The Real Thing

In David Cameron’s conference speech in October 2010, five months into the coalition government, he referenced the 70s Pepsi advert slogan – “Lip smacking, thirst quenching, ace tasting, motivating, good buzzing, cool talking, high walking, fast living, ever giving…..Pepsi.” 

Now this advert has always had a special resonance for me, having the words emblazoned across a favourite yellow t-shirt of mine as a very, very young child in the decade that Coca-Cola was trying to teach the world to sing (other brands of cola are available).

It strikes me that the Conservative Party have once more reached back through time for the basis of their entire campaign strategy up to now. I expect to see a poster propounding “Odd looking, sandwich eating, geeky looking, back-stabbing, Britain hating, kitchen owning, brother slaying, SNP wooing, woman loving…..EdMil.”

It would seem that the Conservatives have identified that the perceived oddities of Miliband is their greatest strength. I find it difficult to recall a time when mainstream politicians have so concentrated on a negative attack on the personal characteristics of the Leader of a Party. 

Such portrayals can define an individual forever in the minds of the public. One need only to think about the Sun’s characterisation of the football manager Graham Taylor as a turnip. But this only works if it taps into the general view of the failings of the individual involved. It works if the negative portrayal simply gives voice to the view already held. 

Obviously the public will think Miliband looked odd eating that bacon sandwich. Yes his voice can say more to you about the chap from IT, rather than a statesman. However I am not convinced that the public have written him off entirely. And I suspect the strategy thus deployed is making the public warm to this underdog. It is allowing him to repeat, time and time again, “yes, this is all said about me, but you know what, I’m still standing.” 

It is also backfiring. I tend to want those charged with Governing the country to have intelligence and judgement. Neither seemed on display in Michael Fallon’s accusation that Miliband “stabbing his brother in the back” somehow renders him unreliable when it comes to defence of the realm. 

Ed’s defeat of David in the leadership contest was no more a back stabbing than David Cameron defeating Ken Clarke and David Davis for the leadership of their party. This was a gratuitous and inaccurate personal attack. And a hell of a non-sequitur, in any event. 

Ed Miliband stood against his brother in a democratic process therefore he cannot be trusted with making decisions that impact upon the armed forces? Really? Does that make any sense?

I may try this tactic in court. I will cross-examine the witness to a robbery along the lines of “How can the jury believe you about what you say you saw, when you have taken the decision to pair that jacket, with that tie?” Or conducting an appeal with the logic “You must allow this appeal, because the Judge once slighted a member of her own family and is therefore completely devoid of reliability.” I suspect I would be laughed out of court more regularly, and with greater gusto, than already happens. 

The worst consequence of the current approach by the Conservatives is that it makes the news story either about Miliband or about the judgement of Fallon in making such a personal attack. The actual point, the substance of what is being said, becomes secondary. Or even totally lost. The decision about Trident is an important issue for consideration by the electorate. The Miliband fraternal relationship is not. 

This tactic is, in part, a product of things like “The Leaders’ Debate.” Quite how this has reached the prominence in our process that it has, is beyond me. We are not electing a President. We are electing an MP to represent our constituencies, who will form a Parliament, who will then go on to decide who forms the Government. 

Yet we have a Leaders’ Debate in which you have parties that are not standing in every or even most of the constituencies, a leader in Farage who is not yet elected to Parliament and Nick Clegg, who may not even be re-elected to Parliament, let alone have any role to play in a future Government.

Let us have informed and constructive debates about our future. Not this sort of personal attack. Leave that to the sketch writers and the satirists. Allow the commentators to comment. Let us have politicians talking about politics. 

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