From PinkVanGate to FinkGate to BaldwinRobinsonGate, the election is getting nasty and silly at the same time, and there are two common factors running through them all – Tory desperation and the Tory press.
Let’s take them one by one. Is it sensible for the Labour Party to have a specific campaign aimed at women voters? Yes. Why? Because women have in many ways borne the brunt of the Tories’ economic strategy (sic), the Tories and David Cameron in particular have a well-known ‘problem with women’ (Tory pollster) and Labour have a lot of policies on important issues like equality, low paid work, childcare, nursery years, – issues which the media barely focus upon, and so taking them out there in direct conversation is a good and necessary idea.
Does a van help such a campaign? Yes. Is the campaign helped if such a van attracts attention as it tours the country? Yes. The ‘furore’ over the colour is the media’s way of sticking to its intention of not bothering to cover the issues, preferring froth and trivia, of which PinkVanGate was a very good example. My message to Harriet Harman and her team: Keep on Driving. Oh, and if it had been a different colour, the same papers criticising the Party for having a pink van would have found rentaquotes to say the ‘white van’ or ‘black van’ was an insult to women or showed how out of touch Ed Miliband was.
Now FinkGate. To see Tories from David Cameron down, aided and abetted by the usual suspects in the media, try to turn widespread tax avoidance in a major bank into an issue for Ed Miliband underlined once more both how desperate he is, and how much of a help the biased media is to him in terms of framing a debate. But it didn’t work. Because the issue is too real, it strikes at the heart of what people feel about the global crisis and the inequality at the heart of our economy, and because Ed Miliband stuck to his guns.
Nor did it help that just as the story broke, Labour were holding a pub quiz to raise funds for the election campaign, whilst Cameron and Co were wining and dining hedge funders and oligarchs and raising vast sums in auctions which included a tour of Highgrove. How or when they got Royal permission to use Prince Charles’ residence as a prize at a party event is not clear. Suffice to say if we had ever done such a thing, the Mail, Sun, Express, Telegraph et al would have been salivating and frothing for days.
When I was a journalist, I remember the story of jockey Lester Piggott. Jailed for three years, stripped of his OBE, for tax avoidance. How the morals of our time have changed that David Cameron’s first instinct when tax avoidance is exposed is not to see it as the crime it is, but to stick up for the friends who bankroll him, and a minister brought into government with similar due diligence to that shown when he insisted on taking Andy Coulson into government.
As for the synthetic fuss the Tories and their lackeys tried to get going over a conversation between the BBC’s Nick Robinson and Miliband aide Tom Baldwin, it is such a nonsense as barely to merit a line in a blog.
What all of the above shows is that both the Tories and the Tory press want an election focused very much on processology, rather than on policy and the big challenges facing the country. Hardly surprising considering that when it comes to challenges as big as Ukraine, or Greece, our Prime Minister has rendered himself so irrelevant because of his UKIP-pandering EU ‘strategy’ that he is no more than a commentator and spectator, not a player.
For every day that the media is talking about the colour of a van, or something someone said to someone else that may or not have had the word ‘moment’ in it, then the Tories can avoid debate about the ruinous effect of their policies on families who have been forced into poverty, food banks which have become one of the few growth industries, a Health Service where a winter crisis Labour made a thing of the past is now back as an annual Tory event, suffering from the effects of a disastrous and costly reorganisation for which they had no mandate; then there is the debate they want to avoid on class sizes or tuition fees, or welfare and housing policies which are designed to benefit the wealthy and force the poor to move out.
Between now and the election David Cameron will come up with a nice line for the media every day, sometimes twice. He will be passionate on the news every night, always about something different from the night before. He will be determined to deal with whatever problem popped up on the media brief that morning. Then off to the next thing. It is embarrassing to watch.
Ed Miliband has had a lot thrown at him, and has stood up to it. He is never going to be an Obama or a Clinton when it comes to the public presentation stuff, but then nor is Angela Merkel. And if ever there was a week to ask whether Merkel style leadership is more effective than Cameron’s, we have just had it.
Ed seems to me to be finding a much clearer and stronger voice, at the right time. He still has a lot of critics, of course, and will continue to attract a lot of negative headlines. They go with the territory. But just as Fox News’ relentless attacks on Obama worked in his favour, so I think the incredibly desperate attacks of the Tory press can work for Ed. They allow him to show a calm and a resilience that people are beginning to notice. They convey the sense that the Tories really are worried. And over time the message will get through that the Milibaiting-hating is as much about the stance he took on Leveson as about any genuine desire to see Cameron back in power.
So Labour should take heart from the vehemence of the attacks. I suspect the issue of the media coverage of politics will become an issue at some point in the coming months. And I don’t think it will help Cameron.
Meanwhile, I thought this piece by Peter Oborne for the Spectator was worth sharing. He is not exactly my biggest fan, nor me his, but his take on Ed is very perceptive, and we will be seeing more of the same as serious opinion starts to balance up a little, and see the desperate Tory attacks for what they are.