Today saw the launch of the Conservative Party’s latest election broadcast, emailed to their supporters and promoted on YouTube. And from a strictly artistic and technical perspective, it’s not bad.
The video was distributed along with this blurb:
Samuel, <– thanks, mail merge personalisation
Have you seen our new Election Broadcast?
It shows how our plan is securing the things we all want for our children and grandchildren: a good education, a decent job, great public services and the chance to make the most out of their lives.
It’s really important that everyone knows the choice at this election: a better, more secure future with the Conservatives or putting all the progress we’ve made at risk with Ed Miliband propped up by the SNP.
Cue lots of video footage of babies and small children, and voiceovers in which the parents express their hopes that little Johnny will emerge from the British educational system reasonably literate and numerate, never have to “worry about paying the bills each month” as an adult, and to come of age in “a Britain with opportunities” (duh). All of this is accompanied by the gentle strumming of guitars familiar to any fan of the TV show Gilmore Girls, and the same amiable whistling that TSB currently uses in advertisements to trick people into thinking that they are a friendly local bank.
But despite the focus on youth, in reality the Tories (and Labour too) are much more concerned with “securing the things we all want” not for our children and grandchildren, but for our parents and grandparents. The welfare state certainly needed reforming in 2010, and Iain Duncan Smith’s rollout of Universal Credit could yet go a long way toward eliminating the benefit trap, but it cannot escape anyone’s attention that the younger generations have borne the brunt of the necessary corrections to excessive government spending.
Meanwhile, Britain’s pensioners – who are much more likely to be homeowners and free of the cost of young raising families – have not been asked to contribute a penny, even as we were told that we are “all in it together”. Instead, the older generation are showered with non-means tested benefits such as free television licences and bus passes, while their pensions are protected with a “triple lock” which ensures that they will always get richer in real terms.
No wonder the young girl in the Conservative Party election broadcast is throwing rocks when the caption about exempting Britain’s pensioners from any efforts to fix the economy flashes up on the screen:
But most striking of all is the degree to which this Conservative election broadcast is little more than a retail offer to Britain’s voters, a list of things which we will get if we know what’s good for us and vote Tory. Labour’s will be no better – assuming that their election broadcast doesn’t descend into the gleeful class warfare of their 2014 European election campaign effort, and that they actually manage to speak to the electorate at all rather than indulge in Tory-bashing.
Maybe this is just how things are now. Maybe we are destined to treat politics and government as we would any other service that we pay for, demanding more for less and always wanting to be first in line, to hell with everyone else. Maybe a politician who tried to speak about Britain’s place in the world, the continued importance of the nation state and the ways in which we should work together for a better planet would be laughed off the stage.
David Cameron and Ed Miliband clearly think so. You will not hear anything about Britain’s place in the world in this election campaign. You will not hear the pros and cons of increasing or decreasing military spending, or cutting the resources of our Foreign Office. And you certainly won’t hear either Labour or the Conservatives saying that maybe we the people have a part to play in making our government and our country great, that more should be expected of us than to act like petulant couch potatoes endlessly demanding more stuff from our fellow citizens through increased government spending.
Look at the polls – politics based on weaponising public services simply isn’t working any more. Rather than helping us to think big about how the world works and where we fit into the human systems we have created, it has fractured our political landscape into a ragtag assortment of special interest and victim groups, to be played off one against the other for political advantage. Rather than delivering landslide election results and strong governments, it is delivering hung parliaments and a disengaged population.
There are dangers, yes, but there are also great opportunities for any political party (or leader) with the courage to call the British people to a higher shared purpose than just enjoying decent public services, and the vision to realise that a smaller government could do far, far bigger things than we dare to dream today.