Opinion: Criminals behind bars – do these ads go too far?

crimeHave you seen this part of the LibDem website? It went live following the Nick v Nigel debate last week, and gives examples (and pictures) of criminals locked up thanks to the European Arrest Warrant. Like others, I find this page distasteful and discomforting. Yet still, I support it.

I actually missed the debate last Wednesday because I was attending a Parish Council meeting, but what I read on Twitter spoke volumes. Nick won the factual debate, but Farage did well on emotion. I think we need to remember that, because it’s key to the whole issue. As a party, we can win the debate on facts for as long as we like, but it won’t necessarily win us many votes. Why? Because that isn’t how people make decisions.

Like me, you will probably have found yourself on doorsteps before, asking people to vote for you, or for a colleague. The person you’re speaking to says that they’re not going to vote for you, and when asked why, they pick something out of the air. You respond to the assertion, and they accept what you say. Then they find something else – something you’ve aparently said or done, that isn’t true – and you do the same again and they accept. So, do you walk away knowing that they’re going to vote for you? No. Because sometimes facts don’t mean very much.

The same goes for Europe. We can argue back and forth about how much being an EU member costs us every day, but if somebody has already decided that they hate the EU and everything it stands for, they aren’t going to want to hear the challenge.

So, we can’t win, right? Wrong.

To win this kind of argument, we need to continue making the reasoned and reasonable case, but we also need to make the emotional case for things – because that’s what matters. People often support candidates without actually understanding why. It might be because they’ve met them and agree with them, it might be because they always support a particular party – more than likely though, it’s rooted in less conscious thinking. There will be people in my area that vote for me because they know I live here and grew up here. Does that mean they’re geography freaks? No. It’s because it suggests that I’m like them and they’re like me. We vote for people who seem like us. Do people support Farage because they think he’s a great politician and his policies are the best things ever? No. They’re more likely to support him because he doesn’t seem like the identikit Westminster politician, and who wants one of those when there’s no money and difficult decisions to be made?

So, if we accept that people often don’t decide to vote based on facts, what do these Criminal memes mean?

What it means is that we’re pulling the debate away from how much it costs each citizen per day, and moving it onto an emotional footing that hits home. Will voting UKIP mean that sex offenders arrested under the EAW will be released? Of course not, but it’s a very human example of the good that EU membership can do. Unlike arguing about figures, it makes it clear what is on the line when we debate EU membership. It answers the question of why we might win the factual argument, but not win the election and it takes things to a different level.

Now don’t get me wrong. These adverts make me horribly uncomfortable. The fact that we’re putting pictures of child abusers on our website makes my blood run cold. As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in rehabilitation – something far less likely when somebody’s image is plastered everywhere and attached to a horrific crime – but we must make emotional arguments about this. When people flirt with EU exit, it needs to be made clear what is at risk.

I support what Comms are doing on this, and we need more of the same – just don’t expect me to be happy about it.

* Sam Phripp is a District Councillor from Frome in Somerset. He blogs at www.sosamsaid.blogspot.com

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Geoffrey Payne 1st Apr '14 - 1:29pm

    You make the case against very well. It doesn’t read well that he person you want to rehabilitate you also want to use as a political football in the meantime.

  • In agreement.

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