Somehow, the message still isn’t getting through.
“We just want you to level with us, own up to your past failings and tell us where you really stand on the key issues we care about”, scream Britain’s voters to their increasingly detatched political leaders, in the subtext to every single opinion poll or by-election result of 2014. In response, our political leaders scratch their heads and look confused. “So you want us to pretend as though we understand and respect you?”
Britain’s established political parties have been haemorrhaging support to the new insurgents – UKIP, the Green Party and the fastest growing bloc of all, those who have given up on politics and voting entirely – since the inconclusive 2010 general election and subsequent formation of the coalition government laid bare how vanishingly little difference there really is between the red, blue and yellow team consensus. And as the 2015 general election approaches, each of the establishment parties will come face to face with their own reckoning: David Cameron’s Conservatives face the humiliating prospect of failing to win an outright majority for the second consecutive time, Ed Miliband’s Labour Party behold the implosion of their 35% core vote strategy and Nick Clegg’s LibDems hunker down and wait for the sweet release of electoral oblivion.
In a sane world, the growing revulsion and contempt felt by the British people toward their political class might by now have led to a degree of introspection and a nagging desire among politicians and political parties to cease their endless cycle of cynical, self-destructive behaviour. But we do not live in a sane world. And so the response of Britain’s main parties to the groundswell of public anger at their inability to be honest about their past records and current policies is not to come clean and give honesty a try, but rather to double-down and turn up the brazen deceit to “maximum”.
First, the Conservative Party.
Following Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, the Tories have been on a press offensive, highlighting their achievements in office and contrasting them with the risk posed by handing stewardship of the economy back to Labour. Unfortunately, though, this boasting has not always had a sound basis in fact. Fraser Nelson at The Spectator quite correctly calls out the Conservative Party leadership for suddenly and shamelessly switching to a new and misleading economic metric in order that they can claim to have “halved the budget deficit” when in reality they did no such thing:
Until Osborne’s Autumn Statement, Cameron was telling the truth about the deficit – that it had been brought down by a third. But the Autumn Statement, Osborne introduced a new tricksy verbal formula: that he had “halved” the deficit – but, wait for it… as a share of GDP. An inherently misleading phrase, but technically defensible. But if you drop the GDP reference then it become a falsehood.
Cameron, Osborne and co. have taken to omitting the crucial “as a share of GDP” qualifier from their public pronouncements on their deficit reduction progress, making the statement wholly false and misleading. Fraser Nelson says that this is inexcusable:
A deficit, as any fule no, is measured in pounds sterling. ‘Halving that deficit’ can only mean one thing. The Tories really should be ashamed at this. It’s bad enough that they failed to stick to their deficit reduction plan, but even worse that they should be so dishonest.
Absolutely. Were the Conservatives to level with the voters and admit that yes, they had aimed to have eliminated the deficit by the end of the parliament but ran into strong headwinds and ultimately fell short of the target, they might be met with some degree of understanding, or at least gratitude that they had not sought to dress up an incomplete job as the finished article. But by lying to the electorate in this way, Cameron and Osborne both insult the intelligence of the voter and make the high-handed but unfounded assumption that the British people are somehow incapable of understanding that economic situations are dynamic and that things can change unexpectedly for better or worse.
Not that Ed Miliband’s malfunctioning Labour Party are any better.
In the latest of Miliband’s carefully thought out and not at all reactive Big Speeches™, the Labour Leader spent seven minutes speaking earnestly about how “seriously” his party takes the issue of immigration. The speech was full of the usual platitudes, talk of a “sensible approach” and “no false promises”, and an undefined promise to “control immigration fairly”. What Labour failed to mention in their press release, however, choosing instead to bury deep within their leader’s forgetable remarks, is that Labour’s idea of “taking immigration seriously” is very different to that of the average voter.
From the BBC’s summary of Ed Miliband’s speech:
Mr Miliband said that the measure [to close loopholes allowing British firms to legally employ migrant staff at rates below the minimum wage] would stop such firms from undercutting the pay and conditions of low-paid British workers and also protect immigrants from being exploited.
“We are serving notice on employers who bring workers here under duress or on false terms and pay them significantly lower wages, with worse terms and conditions,” he said.
“This new criminal offence will provide protection to everyone. It will help ensure that, when immigrants work here, they do not face exploitation themselves and rogue employers are stopped from undercutting the terms and conditions of everyone else.”
In other words, Labour’s idea of “taking immigration seriously” is to campaign vigorously for stronger employment protections for migrant labour. That in itself is a commendable goal – if we are going to have a minimum wage, it should apply equally to all people performing the same work for a given firm. But it has absolutely nothing to do with addressing the British public’s primary concerns about immigration: namely, that we have no control over the quantity or skillset of people that come from elsewhere in the EU to work in the UK, and that too little is being done to offset the less beneficial or negative consequences of large scale migration.
Essentially, Ed Miliband’s devious ruse was this: Announce a speech in which the word “immigration” will be uttered a lot. Heavily preview the speech, telling journalists how firmly he will grasp the nettle of immigration and show his empathy with the British people. Deliver a meandering speech that does indeed include numerous utterances of the word “immigration” but pointedly fails to address the principle concerns surrounding the issue. And finally, sit back and hope that the general public notice only the headline trumpeting the fact that he did indeed speak about immigration without looking at the fine print and realising that what Miliband actually said was either irrelevant or directly contradictory to their own concerns and interests.
Unfortunately for Ed Miliband and Labour, any voter in possession of a remotely enquiring mind will see through the scam almost immediately, and be doubly incensed at the attempt to trick them and the continued refusal to engage with their concerns. And as the BBC article notes, such a cynical move only plays into the hands of UKIP, the only party (for better or worse) who have an ideologically consistent message on the subject of immigration:
UKIP leader Nigel Farage told BBC News that Mr Miliband’s speech had been a “pathetic attempt” to persuade people Labour could “do something about the compression of wages in the United Kingdom”.
He added: “The reality is, we can’t.”
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: “It’s no wonder the Labour Party doesn’t want to talk about immigration, because they are the prime reason why confidence in the immigration system was so badly damaged.”
The Telegraph’s Dan Hodges is equally scathing in his own assessment of Miliband’s speech and Labour’s lack of an immigration strategy:
Today Miliband did the worse thing any mainstream politician can do on immigration. He talked up the problem, and then failed to provide anything that comes close to resembling a coherent solution.
If you want to control immigration, there is only one thing you can do. You have to stop free movement from the EU. Cracking down on bad employers will make zero difference. Most EU migrants work for good employers. Cracking down on benefits will make zero difference. Most EU migrants don’t come here to claim benefits, they come here to work. So if you really do want to “control immigration fairly”, then you have to reintroduce immigration controls within the European Union.
That’s it. That is the immigration debate, right there. There is no “third way”. There is no way to “triangulate”. It’s binary. You have open borders, or you don’t.
Incidentally, we know that Labour’s claim to be taking a tough stance on immigration was a bare-faced lie because their own electoral playbook for fighting UKIP strongly encourages Labour MPs and candidates to pivot away to other topics when confronted by angry voters on the campaign trail:
Labour MPs are also urged to focus on “moving the conversation on to issues where we have clear policy” if confronted with concerns about immigration, such as healthcare and housing.
Is that clear enough yet? Labour take the issue of immigration very, very seriously. But if you try to talk to one of their candidates about it during the 2015 general election campaign, they will immediately change the subject and talk about something, anything else – perhaps one of the causes that they “take seriously” for real, not just for show.
And so the cycle continues forever. One party lies and obfuscates to avoid minor embarrassment or a passing negative headline. Their political opponents immediately go on the attack, accusing them of cynical manipulation and misrepresentation, before proceeding to commit an identical deception of their own when the time suits them. All of the legacy parties watch their support ebb away to insurgent rivals or to the politically disengaged blob, profess their horror at the situation and pledge to take immediate action to address the problem, before behaving in exactly the same way that alienated their supporters in the first place.
The British people aren’t perfect but they are far more intelligent and capable of grasping hard facts and nuance than our political class seems to appreciate. Deep down, most of us knew that the Tory pledge to eliminate the budget deficit in the course of a single parliament was highly unlikely to be achieved by a government formed of an unhappy marriage with the Liberal Democrats, no matter what was promised back in 2010. Likewise, most of us are perfectly well aware that today’s pro-European Labour Party has absolutely no interest in doing anything at all to curtail inward migration to Britain, being far more concerned with defending the economic interests of their privileged, globalised, metropolitan new power base than worrying about their forsaken roots in the industrial north.
And yet still the Conservative Party pretends that it is the embodiment of fiscal responsibility, and still the Labour Party struts around as though it were actually protecting the interests of the working classes and the underprivileged. But at this point both parties are fooling only themselves – the rest of us, in increasing numbers, have seen through their cheap charade and are gladly tuning them out.
Cover Image: The Spectator Coffee House blog
Midde Image: Another Angry Voice blog