The speech-writer for David Cameron in the run-up to the 2010 general election, Ian Birrell, seems to have finger in every lie on behalf of the Tories. He’s the contributing editor of The Mail on Sunday, whilst writing columns regularly in several other papers. He’s been published in The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Daily Mail, The Financial Times, The Times, The Observer, The London Evening Standard, The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, Prospect, New Statesman and The Spectator.
On the 2nd January, Birrell cobbled together a somewhat strange and hugely speculative article in the Guardian, claiming that “a Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May” and “the two parties have more in common with each other than with the insurgents. A national government would prevent a constitutional crisis.”
There are no quotes or citations, just an unsubstantiated comment: “But most people in Westminster privately predict a hung parliament.”
As I said, entirely speculative, seemingly without an aim.
Birrell also claims there was “a brief flicker of unity” between the parties during the Scottish referendum. That’s a neat side-stepping of the fundamental fact that Labour, like most socialists, have always been internationalists, which has absolutely nothing to do with the Tories’ position on Scottish independence at all, and everything to do with Labour’s core values. It’s also a claim frequently made by the Scottish Nationalists – Labour “sided with the Tories.” Anyone would think that the Scottish National Party want to undermine support for the Labour Party in Scotland…
There is of course a subtext to Birrell’s article. It is a piece of propaganda. The subtext is “the mainstream political parties are all the same.”
The “allthesame” myth came straight from Tory HQ. The BBC’s Tory correspondent Nick Robinson admitted live on air that Cameron’s best chance of winning the next election is if people believe politicians are “all the same.” That is very clearly not the case. I think this is a major ploy aimed at propagandarising an exclusively class-based identity politics, to target and fragment the “working class left.”
It purposefully excludes other social groups and also sets them against each other, for example, working class unemployed people attacking migrants – it really is divisive, anti-democratic, and quite deliberately flies in the face of Labour’s equality and diversity principles. That’s the problem with identity politics: it tends to enhance a further sense of social segregation, fragmentation and it isn’t remotely inclusive.
Of course it also enhances the tropes “outoftouch” and “allthesame.” It’s a clever strategy, because it attacks Labour’s equality and inclusive principles – the very reason why the Labour movement happened in the first place – and places restriction on who ought to be included.
Think of that divisive strategy 1) in terms of equality; 2) in terms of appealing to the electorate; 3) in terms of policy. Note how it imposes limits and is reductive.
It also demoralises and confuses people.
The Tories set this strategy up in the media, UKIP have extended it further and the minority rival parties, including the Green Party and the Scottish National Party have utilised the same rhetoric tool: all of these parties frequently use the term “liblabcon”for example. That’s a sort of cognitive shortcut to what has been tacitly accepted, apparently, as a “common sense” view that partisanship amongst the mainstream parties is dead. I’ve written at length about this process of “normalisation” – how social conservatism and neoliberalism have been absorbed culturally, and how this serves to naturalise the dominance of the Right and stifle the rationale for critical debate here – Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man.
Be prepared for much more of this propaganda tactic: the Right are engaged in an all out war.
Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.
Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they believe is an unacceptable threat to their power.
Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband may well actually win the 2015 election.
It doesn’t take much effort to work out that the two main parties in competition have nothing in common at all. They debate oppositionally in parliament. Cameron attacks Miliband at every opportunity and on a very personal level, quite often. It’s plain, if you listen to the parliamentary debates, that neither man can stand what the other represents.
And how would the Tories and Labour reconcile their fundamental differences regarding human rights, the European Convention On Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Union? How about the bedroom tax? The National Health Service? Taxation? The welfare reforms? Equality? These are issues on which the two rival parties will never be able reach a consensus.
It’s quite difficult to assert that there are significant differences between the parties, because of the constant repetition of the “allthesame” lie. It has become almost like a comforting, lulling mantra and a shortcut from cognitive dissonance. People often get quite angry when confronted with evidence that challenges this soundbite. But policies provide very good evidence, they are scripted from ideologies and are statements of a party’s intentions.
Ed Miliband has been cautious in making policy promises and has said that he won’t pledge anything that he may not be able to deliver. Here are Labour’s key policies to date, each has been costed and evidenced.
The thing about policies that have been passed into law is that they can be verified on the Parliamentary website and elsewhere. How many of you reading this think that Blair was a “Thatcherite”? I’m not a Blairite. I do like Miliband, who is a very different leader than Blair was. Miliband denounced New Labour in 2010. His stance on Syria in 2013 draws a clean line under the Blair approach. Yet Blair is still being used as a stick to hit the Labour Party with.
The claims made in lying articles in the media and the often inaccurate and distorted claims of fringe party supporters are based on a propaganda technique called transfer and association, which is a method of projecting negative (or positive) qualities of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organisation) to another in order to discredit it (or sometimes, to make the second more acceptable, this tactic is used in advertising a lot.)
It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognised authorities. But that stick is hitting a closed door now. Newsflash: Blair hasn’t been party leader for some years.
I worked on compiling a list of New Labour’s policies, and despite Blair’s faults, there really were some outstanding achievements, such as the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, various animal welfare laws, Every Child Matters and the Good Friday Agreement. I have listed New Labour’s achievements with a comparable list of the Coalition’s “memorable” moments, too. If you hated Blair, and see him as some sort of high priest of neoliberalism, it’s probably even more important that you read this. I promise it will help you to understand cognitive dissonance, at the very least, and perhaps to appreciate the importance of evidence and critical thinking: Political parties – there are very BIG differences in their policies.
And this, for some balance and perspective: Thatcher, Mad Cow Disease and her other failings, the Blair detour and déjà entendu, Mr Cameron.
The “allthesame” lie is a way of neutralising opposition to dominant ideas. It’s a way of disguising partisanship and of manipulating and reducing democratic choices. It’s nothing less than a political micro-management of your beliefs and decision-making.
It also reduces public expectation of opposition and in doing so it establishes diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative. And those that refuse to accept the diktats are enticed by the marginal parties who offer much, safe in the knowledge that they won’t have to rationalise, evidence, cost or deliver those promises. This also plays a part in diluting viable opposition, because the smaller parties tend to employ the same strategy to gain credibility and support – negative campaigning and repeated lies and soundbites.
Lynton Crosby, who has declared that his role is to destroy the Labour Party, rather than promote the Conservatives, based on any notion of merit, is also all about such a targeted “divide and rule” strategy. This is a right wing tactic of cultivating and manipulating apostasy amongst support for the opposition. It’s a very evident ploy in the media, too, with articles about Labour screaming headlines that don’t match content, and the Sun, Mail and Telegraph in particular blatantly lying about Labour’s policy intentions regularly.
Propaganda isn’t always obvious, and that’s how it works. We need to be very mindful of this.
Ultimately, the only party that will gain from any of this negative campaigning approach and divisive propaganda is the Tories. And that is who we should be collectively opposing.
The Tories launched their election campaign a couple of days ago, and already, it’s obvious that the entire campaign is founded on attempting to undermine Labour’s credibility by telling lies about their economic management – The Tory election strategy is more of the same: Tories being conservative with the truth.
Contrast the Conservative with the truth approach I’ve discussed here with Miliband’s consistently genuine approach to politics – Ed Miliband: Labour election campaign will be one of hope, not falsehood.
Whatever party you support and regardless of whether or not we agree on the issues I raise, my key aim, whenever I write, is to inspire a sense of responsibility and some critical thinking. That helps to reliably inform our decision-making.
I won’t apologise to my critics for being a Labour Party supporter, but I will always provide evidence and analysis to support and justify my own views and I will always be happy to engage in dialogue, provided that it’s a respectful and polite exchange. No party is above criticism, quite rightly so, as politics has to be an accountable, reflective and responsive process. That’s what democracy is about.
There is, however, a big difference between genuine criticism, on the one hand and propaganda and lies on the other, which are being masqueraded as “criticism.” If debate isn’t established on a genuine, critical exploration of evidence and establishing truths, then it’s not debate: it’s simply indoctrination.