Opinion: The irony of Labour’s “shrinking man” Party Election Broadcast

Labour broadcast Shrinking manLabour’s Party Election Broadcast has attracted plenty of attention since its launch on Wednesday, with its comedy portrayal of Nick “Claggy” as the un-credible shrinking man.

Much has already been made of the PEB’s negativity, and its silence on the question of Labour’s actual policy relating the EU (or indeed anything else) which, since the party receives public funding to develop such policy, might be considered unfortunate.

All might have been forgiven if viewers had dissolved into laughter upon watching the film, but aside from “can we hunt him?” which did raise a smile, I confess to being largely unmoved, and nobody appeared to be rolling in the aisles of the Westminster Village, either.

But there is a real joke lurking behind the broadcast – a delicious irony in fact.  The clear underlying signal, already seized upon by the political commentariat, is that Labour does not expect to win the arguments on policy and has already settled for what’s become known as the “35% strategy” – an attempt to lock up a national vote share of 35%, which sounds relatively mediocre but which will likely be enough for an overall majority thanks to the current electoral boundaries heavily favouring them over the Conservatives (see example below).

Ed Stradling piece fig 1

 

Of course, Liberals who’ve been bemoaning the inequities of our electoral system since the days of Jeremy Thorpe, have little sympathy for the Conservatives’ plight, but the truth is it’s an enormous factor in modern-day elections, and is the reason many still believe Labour has to do little more than turn up in order to win.

But the irony of this PEB, is that it portrays Nick Clegg as a shrinking violet, abandoning his own principles and his party’s policies in the face of bullying opposition from the Tory toffs in Cabinet. Yet the only reason the Labour Party feels able to rely on such a narrow and inhibited campaign strategy, is because Nick Clegg stubbornly blocked the Tories’ proposals for boundary change, despite it being (arguably) part of the Coalition agreement.

Had Clegg, on that issue, shown anything like the capacity for personal and political recoil depicted in the PEB, the Tories would now be odds-on for a significant overall majority in next year’s election.

The irony will no doubt be lost on the average voter, but those who agree with Labour’s portrayal of “Claggy” (and admittedly there are many) will have parked that view long ago, and it’s hard to see any new minds being be changed by the kind of sketch which would have been much better left to the likes of Harry Enfield or the much-lamented BBC Dead Ringers team.

It didn’t surprise me to hear today that Douglas Alexander was the Labour front-bencher with enough time on his hands to think up this magnum opus. Perhaps next May, Ed Miliband might be better advised to find Douglas something worthwhile to disagree with William Hague about.

* Ed Stradling is a freelance producer and director who produced the video The Lost Liberal Democrat Votes earlier this year. He is not a member of the Liberal Democats

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17 Comments

  • TONY MARSHALL 10th May '14 - 3:49pm

    Sorry I should have said that Labour’s party political broadcast was utter rubbish and infantile.

  • Descrbing the exact moment the coalition should have ended, after the Tories pushed the Lib Dems into a corner on tuition fees, Clegg should have told Cameron straight out, no lords reform as in the coalition agreement, portrayed the Tories as the power hungry backstabbers that they are, and told them very clearly that they would hand Labour the keys to Downing Street and kicked ambitions of boundary changes to the long grass of more than 5 years time in a single go.

    Even if Lords reform was never going to be the greatest issue in the world the electorate would have seen Clegg as a man with principles and a backbone.

  • “Yet the only reason the Labour Party feels able to rely on such a narrow and inhibited campaign strategy, is because Nick Clegg stubbornly blocked the Tories’ proposals for boundary change, despite it being (arguably) part of the Coalition agreement.”

    And despite Nick Clegg previously having argued strongly that it was right in principle, funnily enough!

  • Bill le Breton 10th May '14 - 5:00pm

    Ed you write: “it’s hard to see any new minds being be (sic) changed by the kind of sketch which would have been much better left to the likes of Harry Enfield or the much-lamented BBC Dead Ringers team.”

    But, as you state earlier in the piece, the premise of the Labour campaign is to stop minds changing. Campaigns have to be single focused to be effective.

    It has been recognized for many months now that there are two blocks each consisting of circa 45% of the electorate. The election in 2015 depends very largely on how each of these blocks splits internally – hence, in the LD/Lab block, the tussle over how the 2010 LD > Labour voters decide to vote is the single most important possibility for improved support levels.

    Of course this has been accepted by Ashdown and Grender who for some months now have been doing everything in their control to direct Party campaigns to persuading those 2010 LD > Lab voters to ‘return’ to the Lib Dems (even if it is for just one day in May 2015). However they cannot seem to get this across to the Leader and his own team e.g. the recent shambolic local government campaign launch and accompanying ‘dossier’ which was directly counter to this strategy.

    That is why the greatest obstacle to the repatriation of those 2010 LD > Labour voters is the present Leader. First he can be used (as in Labour’s PPB as a dog whistle) to keep them where they are and secondly his own and his team’s tactics consistently rob the Lib Dem campaign of its primary focus.

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th May '14 - 5:19pm

    From Matthew D’Ancona’s ‘In It Together’:

    ‘When the Labour peer Lord Hart of Chilton put down an amendment to the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, delaying the boundary changes and cut in number of MPs until 2018, the Deputy PM offered his support. “This goes beyond the pale,” [Cameron] told Clegg. “Well,” Clegg replied, “then I’m afraid it goes beyond the pale.” There was talk on the Conservative side of keeping the boundary changes alive with a different deal, whereby the Tories would make concessions on state funding of political parties in return for the new constituency map. But the Lib Dem leader was by now immovable. “I can’t, under any circumstances, allow these boundary changes to take place before the next election,” [Clegg] said. “This is an existential threat. Sorry, you should have thought of this before the AV Referendum.”‘
    ‘[Clegg] was not the only Lib Dem worrying that the next election might be an Extinction Level Event. He believed that his party would have kicked him out of the leader’s office if he had not taken substantial retaliatory action for the collapse of Lords reform. ‘

    You’re right, this is certainly an example of Clegg acting decisively. Clearly he felt perfectly able to go against the coalition when he himself had a stake in the outcome. Labour have actually been rather kind to Clegg by describing him as a victim of Tory bullying. They could instead have portrayed him (with, I think, more accuracy) as a person with sufficient will and capacity to significantly influence outcomes , but who never really agreed with the views of his party and felt no obligation to take them seriously – in other words, a capable Tory in a Lib Dem rosette.

    The question for me is why Labour have chosen this portrayal over the alternatives…

  • Eddie Sammon 10th May '14 - 5:34pm

    I think to crack the humour Labour needed to show they can laugh at themselves too, perhaps by showing Gordon Brown under the table, or Blair on a yacht well out of harms way.

    You make a good point about standing up to the tories on boundary changes. I actually very much like Douglas Alexander, but it is a good reminder to the Labour faithful that New Labour are still influential.

  • Most people I know fall into three broad categories when it comes to PPB’s:

    1. They are politically aware and therefore generally ignore them due to all major parties filling them with half truths and spin.

    2. They are not particularly politically aware but always vote the same way therefore cheer or jeer based upon the rosette colour rather than the content.

    3. They switch channel or use the duration of the broadcast to make a cuppa….

    Following my own categorisation I will be ignoring all such broadcasts and decide based upon proposed policy, prior integrity and any real facts available.

  • A Social Liberal 10th May '14 - 11:29pm

    Sorry Joe but I can’t accept that, for two reasons.

    1) The population of the UK is growing, given that the changes means that fewer MPs will have to represent more and more people – which is not right in principle, it is stupid in actuality.

    2) The constituency I live in, Skipton and Ripon, is one of the largest in the country in respect of land size, much larger than most Urban seats. It is my belief that because of this Julian Smith is not able to give the same service that, for instance, the MP for Harrogate can give to his constituents. Obviously the boundary changes will only exacerbate this inequality, as it will with similar constituencies.

    At least the Lib Dems are being honest, which is more than the Tories are. We at least are talking of screwing over the Labour party and not trying to sell it as being ‘fair’. We should be fighting for PR, not the manipulation of boundaries which verges on gerrymandering.

  • MW “the Tories pushed the Lib Dems into a corner on tuition fees, ”

    Could you provide evidence for this assertion? My understanding has always been that the Lib Dem Coalition team had decided before the General Election that they would not push to keep the Tuition Fee pledge as they already knew it was unaffordable. If you are saying something different to that happened could you give us details please? This is a major issue for me and I would like to know the true position, ESP if it is not what I have believed to be the case up to now.

  • Stuart Mitchell 11th May '14 - 12:26pm

    @Joe Otten
    “The boundary changes were and remain right in principle.”

    Coalition claims to be acting on “principle” were somewhat undermined though by the fact that a number of Tory and Lib Dem-held seats were to be conveniently excluded from the boundary redrawing process.

    “Equally, Lords reform is right in principle. Unfortunately when your coalition partner isn’t interested in the principles and seeks to cherry pick the elements of the package that benefit themselves electorally, blindly following the principles would be a position of abject weakness.”

    Reports at the time said that many Lib Dem MPs were delighted to see the plans dropped because they feared 15 of them (over a quarter) would be out of a job as a result.

    Besides, the coalition agreement promised only to “bring forward proposals” for HoL reform. That was done. If Lib Dems believed their Tory chums had signed up to a promise of reform, they were mistaken.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 10:47am

    jedibeeftrix

    Unfortunately, a significant majority seem to reject your definition of electoral ‘fairness’, which rather leaves us with making the best of the system we have.

    Yes, but I’ve yet to come across even ONE Labour supporter who will follow that argument through, which is that if it’s best for representation to be distorted so we have single party government by whichever party got the most votes, then what we should have now is a pure Tory government – and therefore the more Nick Clegg “gives in” to the Tories, the better, because the more that will give us what we ought to have by that way of thinking.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 10:58am

    Phyllis

    Could you provide evidence for this assertion? My understanding has always been that the Lib Dem Coalition team had decided before the General Election that they would not push to keep the Tuition Fee pledge as they already knew it was unaffordable.

    The pledge could have been kept at the cost of massively slashing the number of university places. There were plenty of Tories who would have been happy with that option – close down all the ex-Polytechnic universities. My understanding was that this was indeed the alternative option put to the Liberal Democrats in government.

    The Tories were not going to shift on taxation, because keeping taxes low is at the heart of what they stand for, especially taxes on unearned wealth and income. To introduce the sort of taxes that might have paid for full subsidy for university tuition would have been for the Tories to break their deepest pledges.

    So desperate were the Tories to have the tuition fees system, that they gave into the Liberal Democrats on every aspect of it, except its existence. This we have this system in which the loans are automatically granted, paid in a way that really makes them a form of graduate tax, and are written off if they can’t be paid back – to the point that the system is actually predicted to bring in MORE government subsidy to the universities than the previous system, in the shape of written off loans. The loans system is just a disguised version of government borrowing. Given that no-one in the Labour Party has proposed any sort of extra taxation to carry on subsidising universities, presumably they’d have paid for them by more direct government borrowing, which would still have had to be paid off by future generations anyway.

  • Matthew “. My understanding was that this was indeed the alternative option put to the Liberal Democrats in government.”

    Again could you tell us what the evidence for your ‘understanding ‘ is? Because I haven’t heard this before excerpt from you, in here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th May '14 - 1:04pm

    Phyllis

    Again could you tell us what the evidence for your ‘understanding ‘ is? Because I haven’t heard this before excerpt from you, in here

    Sorry, confidential sources.

    The point, however, is that even if this was not the case, anyone who is attacking the tuition fees system has a duty to say what THEIR alternative would be. I’ve made clear what mine would be – I would raise taxes on all t hose ways in which the rich pass on wealth to the rich, such as inheritance, in order to pay for it. What’s yours, Phyllis? Or anyone else attacking the Liberal Democrats on this issue? Name the taxes you would raise to pay for it. Or admit you would do it by more direct government borrowing. Or say what cuts elsewhere you would make to pay for it, or cuts in the university system itself.

    My personal view of politics is the liberal democratic one – that elected representatives of the people come together to formulate policy, agreeing to whatever compromise gets the most support. I’m sorry that the Leninist model of political party, where it’s a matter of the Politburo making a rigid five-year plan, is now so dominant that most people seem unable even to contemplate politics working in a different way from that. That’s why I dislike the idea that party manifestoes are rigid promises, and that any sort of reaching a compromise is some sort of disgrace.

    I’m not very happy with the compromise that was reached in this case, but if people wanted Liberal Democrat policies, they should have elected more Liberal Democrats MPs. The people of this country elected five times as many Conservative MPs as Liberal Democrats ones, then backed the electoral system which gave them this result by two-to-one. Sorry, it seems to me to be hypocritical to do this, then complain you don’t have a government with primarily Liberal Democrat policies as if somehow that’s the Liberal Democrats’ fault. Saying this doesn’t mean I have much sympathy for Clegg whose “Isn’t it wonderful I’m – er we’re – in government” line has so undermined my argument, where mine could be summed up quiet simply as “Vote Liberal Democrat” which I would have though is the sort of thing the Leader of the Liberal Democrats should be saying.

    As I’ve pointed out, the Liberal Democrats pledge on tuition fees COULD have been met by massive slashes to the number of university places. Would you Phyllis, or anyone else critical of the Liberal Democrats on this issue, have been praising them for keeping to their promises had they done this?

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