Today we saw the publication of the Labour Party’s first election poster of the 2015 campaign, and it is a nasty, negative little piece of work.
Designed to appear like an X-ray image, the poster shows a broken arm, and the warning “Next Time, They’ll Cut To The Bone. The NHS Can’t Afford The Tory Cuts Plan”.
There’s no point wasting space pointing out that this is not a very promising start from a party that promised to wage a relentlessly upbeat, positive election campaign – that point has already been well made. And it’s a fair point, but perhaps not the most important one.
What is really depressing about this Labour attack ad – and all of the negative campaigning we will soon see from the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP too – is the lack of vision, of imagination, of anything resembling a positive outlook for Britain’s future.
Ed Miliband is fervently hoping that he can squeak across the finish line and into Number 10 Downing Street on the back of the British public’s fear that our precious public services will be cut back or degraded under five more years of Tory rule. Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats hope to stave off electoral annihilation by likewise preying on the fear of a Tory majority, and by promising that returning a sufficient number of LibDem MPs to Westminster will help to soften the edges of a future coalition as they did in 2010.
Meanwhile, UKIP, for all their anti-establishment fervour and sometime happy warrior image, will be busy preying on fears and resentments about immigration and injustices inflicted upon helpless Britain from Brussels. And David Cameron and the Conservative Party will desperately hope that their own negative campaign ads, designed to make the British public fear the uncertainty and economic chaos that a profligate Labour administration would bring about, will convince us to allow them another term in government.
The common thread? All of the campaigning between now and May 7 will be negative.
Regardless of what the party leaders say when put on the spot about their nasty little ads and strategies, they will continue to campaign negatively because without exception, their respective paths to electoral success all require stoking fear in the hearts of the British people, and convincing us that only they are positioned to prevent whatever nightmare scenario they happen to be dangling in front of us.
The blogger Mike Cameron struck a powerful chord by posting a video clip of President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University in Texas, in which he made the famous declaration “We choose to go to the moon!”. It’s worth watching in full, because the speechwriting (featuring whole sentences and complete paragraphs!) is such a pleasant antidote to the manipulative, robotic buzzwords spewed out by modern British politicians:
In his blog post, Mike Cameron says that a speech such as that given by President Kennedy would never make it to the teleprompters of David Cameron or Ed Miliband, being considered far too complex and potentially off-message. And he rightly goes on to castigate British politicians for failing to inspire us, or unite us around a shared national purpose:
We climbed out of swamp, out of the rift valley, out of the caves and eventually out of the dark. Homo sapiens sapiens have met every challenge that’s ever been set. Crossed every ocean, scaled every mountain, visited every planet. We have seen nearly back to the dawn of creation. We’ve told tales, sung songs and created art in celebration of all these achievements.
WE’VE LANDED ON A COMET AND SEEN THE HIGGS BOSON!
And yet the challenge put before us in eight weeks time is to “reduce the deficit”.
It’s not enough.
We’re capable of more.
Set us a challenge.
Amen to this. In fact, this blog has been screaming exactly the same point for years, most recently at the occasion of Ed Miliband’s most recent personal relaunch speech:
In an age when inspiration is everywhere; when humankind can cure diseases, land spacecraft on distant asteroids and put portable computing and telecommunication devices into the pockets of all but the poorest among us, it is astounding and shameful that Ed Miliband has no new national goal, no vision of the future, no common endeavour to unite us, save some weasly words about equality that are backed up by absolutely no concrete policies – Zero Zero – that will make a blind bit of difference, save perhaps squeezing the rich a bit more.
Miliband could have used his relaunch speech to ask who among us will invent the next iPod, found the next Microsoft, build a national electric car infrastructure or cure the scourge of cancer, and then call for the British people to rise to the challenge, alongside whatever government help he deemed suitable. But instead he chose to drone on about bankers and public services, yet again. Miliband could issue no cry for us to rise to our national destiny because the world outside of government and public services is completely foreign to him, and although government is New Labour’s answer to everything, patriotism, British exceptionalism and pride in one’s country are seen as embarrassing and gauche.
Are we really to endure 47 more days of nonsense such as Labour’s new NHS attack ad, and these other sundry insults to our intelligence? Are the British people supposed to passively endure being lied and condescended to, manipulated and bribed by political parties and party leaders who wouldn’t recognise a bold vision for government if one were to bite them on the backside?
What would it take for a British politician to tear up the current playbook (written by risk-averse party strategists so deeply buried in polling data that they have lost all sight of the bigger picture) and actually speak honestly and from the heart about the challenges facing Britain, and how we will overcome and surpass those challenges together?
What would it take for a British politician to take the moral high road and not seek to play one group of us off against another, instead reminding us that we are all united through our British citizenship, and that our fates – from the richest homeowner in Knightsbridge to the poorest council house tenant in Wolverhampton – are inextricably bound together, for better or worse?
What would it take for a British politician to suggest that as a country we might actually consider setting our national ambitions slightly higher than just having decent public services, that the country of Britten and Shakespeare and Berners-Lee and Hawking is still able to forge and reshape the world in a way that no other nation can?
I don’t know. But it will never happen so long as we reward garbage like this pathetic exercise in election season scaremongering by the Labour Party.
No more fearmongering or negativity. Give us a positive reason to vote this May. Tell us not what our government can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Inspire us.
Set us a challenge.
This article was republished on Guerilla Policy here.
Other articles from Semi-Partisan Sam are syndicated on the Guerilla Feed wire service here.