Monday, May 19, 2008

By-election stories

My favourite moment of helping in Crewe yesterday was when I was leafleting in one of the villages. A very big car pulled up on the other side of the road, and a man wearing an expensive suit and a massive blue rosette got out. I thought about going over to ask if he wanted to be in a picture for our next leaflet, but discretion proved the better part of valour.

There are different ways of describing the Labour campaign for the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. 'Well-organised' is definitely one of them. 'Successful' - we'll see on Thursday. But 'very nasty'? Not so much.

The Hodge Hill by-election campaign from 2004 was an example of a 'very nasty' by-election campaign. But there is an obvious and massive difference between drawing a dividing line on the issue of 'one of us vs Tory toff', as in Crewe, and 'do you want to give handouts to failed asylum-seekers', which was the most repellent theme of the Hodge Hill campaign. People whose applications for asylum have been refused are some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Britain. Picking on people weaker than yourself to try and get votes is the act of a bully (Liam Byrne's career since being elected shows that it wasn't a one off, either).

By contrast, 'Tory toffs' like Edward Timpson are well able to look after themselves, using their substantial inherited wealth, their contacts, and the fact that at the slightest hint of criticism, other wealthy people will spontaneously rally to their defence, using the newspapers that they own and write for to howl about 'class warfare', 'hypocrisy', 'discrimination' and repeating allegations of 'dirty tricks' without feeling the need to ask for any proof or evidence that these tricks took place. It may or may not be sensible to take on powerful and wealthy people as the main theme of the election campaign, or to do so in the way that the Labour campaign has chosen to do, but it's certainly not an example of nastily picking on people weaker than you.

(All of that said, I do feel sorry for anyone who had been selected as an election candidate for a general election and then finds themselves thrust into a by-election campaign).

One of the objectives of any political campaign is to try to influence what the media report as being the main issue of the election. The Labour campaign seems to have managed to do this quite successfully in focusing the attention of the media on reporting about the relative qualities of the different candidates, rather than solely focusing on reporting it as a referendum on the Prime Minister/the government/particular unpopular policies. This seems like quite a smart move, in that 'who's the best candidate?' is not what the Tories want people to be thinking about when deciding who to vote for.

Overall, I don't think the overall Labour campaign and message is either misguided or excessively nasty, and that's true whatever the result ends up being. More thoughts on all of this, though, after Thursday.


At 7:06 pm , Anonymous colenotdole said...

I think it is a bit rich for the campaign to go on about inheritance when we selected the daughter of the previous MP- smacks of hypocrisy to say the least. Furthermore, as I understand it, Timpson has used his position to do a lot of charitable things- hitting him for being rich shows up how little of a message we actually have...


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