Oh the fun that the likes of Jon Sopel, Peter Allen and their assembled guests managed to strain out of a few bags of crisps. At one point, the Lord of Darkness himself (i’m referring to Mandelson) even had to be admonished live on air for eating his crisps too loudly during an interview. Oh how they laughed (and replayed the event later during the day). It’s such a fun little club they have around Westminster and Millbank.
Peter Allen, that doyen of self-satisfied Radio Five Live presenters, referred repeatedly to the fact that all three of the crisp varieties were the same flavour, and there was much merriment in studio and on location as they laughed off the metaphorical lack of difference and lack of choice – a joke even shared by many of the party political guests during the coverage.
The True Darkness
And therein lies the true darkness (I’m not referring to Mandelson this time). The lack of choice, the poverty of our system, is a laughing matter it would seem. David Blunkett spoke again (he always does) about the need to reconnect with the voters, to find ways of making us realise that politics is about real life, real things. This is what they all say.
The trouble with people such as Blunkett is their assumption that we “the voters” are too stupid to realise that government and politics are important. Of course we know it’s important. We live it every day in deep frustration. Don’t tell us that we need to understand that politics is important, do something to make us believe that you understand!
If there was an over-riding theme to the chatter on day one of the campaign, it was a jumbled discussion of Class and Class War. I’m tempted to say that this was started by Gordon Brown, standing in Downing Street, when he launched his campaign with this opening gambit:
I come from an ordinary family, in an ordinary town, and I’ve never forgotten where I come from, or the values – hard work, duty, fairness, telling the truth – my parents instilled in me. And that’s why during this world recession the team and I have fought so hard for families on middle and modest incomes.
I’ll return to Brown’s words in a moment. But in truth it was not Brown (at least, not he and his advisers alone) who settled on this theme for the opening of the election campaign. The early morning pre-announcement media coverage had brushed teasingly across similar territory. Media and parties alike are always “on message in the modern election campaign. Indeed, I had already read the main content of the major launch speeches in the previous day’s newspapers. I don’t just mean that i had read the gist of the content; I had read whole paragraphs, word-for-word. This meant that the BBC News headline coverage of Cameron’s “off the cuff”‘ speech almost had me crash my car in disbelief.
Is this really important? Of course speeches are leaked. Of course the media are fully briefed on campaign priorities, key-messages, themes and locations. Does it matter? I believe it absolutely matters, and the example of BBC News referring to Cameron’s launch speech as “off the cuff” is a nice, seemingly harmless little example. The speech was clearly not spontaneous: it was well-trailed, well-rehearsed and very well stage managed (down to the location over the river from Westminster, allowing Davey boy to draw a physical distinction between himself and dirty Westminster “over there”). For the BBC to lead with a claim that this was all off the cuff shines a light at how deeply they (and all of the other mainstream media like them) are entwined in the drive to stay on message and present the drama of the election in the determined manner. Either that, or the reporting of our state broadcaster had no research and is just plain careless. Neither suggests a serious attempt to present this election in a way which might illuminate the issues that matter to you and I.
- Class is deeply entrenched within society in the UK, and our rulers have no intention of allowing that to change; and
- Labour has clearly dropped any final pretence of standing for the working classes.
1. Class is deeply entrenched within society in the UK, and our rulers have no intention of allowing that to change
The class war commentary of day one has spilled over into day two already, and has been the subject of much commentary. Not surprisingly, that commentary is vastly in agreement: We cannot go back to the old class warfare; we are bigger than that now; people should not be judged on the school they attended; etc etc.
Nonsense. Class, and the role it pays in political and everyday life, has never left us. We never moved on from class for one moment. What happened was that the Middle Classes became the acceptable focus of mainstream political class discourse. Mondeo Man, Worcester Woman and Middle England are the middle-class stereotypes celebrated in elections from the past fifteen years or so. Debate centred around these middle-class types at the expense of the working classes. Not least from New Labour and the so-called Liberals. This was always presented in a de-facto manner, no question of whether or not we should be talking about these people at the expense of almost all else.
When working class concerns are introduced into the debate however, the political classes (state/corporate/media) close ranks. We are asked whether we should really not have moved on from such childishness when we moved on from other silly things like CND, Union Rights and a concern and compassion for the society that surrounds us. Silly stuff like that. We are asked to consider this in a way which tells us that really, we know we should, and move on to more grown up maters like the importance of capital value and the deification of Success.
This is how class is covered in this election. Dismissed on day one. All the more time to talk about Crisps, I suppose!
2. Labour has clearly dropped any final pretence of standing for the working classes
I want to go back to Gordon Brown’s opening words quoted above. First of all, it gives the impression that he is somehow one of us. He’s not, but that’s the intention of the spin applied to the opening sentence of the campaign. That is why that line exists in the speech.
Second, and of real illumination, is that his big claim is not actually to fight for families on low incomes. Again, I guess that this is no surprise. Labour has clearly not shown much concern in that area for a long time. But it’s fascinating that he begins his campaign by quickly dismissing their concerns. There’s a clear calculation involved here. First, many of those on low incomes will not vote. They are among the most alienated, disaffected with the political system they see presented to them. They are the people dismissed as being apathetic, uncaring or troublesome in society. If they won’t vote, or are highly unlikely to vote, the calculation will have been made that they are not a key receptor to the campaign message. Their concerns are brushed aside when shaping the strategy. Their concerns are brushed aside full stop. The votes are not sought as to re-engage that troublesome third of society would be to open cans of worms that ur politica system haas worked so hard to seal shut.
Perhaps even more cynically, if they do vote, they will very likely vote Labour anyway (though perhaps this is a bit of a wrong assumption after all. I’ll discuss that in a later post) out of duty and a lingering faith in the values of Labour which still draw people mistakenly into its bosom. The message was clear: If you have been left behind by society, we are not the party for you…the good ship Labour has sailed.
Yes, Class matters. No, it won’t be allowed into the fray during an election. There’s too much profit at stake for that.
Finally, i’d like to discount a myth: To be anti-Capitalist is not to be somehow anti-innovation or anti-enterprise. I return to the beginning of this post and present Exhibit A: Sirhowy Valley Foods Ltd. I admire them a lot. Who are they? They are the very ordinarily named company behind Real Crisps, who carried out a stunning and truly first-rate marketing exercise yesterday to capture so much media attention with their REAL ELECTION crisps. They recognised the frivolity with which mainstream media organisations tend to report on elections; they recognised the endless search for “accessibility” and ‘relevance” which paralyses serious news coverage in the twenty-first century. And they pulled off a fantastic coup. There is no way that Sirhowy Valley Foods Ltd could have afforded the publicity they achieved yesterday without creativity and enterprise. I admire them.
On day one, they had my vote.