Propaganda and Spin

I receive a weekly newsletter from my MP, Mary Creagh, which is sometimes fascinating and sometimes so crammed with propaganda and stupidity that it makes me cringe. Yesterday’s newsletter slid firmly into the latter category, mainly due to the section that covered the by-elections last week. Creagh – or whoever writes this thing – is falling into the trap of spreading lies about their enemies and not saying much about themselves, which seems to be Labour’s line at the moment. Here are the offending paragraphs:

Last Thursday we saw a Tory Party in retreat, losing in their own backyard in Clacton and losing ground on what used to be their frontline in the North West. David Cameron has seen the worst Tory defeat in a by-election ever, with a huge swing against them and a 28% fall in the Tory vote in a seat that was one of their safest.

This seems to me a regurgitation of Ed Miliband’s statements on the by-elections. Fair enough, I suppose, if you’re trying to spin a coherent party line. (I don’t believe in ‘coherent party lines’ but that’s another matter.)

UKIP are more Tory than the Tories. UKIP want to introduce charges to use key NHS services, including your GP. Tim Aker, UKIP Head of Policy has said he wants to abolish the top rate of tax – giving the wealthiest another tax break, while raising taxes for working people. UKIP want to abolish your rights as a worker, including parental leave, maternity pay, holiday pay, sick pay, and even redundancy pay.

Okay, now we get to it. The NHS charges lie that Labour keep throwing around here has been repeatedly refuted by UKIP. The quotes Labour use from personal views, not policy documents. And are Labour folk forgetting that it was one of their own advisers who said just a few months ago that GP visits should be charged at £20 a go? That’s not their policy, of course, and I’m not suggesting it is but that fine distinction between rhetoric and actual policy has bypassed some Labour supporters as they foam at the mouth about the UKIP threat to the NHS.

On the tax issue, Labour comes from as ideological a standpoint as they imply UKIP do – if tax receipts can be increased by having a more punitive top rate of tax then, by all means, go ahead, but the evidence has shown this isn’t the case. There’s a threshold where the people targeted believe it’s too punitive and actively look for ways to avoid it. Perhaps the answer here is cracking down on tax avoidance. Perhaps but let’s not forget that France’s ridiculous 75% top rate of tax led to an exodus of the rich. Oh, I know some people will say ‘good riddance’ but, for a start, those tax receipts will disappear too. Also, while we’re on the subject, Labour only raised the top rate to 50p prior to the 2010 election, knowing full well a Tory government would lower it and therefore give them a stick to beat the government with for five years.

I’ll give them the ‘rights’ line. My understanding is that UKIP want to cut red tape, though I don’t agree with the specific proposals on this one. However, I think Labour’s hypocrisy on employee rights is risible given the number of people their MPs and councils employ on zero-hours contracts. Barricade your own houses before throwing stones.

I understand people are worried that their hard work isn’t rewarded, they fear their kids will have a worse life than them and they see their public services under threat. But UKIP isn’t the answer. I support Ed Miliband’s new approach: change in our economy so that it works for working people, change for our party on immigration.

The fears here are real. I know they are. However, I’m seeing very little from Miliband and company to combat either the economy problem or the (rather tagged on) immigration issues. You can’t forget to mention the economy in a conference speech and still expect people to believe it’s top of your priority list. Equally, you can’t make appeasing noises on the one hand and condemn your ‘racist’ supporters on the other. That’s exactly the thing that’s driving Labour voters to UKIP.

You know, I personally like my MP. I met her when she came to deliver a leaflet a year ago and she comes across very well. I want to be able to vote for her but I can’t bring myself to vote for Labour. The latest edition of this newsletter just reiterated why.

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Those By-Elections

The dust has settled a bit over the weekend after those too very interesting by-election results on Friday. Douglas Carswell holding the seat as a UKIP candidate was quite predictable but the strength of his vote startled me. My hope in Clacton is that people voted for the man, which is what I believe politics should be all about. Carswell’s aim is to serve his constituents and, by most accounts, he’s very good at that. It will, of course, be interesting to see if this holds sway at the General Election or whether people will be content to become party political sheep again. One thing Clacton proved is that UKIP can win a seat outright – the odds were in their favour because of Carswell’s popularity but it’s a message to other areas that if they vote UKIP then they stand a chance of getting UKIP. That blows a cannon hole in David Cameron’s ‘vote UKIP, get Labour’ strategy. That’s not to say that the ‘vote Farage, get Miliband’ line is unreasonable – the two are different lines of attack. The first relates to particular constituencies where it’s plausible UKIP can win outright; the second relates to the possibility that electing UKIP MPs or splitting the Tory vote could let Ed Miliband into Downing Street.

Labour’s problems are different. While the Tories seem to at least understand why their voters are deserting them for UKIP, Labour are bemused. The disconnect between the elite in the party and the average person they expect to vote for them is astronomical. A lot of people are concerned about immigration. That doesn’t make them racist – one of the left’s most frequently used accusations – but these people encounter the front line of services and they’re not happy with what they see in terms of pressures and demands. Schools are struggling, as is the NHS. Case in point, I was in a queue in A&E last night and there was a (I think) Polish man at the front of the queue taking up a lot of time, asking questions in broken English and baffling the receptionist with what he was asking. The woman in front of me turned to her daughter and said ‘if it wasn’t for the f***ing foreigners’ things would be moving at a decent speed. Of course, I understand the irony of this given the dependence of the NHS on foreign workers but this woman was a typical working-class mum in a deprived area – the kind of voter Labour is supposed to represent. Dismissing her irritation as ‘racist’ would no doubt irritate her more. People who use services day in, day out are far more qualified to comment on the effects of immigration on them than the cosseted politicians who hire an adviser to do their thinking for them.

Labour can’t seem to see past the end of their nose on this. That’s why Miliband’s response to the close-run result in Heywood and Middleton was to say that the Tory vote had collapsed in the North West. Well, yes, it has but that’s not really the point, is it? He followed it up by saying that Labour wouldn’t be ‘complacent’ but that’s just what they are being. People have been predicting that UKIP could affect Labour’s vote for a long time, several by-elections have put the theory to the test and come out in UKIP’s favour. If Labour haven’t ‘got it’ by now then why should this latest shock make a difference?

The implications of UKIP’s surge are best left for another day. Because the prospect of Miliband getting into Downing Street scares me too much to contemplate right now.