Friday 1 January 2021

Piffle and Drivel in Politics

As of writing, Keir Starmer's new year's message has attracted over 147,000 views - just shy of 15% of his total followers on Twitter. In this short film he talks about what a great place the UK is, acknowledges the difficulties and problems people have faced thanks to Coronavirus, and looks forward to our better tomorrows with the vaccine and being able to meet up with our friends again. The Liberal Democrats have done the same, thanking key workers set to a maudling accompaniment more appropriate for a celeb obituary slot on the BBC. The content of Boris Johnson's address isn't much different, but he strikes a more optimistic and less contrived tone than those of his opponents.

The question Labour members and supporters might have is why bother. Keir's statement says nothing. It's two minutes worth of platitudes with a light Blue Labour framing. It wouldn't inspire party activists to put their face masks on and get leafleting, nor would any post-Brexit Labour leaver beating a path back from "lending" their vote suggest this was a pivotal moment in their reconversion. Isn't this all a bit pointless?

Good question, to which there are two answers. The first is the eye to the media. Few beyond weirdos, sycophants, and careerists would have tuned in to Keir's message. But among those who certainly did are journos looking to provide some filler for the ever-gaping maw of 24 hour news. In turn, the key themes are picked out and retransmitted in newspaper articles (remember, Keir has, so far, successfully cultivated the right wing press), and via the written word or snippets in broadcast media coverage the messages dance across audience eyes and fall into their ear in far greater numbers than anyone who decided to watch the recording. Hence the Blue Labour nonsense. This effort, like voting for Brexit, is about getting permission to be listened to. Therefore, it's not about converting anyone or inspiring anyone, but providing a drip, drip of consistent messaging. When it sediments enough into the popular consciousness, the hope is this subtle pushing invokes the political equivalent of ASMR - a set of warm tingles and low tone euphoria whenever Keir Starmer pronounces on a subject, because the voters Labour's targeting know the leader is on their side. After all, it has worked for Johnson and Trump.

The second explanation is much more banal. The new year message is done because it's expected. Had Keir not bothered, he'd have got criticised for it, but more than this it's inertial. Many things are slotted into the media grid simply because they've always featured. A great deal of thought might go into the most banal of speeches, but why such-and-such a thing is done and what its effects are occupy nowhere near as much headspace. Which is good for the spads and bag carriers LOTO accumulates like so much detritus, because established routine gives them a reason to exist. And it also conveys the view of activity. Anyone watching the hideous liberal drama The West Wing could not fail to notice how scenes inside the White House always have youngsters in business suits flitting about in the background to confer the impression of busyness. Similar pronouncements from the Labour leader does the same. It's a way of showing the job is getting done and everyone is working terribly hard.

Piffle and drivel? Yes, but it too has a role and purpose in mainstream politics.


david walsh said...

The same applies to the humble cohorts on the back benches. It is somehow expected that they, too, have to have New Years messages suitably taiiored for the local audience and conveyed in a mass of grey newsprint alongside similar offerings from their neighbouring MP's for what looked to be the sole purpose of filling spare space in the local rags at a time when "real news" - robberies or murders, job losses or gains, human interest stuff from the estates or villages - was scarce. So alongside the bligatory "New Year Bouncing Baby" from the local maternity ward was the leaden prose of the constituency incumbent. Once, as a local MP's staffer, in the darker days of high Blairism, when good news was hard to shape, I simply refurbished the greetings from 3 years back, altered the dates and kept the same cliches in line. No-one ever noticed.

Anonymous said...

As much as some may not like it for a sizeable percentage of two populations Boris and Trump are entertainment and folks are thinking that they' cut through the crap' because of the 'style' of their delivery.

Who holds the attention of the voter is perhaps more important than who is respected. Anyway what I am saying is nothing new or insightful. Thanks for the posts Phil always interesting! Often insightful!

Graham said...

Alternatively Starmer's message is vaccuous drivel because he actually has nothing to say,

Lidl_Janus said...

"It wouldn't inspire party activists to put their face masks on and get leafleting"

Labour have had a huge numerical advantage in members for the last 2 elections, a distinct one in 2015, and - given the age profiles of the two main parties - probably had more actual activists in 2010. Similarly, the Lib Dems had around 120,000 members last year, c. 75% of the Conservative figure at the same time. Yet the Tories have won all four elections in the 2010s and any Lib Dem at the start of 2010 would've had a nervous breakdown if they knew where the party was a decade later.

At what point do we admit that high membership is good for a political party's finances and little else in tangible terms?

Anonymous said...

Labour had a huge membership under Corbyn. Yet even with all that inspiration and enthusiasm, only about 20 per cent of them became active members of their constituency Labour brances. The Tories won the last election largely through dirty tricks on social media, targeting their voters for many months before the election. Starmer has seen that and presumably thinks he can do the same...hence he is not really bothered about purging socialist or about members resigning in disgust. Or perhaps he doesn't care about winning as long as he can rid the party of socialism.
Our only hope lies in the creation of a grassroots fight back in the unions and the wider community. This has been lacking since the days before Thatcher but the pressing health, economic and planetary crises are making it a fight or die situation now.

Anonymous said...

Good points. In the mean time many hard working 'members' have bills to pay and real jobs to do. Time, energy, paying the bills alas is important in very tangible terms.

Karl Greenall said...

When that party membership is properly organised for campaigning.
Don't forget that Tory propaganda drops into many households every day the through the MSM, in the guise of newspapers or broadcast media such as the BBC, which, in it's idleness let's the Press set it's news agenda for it, even though it is big enough to create it's own.
This is all how public perceptions are generally created, and how Labour is often caught, media-wise, in the back front. Having nothing to say, as at the present time, doesn't help either.

Anonymous said...

What are our politicians saying regarding an independent investigation regarding the Covid death rate in the UK? Germany has (quite) a similar demographic.

Speak up we cannot hear you. What do you believe, and how will the country be better under your leadership?

BTW thank you for the ace posts Phil always interesting.