Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Election Blog (14)

Michael Howard's pitch today was that he would rid Britain of the scourge of MRSA.
No, not Multi-Racial Socialist Arseholes, but the hospital 'superbug'.
But (oh joy!) he forgot to wash his hands before shaking hands with different patients so may well have contributed to the mortality rate without even biting anyone's neck.
When little things like that start happening in elections it's as though the word 'Loser' is written in the stars.
People working in hospitals have told me that the worst offenders for not washing their hands are the doctors. That's probably because many doctors think they are God and so incapable of spreading infection.


Gary Younge's Guardian article yesterday made some very good points on the immigration debate. In particular, the fact that you find the highest levels of racism in areas with the fewest immigrants.
In my own village, you rarely see a black or brown face unless you go into the single Indian takeway. Yet some of the most extreme racist comments I've heard in my life I've heard in Ye Olde Thatched Village Pub.
Another crucial point is that polls show that people usually over-estimate the immigrant population by three or four times. So people's opinions rest partly on a massive inaccuracy. It suits the Conservatives and the right-wing press that this should be the case.

Channel 4's programme last night by Peter Oborne was the best in their series of election programmes. It didn't reveal any single thing that political anoraks didn't know already but by pulling them all together into a coherent thesis it presented a chilling analysis of what he called 'the corruption of democracy.'
The parties formulate policies to appeal to less than a million voters in marginal constituencies who can decide the election. They then use sophisticated marketing techniques and software programs to target those voters. The policies and slogans of the main parties become almost indistinguishable.

Voters interviewed were unable to correctly identify which slogan belonged to which party and when shown lists of vacuous 'policies' from both parties, didn't disagree with any of them.
This is borne out by comparing the election leaflets I've received from Labour and the Conservatives. They seem to have both used the same template and there's hardly a hair's breadth between them.

Knowing about software programs like 'Mosaic' that are used to target voters (and consumers by major companies) is one thing. But to actually see them in action is truly chilling. They go beyond identifying particular postcodes and streets and actually colour-code individual houses. That's why sending different election material to different voters by the same party is now so common.
Marketing and politics have merged to an extent that few people have yet comprehended and principled politics and representative democracy are just a brief and quaint aberration from the last century.

Another theme in the Peter Oborne programme was the way political leaders are now insulated from meeting real voters in election campaigns.
I was fortunate to catch the end of the traditional, rowdy election public meetings in the sixties. Looking back, it seems more like 200 years ago.
I remember going to see Tony Benn speak at a local college. He was then a Cabinet Minister in Wilson's Government. There were no police, no security people, no party minders, just Anthony Wedgewood-Benn, as he was then known. He strolled to the front of the hall, pulled a table down to the top of the middle aisle and sat on the table swinging his legs. It was Benn's 'I'm just an ordinary bloke' act, 'who sits on tables and chats to people as though we were sitting in the pub.' I took an instant dislike to him which, although I agree with many of his views, has never really abated.
I also caught George Brown in a packed Town Hall, shouting and raving, probably half-pissed which he usually was when he wasn't totally legless, trading insults with dozens of hecklers. I think he was Foreign Secretary at the time. How very unlike our own dear Jack Straw.

Poor old Paxman has had some stick recently, from myself included. But when it comes to egomaniacal arrogance he can't hold a candle to Jonathan Dimbleby. I don't know why his series with the political leaders bothers with a studio audience. It obviously pains him to let an ordinary member of the public contribute and he does so as little as possible.
Meanwhile, his big brother David has the three party leaders on the same programme on Thursday. But the BBC is running highly misleading trailers for the programme. 'They've finally agreed!' they scream, suggesting that they'll be appearing and debating together, whereas they will actually be appearing consecutively and separately. It's not just politicians who try to con us.


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