Monday, February 05, 2007

Stop helping the Tories

The Labour and Lib Dem MPs who managed to beat the Tory candidates funded by Lord Ashcroft at the last election all have my admiration. In a more just world, every report of the 2005 election campaign should start by explaining how the Tories tried and failed to buy the election. They came close to succeeding, as well. Even with the loans (which might still end up smashing our party to pieces), we were still heavily outspent and won some desperately close elections. One of our organisers, for example, was responsible for two key marginals and managed to hold one by 254 votes, and the other by 79. If instead of being outspent by £5 million or so, the Tories had been able to spend twice as much as us, we might even have lost our overall majority.

I mention this now because those Tories haven't gone away, and some of them have a new project, which is to bring Fox News to Britain and create a new home for the conservative movement. Now political internet telly initially sounded just a bit comical to me, and nothing much to worry about, but while the people behind it might be fully paid up members of the Forces of Evil, they aren't stupid. They're currently testing out things like attack adverts and other techniques pioneered by the Republican Party. In the mid 90s, New Labour used campaigning techniques from America to help take the Tories to pieces, and internet campaigning may well offer similar possibilities in the next couple of years to set the news agenda and launch well funded and co-ordinated attacks and smears against our government.

There is nothing subtle about this - their first two adverts were against state funding of political parties (which would stop them taking money off people like Michael Ashcroft), and for lower taxes, and the latest one is an attack on Ken Livingstone (who is a popular left-winger who uses his elected office to be on the side of the majority against the rich, and who the Tories consequently hate with an abiding passion).

Of course there is the pretence that 18 Doughty Street is 'independent of all political parties', on the grounds that sometimes they'll attack Cameron for not being right wing enough. The pretence of independence is at least marginally important because the credibility would be reduced if everyone on the programme were as right-wing as its funders and staff. Less credibility would make it harder to try out new techniques for bringing right-wing Republicanism over here and reduce the effectiveness of attacks on the Labour Party.

And yet just about every day, there is a steady parade of Labour activists desperate to go and hang out at the home of the conservative movement. By definition, anyone watching 'Blogger TV' is not going to be persuaded by their clever arguments, which means that all they are doing is helping the Tories. Comrades, you are not using the Tories' weapons against them, they are using you just as surely as if you were going along to your local Conservative association to help at a fundraiser. Ignore their ethical and social seduction and think about why you're being invited.

It is traditional at this point to moan about the state of the Left and say that we should be setting up our own internet telly. I think that would be a mistake. Projects like 18 Doughty Street are aimed at a small number of people and there is no way that we would be able to get access to the kind of funding that the Tories are lavishing on it (it's like how setting up 'Air America' was not in fact the way to beat 'Fox News'). The weakness in their approach, as the Tories found in 2005, is that what rich people want is not in fact what most people want. Their ideas were so unpopular that they had to pay people to deliver their leaflets, and as a result the strategy is based on Newt Gingrich's mantra of 'go negative early' and 'never apologise, never explain', winning with an ideologically committed minority and then implementing an extremist agenda.

We need to use new technology not to appeal to insiders and find more vicious ways of attacking our opponents, but to do the opposite - to boost turnout and give people positive reasons about how government and socialist politics is a force for good and needs their support, and to disrupt the efforts of the Tories.

Specifically, useful actions for lefties (widely defined to include anyone who doesn't think that increasing the influence of rich people in deciding who wins elections) are to stop lending credibility to Tory TV by appearing on it or watching it, and instead to listen to and act on the ideas of the people who know what they are talking about, like Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads and Unity at Ministry of Truth.


At 12:47 am , Blogger Iain Dale said...

You really don't get it, do you? I keep thinking of an ostrich. Wonder why?

At 4:10 am , Anonymous Ben said...

Wasn't Tim Ireland the guy behind the (ineffectual or not?) protest voting campaign against us in 2005? Is he someone to take advice from? Do you mean in a negative fashion?

The issue is one to keep under consideration, but it is, of course, in the interest of the bloated Tory internet hack Iain Dale to promote the effectiveness of his own medium.

For young Tories living in Fulham, this is no doubt a reinforcing strategy. They are confirmed in their elitist perspective every time they surf the net.

I like the net. I sometimes "hang" in real life with the types Dale and his vile hangers-on sometimes reach. Even then, their influence is heavily limited. They don't reach anyone who isn't ideologically Conservative, or an Oxbridge City type, surely? And even then, only the most politically motivated ones. The real point is surely that this little pissing contest matters very little in the real world?

Or am I terribly wrong?

At 9:09 am , Anonymous jdc said...

"You really don't get it, do you? I keep thinking of an ostrich. Wonder why?"

When I think of an ostrich for no reason it's usually because I've had a bet with someone that I can go all day without thinking about ostriches. Could that be it? A lie down will probably fix it.

At 10:28 am , Blogger donpaskini said...

Ben - the influence of things like internet telly and internet attack ads is obviously not going to reach millions. But nor did Excalibur and rapid rebuttal in the mid 90s, what it did was to let us set the news agenda and keep up the attacks on a government which got picked up by journalists and repeated over and over again. In America things like co-ordinated blog attacks and attack ads are already used in this way. In any case, either it is an irrelevant pissing contest (in which case why would any Labour supporter want to get involved with it) or it is actively bad news for us, in which case..

Tim Ireland was the protest voting man, but he's also worked e.g. with Tom Watson, wants to use internet campaigning for good rather than evil - and it's not like our Labour inhouse campaigning team is so amazing at the moment that we can afford to be passing up help.

At 4:14 pm , Blogger Guido 2.0 said...

Manic wishes to step out of third-person just long enough to say this:

I, Tim Ireland, have taken a solemn vow never to work for the Labour Party unless it's under new leadership... and even then it must be under a leader with the courage to acknowledge the awesome error of manipulating the terrorist threat for political gain.

(pauses for effect)
(dramatises transformation)

Manic is back in the room, and he wishes to share with you an actual capture of the word-verification that appeared when he was writing this comment. Spooky, huh?

At 8:20 pm , Blogger Eamon O'Hearn Large said...

I wholeheartedly agree Dan.

On Lord Ashcroft, his tentacles are extending out to Australia; he is the largest single donor to the Australian Tories.

Perhaps it's a backhander to thank them for the 'loan' of Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby at the last election.

The 'Conservative majority' they are trying to establish is a long-run plan and they have put a lot of work in to date.

Question is how are the Labour Party and Movement responding adequately?


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