour would get rid of Trident, and then trot out the party policy about Trident, showing that the Conservatives are lying. Or Conservative politicians accuse their Labour counterparts of declaring that the Conservatives would end the NHS, after which the Conservatives promise they won’t.

Now, make no mistake. This isn’t what I referred to a few days ago, where one party asks another party to guarantee no rise in a tax rate or something, and then asking for more and more specifics, trying to limit the party’s options. These are deliberate misstatements in order to traduce their oppponents and make their own side look better by comparison. These are lies under a different name.    

And talking of “under a different name”, this election is different for one reason: the rise of social media and more importantly, the ease and rise of entirely anonymous social media. In the past three weeks, a numebr of Twitter accounts have jumped up and started tweeting the most astonishing abuse. Two I know of have been so vile that targets of these accounts have left – hopefully temporarily – Twitter. One popped up a couple of days ago, purporting to be a UKIP candidate’s account. The acount tweeted about the superiority of the white race, the pervsersion of homosexuality, etc.  These false flag accounts can do tremendous harm to people, to parties and to the entire political process. And I’m not kidding about the last. Too many people retweeted the abuse and genuinely beleived the account was genuine because of the observer’s view of the party concerned. Of course, in this occasion, it was a UKIP account. I was doubtful of the account because even having seen the BBC documentary “Meet The UKIPpers”, I found it hard to believe that any UKIP PPC-hopeful would be that blatant. A lot of their supporters are racist and stupid. But they’re not THAT stupid. It turns out that the hoaxer (too kind a word, but…) was a known racist who loathes UKIP because they’re not right wing enough; a bloke who in a recent court case even the judge described him as a committed internet troll.

We’ve under three weeks to go before the election. I expect to see a lot more straw men and a lot more false flag accounts before 7th May. Both rely upon prejudice, the prejudice that people hold against a political party. I wouldn’t vote for UKIP. I’d urge others to not vote for them. But please, attack them for the policies they’ve already stated, not for made-up crap that demeans both the writer and the reader.

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