Thursday 28 April 2022

The Anatomy of a Dishonest Attack Ad

Look at the state of this. Here we are a week away from crucial local elections for Keir Starmer. Contests that will be a challenge to make demonstrable progress with because the seats contested are mostly Labour defences in localities that lean Labour anyway. But even then with slim pickings to be had from the Tories, Labour goes ahead and runs an attack ad on the Liberal Democrats. This doesn't speak highly of the below-the-counter "understanding" Starmer has said he wants to forge. And it doesn't make much sense from an electoral point of view, does it?

Take a look at the advert. The LibDems will LEGALISE DRUGS AND SOFTEN PUNISHMENTS. Terrifying. GET RID OF BRITAIN'S NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Unserious. What better way to register your opposition to lunatic liberalism than electing a couple of Labour councillors to sort the dog shit out? I suppose it was too much to expect the leadership to show leadership and offer a coherent positive vision Labour Groups could draw on to win over the doorstep doubters. With nothing on offer, dishonest attacks are all they have. But making daft claims about an irrelevant opponent isn't the purpose of the exercise. The clues to what the game is are in the politics pushed.

First off, Keir Starmer is an authoritarian. His politics are power politics, of suits and briefcases determining what's best for the country and handing down policies that would make life better for the little people. There's nothing really new to this: Fabianism and the so-called revisionist tradition, which has been a core component of Labourism from the beginning, operates according to the same principles. Parliamentary elites do the governing and the rest of the country, including the labour movement and the party's membership, are expected to have no further role beyond helping these people get in office and stay in office. Nor is Starmer's authoritarianism especially unique. The cringe patriotism, gushing praise for the military and police, acquiescence to the junking of liberties and freedoms, and contempt for the people who put him in position have their precursors in Tony Blair. Though, it must be noted, Blair didn't lie to the party membership to get himself elected. Whether Starmer really believes this rubbish or not is immaterial. He's decided that he wants to be associated with these positions. This is the image he presents to the electorate, and these are the terms on which he wants to win these elections and the general election when it comes around.

But this still doesn't explain the why. What have nuclear weapons and targeting the LibDems got to do with the local elections campaign? Nothing. And everything. Even though the terrain next Thursday favours Labour, it's a truism of local elections that, like national elections, the old are more likely to turn out than the young. Except even more so. These are older people who disproportionately vote Conservative and are attracted to authoritarian politics. In Labour strategy land, these people need to be won over. Following the craven traditions of right wing opportunism, Starmer leans into rather than challenges their prejudices in the hope of catching their votes. In other words, it's not about the LibDems. By having an go at the yellow party for being, well, yellow, the hope is Tory authoritarians will like the cut of the Starmerist gib and count themselves in. These elections are therefore a test bed for the kind of campaign Starmer wants to fight and win on - the LibDems are just a convenient foil.

Chances are this will be lost among the electoral noise. Like most local elections, the results will be determined by a combination of local factors and whether the electorate want to give the government a deserved kicking. Because Starmer hasn't gone out of his way to capture the public imagination, what his office thinks it's doing is inconsequential to the outcome. But if the result is good, this is going to provide proof of the correctness of this course and we'll only see it doubled down on in upcoming by-elections and next year's locals. What will be interesting is if Labour stands still or goes backward. Where then for Starmer's authoritarian prospectus?


Michael Kelly said...

I agree it'll probably die down in general, but it's more bad news for Scottish Labour.

PurplePete said...

Keef is a liar and a buffoon but the British public seem to have penchant for such traits.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least we know that the Opposition is anti-Opposition.

Richard Gadsden said...

Mandelson put out a leaflet in 1995 calling the Lib Dems "soft on drugs and high on taxes", which was considerably better headlinese than this.

This is absolutely the same bullshit as the early Blair years, but without any of the flair, imagination, or style. It's just leaden-footed followership.

Unknown said...

There will be an inappropriate lap of honour from Starmer and cohorts if the Tory vote collapses and Labour's remains stable or improves slightly.