That headline is how the internet feels right now. Or, more specifically, the bits of it I choose to engage with. I have read column after column and tweet after tweet about why Labour lost the election or why the Conservatives won it, what happened in Scotland, what happened in London, what direction the party should take, who should be next leader, what is wrong with the left, what is wrong with this country. For a side that just lost heavily – and, importantly, had no clue such a heavy defeat was coming – we haven’t really learned an iota of humility. We’re still very much in “transmit” rather than “listen” mode.
Nobody knows what happened. Nobody expected it to be this awful. Any such claims should be treated with the scepticism usually reserved for instant weight loss remedies. Nobody can tell with any certainty “what will definitely win the next election”. If they could they would be selling their secret formula as the highest paid election consultant in the world; not giving it away on twitter. We’re all football fans whose team has just lost: full of alcohol and bitterness and spent adrenaline and advice on team selection.
The most dangerous of us are choosing this vulnerable moment to tell the rest we should lurch to the left or lurch to the right, which just happens to be what they have always believed, anyway. I view them with special spite. They support their grandiose statements with pseudo-intellectual sophistry. I choose among those this peach from the New Statesman which is a perfect sample and made me particularly angry.
It seeks to pre-empt and pre-silence any discussion which may crop up on the role of the media. The hysterical, sustained and vicious attacks on Miliband and his policies in the press, apparently, had no effect. It’s a red herring. Quick someone call all the companies who spend a combined $600b each year on advertising and give them the news. Someone at the New Statesman thinks that a particular image or narrative appearing in all media over time has no influence whatsoever. “Powerful interests” also had no influence, apparently. Those sad jerks who donate millions to the Conservative Party every year, someone tell them. The piece even concludes that the Conservatives themselves running a shrewd campaign didn’t have anything to do with the election result (no, really). The only thing the does not count as a “delusion”, the only thing that matters, is that the Labour party didn’t follow Blair’s advice and position itself more to the right.
What the fuck is more to the right than a tombstone with “we will control immigration” carved on it?
The truth is, we’re all flailing in the dark. I have no solutions to offer. I have only the following observations, which you may find helpful or not, resonant or not.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. And that came across loud and clear in conversations both among us and with the electorate. This meant that we were all a lot more comfortable saying how awful the other team were, instead of how good ours was. This made for an uninspiring campaign which failed to change anyone’s mind.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The message when delivered was stilted, dull and senseless. “Labour will deal with the cost of living crisis” repeated embarrassed, bored people like drones for months on endless programmes. WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN to anyone other than the colourless, odourless, tasteless policy wonks who sat in a room with a whiteboard and came up with it? Nothing. It means nothing.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The Conservatives were not plagued by any such self-doubt. Blair was not. DO YOU NOT GET IT? Blair did not win three elections by being “Blairite”. He won them by being Blair. He could deliver his message with authenticity and conviction because centrism was genuinely what he believed in and that is why he was persuasive.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. Any leader who spends four and a half years trying to convince a nail-biting party that they didn’t make a mistake and then two months trying to convince voters is doomed. Just like Major second-time around, Hague, Howard and IDS were. That was the Conservatives’ turn of looking for the “next Thatcher”. “Is he Thatcher-ite” enough is he “too Thatcher-ite” and just like that 18 years went by before they won their next majority. Let’s not do that.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. Thatcher’s greatest triumph was not convincing her party or her voters that her way was best. It was convincing the left that there was no alternative to rampant neoliberalism. Otherwise, when people occupied St Pauls, and half a million marched against the cuts and rioters burned London, Labour would not have been too scared to harness that anger. When Syriza were elected in Greece, Labour would not be so terrified to offer Tsipras their congratulations and good wishes.
It seems to me, we are plagued by self-doubt about our message. The reason people didn’t believe we could reverse austerity is because we didn’t fight it tooth and nail when it happened. We dithered we worried about getting to the “throne” in 2015. We eventually agreed to the cuts, stopped fighting the “it’s all Labour’s fault narrative”, accepted the “tough decisions” rhetoric. We turned on the unemployed and migrants. How would it be portrayed in the media? Would that make us look too left, too right, too close to the unions. And so everything became stage-managed, controlled, stilted and inauthentic.
Pick a leader quickly. FOR FUCK’S SAKE it is not rocket science. You need someone who has good ideas, whose values align with the party’s, who looks good on camera and is an effective speaker. THEN you need to leave them alone to express themselves. The public needs to get to know them. They will either take to them or not. It cannot be predicted, but you will know it pretty quickly. Stop trying to adjust them to make them more electable. Passion, authenticity and dynamism are what is electable. Every time you pull that person into a room and adjust their hair, tell them to avoid X question and make sure they mention Y soundbite, you stunt precisely those qualities.
Pull your finger out. The UK didn’t just elect a government. It also elected an official opposition. The Tories have made it very clear that they will push ahead with a very aggressive legislative programme. It is absolutely essential that Labour can reconcile a process of soul-searching with their constitutional role of legislative scrutiny.The best route to becoming government is to be the most amazing opposition. And, by coincidence, it is also what you were elected to do. Being opposition is not a slight. It is the second most important role in our democracy. So do it and do it well.
I know this is a difficult time, but I’m afraid there is a matter I must raise with you.
Last year, you were questioned about your abysmal attendance record in the European Parliament. Your response was that this was due to poor health (although, that doesn’t explain your party’s poor attendance record).
A few days ago, on Radio 4’s World at One programme, you were again questioned about your poor attendance this year. Your response was that as party leader you felt you had special dispensation to not show up.
In your post-defeat interview, you stated that you now intended to “take the summer off, have some fun and do very little politics”. During this period you and your wife (who I believe is also on the EU payroll as your assistant) will collect over £50,000 to represent your region in the European Parliament.
You are now no longer any party’s leader and your health appears to be dandy. European Parliament doesn’t go into summer recess for some months. Why do you feel you are entitled to take the next few months off to have fun, while I continue to fund you?
If you are genuinely concerned about corruption and waste at the European level, perhaps you could set a good example by resigning from your MEP position too and allow someone to do it who wants to do it.
I await your response with excitement.
Young Romulus Augustus, on the very last
October day, four seven five AD,
fourteen years old, unripe, miscast,
by his old man’s expedient decree
was crownéd the new Emperor of Rome.
Did he feel bitterness, pleasure or pride?
Or shame, perhaps, for having Julius deposed.
Maybe he squealed with glee; or cried.
Maybe he was remarkably composed
and thought a palace was his rightful home.
I ask this, as I scan the ancient text,
because it interests me to know, in truth,
if prior knowledge of what happened next
would have impacted on the Royal youth:
Is he more blessed or cursed, one who predicts?
Even as that impossible gold wreath
was placed upon his head by scheming hands,
resentment rumbled darkly from beneath.
Rome fell to Odoacer’s rebel bands,
early September of the year four seven six.
A common and sad epilogue; a quirk observed in every empire as it ended:
As Royals scheme over the crown, they leave their walls entirely undefended.
I could choose a thousand stories to make my argument – from the omnishambles budget to tuition fees, from the poor being forced to use food banks to disabled people dying after being declared “fit”, from badgers “moving the goalposts” to Andy Coulson. A thousand sleazy fuck-ups, probably more, lend themselves to the same narrative. But the polls are open and time is short, so I have chosen just one.
The story I have chosen to make my plea is neither the biggest nor the most dramatic. I have chosen it partly because it has gone largely unreported and partly because it encapsulates all the incompetence, cruelty, ruthlessness and ideologically imposed idiocy of this Coalition.
The government is trying to sell our stake in Urenco. Urenco is a joint venture between the UK, Holland and Germany (effectively – E.On, RWE). Each partner holds a third each giving them collective control, but not individually. Urenco is a Uranium enrichment company. It turns hundreds of millions of profit every year and so, not only does it cost the UK nothing, but contributes to state coffers. It has four Uranium enrichment plants in Cheshire.
The monumental stupidity and shortsightedness of this, I cannot even begin to unpick. First, it is profitable. Second, it operates top secret centrifuge technology, which in the wrong hands could allow the nuclear arming of rogue and failed states the world over. Not to mention having four Uranium enrichment plants on home soil under private ownership. Putting it in private hands reads like the beginning of a bad Hollywood script for a formulaic disaster movie. It is as bad an idea as bad ideas get. (Cut to close-up of Cameron: “What could go wrong?”)
And this government is presented as the “safe”, the “fiscally responsible”, the “sensible” choice by the murder of crows who are the non-domicile, millionaires who run the majority of this country’s media.
This would have already happened, completely under the radar, but for the quite legitimate objections of the Dutch Parliament, which fears the security issues outweigh any short term profit. Opposition having been bullied away by Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem (yes, the same man who, as an instrument of the Troika, is forcing Greece to privatise everything including its beaches and archaeological sites) we put out feelers for “indicative bids” late last year. This is going ahead unless we stop it.
You see, whenever the health of the nation’s finances is assessed, I find myself surprised that all focus is on liabilities – debt, deficit, pensions, interest payments – but never on the other side of that equation: the assets. The reason the UK is in such poor financial health is not solely – as the dominant narrative would have us believe – that Labour spent too much on nurses and teachers. It is primarily a systematic asset stripping of the UK’s valuables by every single Conservative (or Conservative controlled, in the latest instance) government since the late 70s.
The last five years have been an unmitigated disaster for the poorest. Not the fact there were cuts during a recession – I’m not a child. But the fact that the cuts were deeper than they needed to be due to ideology and they will last longer than they needed to have due to economic incompetence. Most importantly, they were unfairly distributed and hurt the bottom decile hardest. The bottom decile being the one who could least afford any cuts. Dress it up however you want, but that is what happened. I don’t say this. The Institute of Fiscal Studies says this.
So, we need a change of government. And since two parties were involved in the last one and are therefore jointly and severally culpable, this means voting for the person who can best dislodge the incumbent of either one. That is all.
Questioned about Urenco, senior UK government sources simply said “they considered the uranium group to be next on the list of privatisations.”.
Next on the list of privatisations… Take a moment to absorb that. Take a moment to think what might below it on that list. And then go and vote.
Catherine Shuttleworth, the woman who according to The Telegraph “took down” a Miliband, admits to the Telegraph that she applied to go on the Question Time Leaders’ Debate as “an undecided voter”. She said this just after giving the thumbs up to George Osborne in the spin room. All this passes by the Telegraph correspondent.
Here is Catherine Shuttleworth’s signature on the, now largely discredited, letter of 5,000 small businesses supporting the Tory party. Also on the Telegraph.
Catherine set up her business with Andrew Jones, Conservative MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, currently seeking reelection.
My concern is that such desperate dirty tricks by the Conservatives and inadequate vetting by the BBC skewed the audience demographic on such an important occasion. Catherine was granted her question in the leaders’ QT as an undecided voter. The notion is laughable.
David Cameron mentioned the letter in his portion of the debate. Even happened to have a copy of it in his pocket. Ed Miliband is then confronted on it immediately afterwards by someone who, for all intents and purposes, looks like a Tory plant. David Cameron doesn’t have the courage to debate Ed Miliband directly, so he does it through a proxy. And this man is presented as the stronger of the two?
Oh and here is another of Ed Miliband’s tough questioners. She describes her interests as Cats, Conservatives and Chelsea. Another undecided voter?
How the letter from small business owners to the Telegraph in support of the Tories fell apart
UPDATE 21:00 The list is back up. Scanning it for changes. It was down for a good twenty minutes, then briefly up then disappeared again and now it is back up. No possibility of mistaken http, as it was open on my desktop when it suddenly refreshed to this. What is going on?
UPDATE 20:30 on 28/4: The Telegraph has finally taken down the list of businesses which purported to have signed the letter. The link is now dead. The letter is still on their website, but the link to the signatories leads nowhere. No statement or apology has been issued as far as I am aware – from The Telegraph, CCHQ or Karen Brady.
The Charity Commission has become involved now, writing to charities it has identified from the list. A spokesperson for the Commission said:
“Signing a letter in support of a political party is not a legitimate activity for a charity… The commission will decide what further action, if any, is necessary once the charities have responded.”
UPDATE 17:15 on 28/4: It turns out that small business owners have been polled on a selection of subjects related to the election and the results make for very interesting reading – a neat way to close this thread.
You can see the full results of the research here – it involves a reasonably sized and representative sample of real owners of real small businesses, rather than party members, candidates, cronies, retirees, volunteers, barristas, funeral parlour consultants, people who never signed it, people who have asked to be taken out, dissolved and liquidated businesses, people who responded four times, ghosts and the neighbour’s dog.
As of the time of writing this, tha names of the two charities who have issued public statements demanding to be taken off the list, still appear on the list. I guess the Telegraph is past caring.
UPDATE 09:45 on 28/4: I have now received a reply from another charity I contacted, included in the letter, The Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust. Here is the full statement from the Director of the trust, Rebecca Long:
“The Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust is listed as one of the 5,000 businesses who are “signatories” to a letter supporting the conservative government published in today’s Telegraph Newspaper. I can categorically state that;
– We have been included on the list without our knowledge or consent and have contacted the conservative party and the Telegraph to demand that our organisation is removed from this list.
– The Trust is a very small charity and not a small business. It should not and should never appear on any list of political endorsements such as the one published in the Telegraph of apparent owners of small businesses. We do not and have not made any such political endorsement today or at any other time.
– No one at the charity has been authorised to sign such a document on our behalf, nor would they ever be.
– The named signatory is an employee of the Trust who has confirmed she has not been approached to be signatory to such a letter as a small business owner. We believe our and her inclusion on this list is some sort of error.”
UPDATE 07:30 on 28/4: A reader has done additional work on duplication. You can see it here.
UPDATE 20:55: Here is a list of dozens of businesses included as signatories which are dissolved or in liquidation, courtesy of @barnybug. A wonderful advertisement of the effectiveness of the policies which they, apparently, endorse.
UPDATE 20:00: I am beginning to have very serious doubts as to how many of even the legitimate businesses on the list actually signed anything. Aurum Solutions have issued a statement. Their sales director received an email from Brady “and recalls clicking on the link to find out more”. That’s it. He does not recall signing anything and denies strongly providing any information about the company. Could it be that this was merely an aggressive piece of spamming, where database entries referring to people and their workplace were signed up to this shambles at the mere click of the link?
UPDATE 17:15: Diverse Cymru have now demanded to be taken off the list.
There is a lot, so I’ll be brief.
Huge thanks to the many people on Twitter who sent me discrepancies all day, as they discovered them.
The day started with the Conservatives and the Prime Minister claiming a major victory.
Things soon began to unravel, when it emerged that this wasn’t the unsolicited, spontaneous combustion of love from small business to the Tories, which had been presented. In fact the Conservative Party had generated the letter and asked its members to sign it.
Things got much more tangled up when it was discovered that the background document, containing the names and signatures of the “small business owners” on the Telegraph website, still bore the metadata tags of Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
Say what you want, claimed a Tory councillor to me. The source is not important. What is important is the message.
Then, the list itself began to be scrutinised. Nobody has done a thorough review of the list yet. This is just a cursory scan which only reveals the tip of the iceberg. And a pretty substantial iceberg is seems to be.
First came the realisation that there were many duplications.
In fact there were so many that someone began to compile a full list. Here is what it contained last I saw it.
Shambles, you say? You can say that again. Oh, you did.
Strangely, the Telegraph took it upon itself to excise the list of duplications. No correction or apology. Just selective deletion. I find this incredibly sinister. Around 11am this duplication appeared.
By midday it was gone. The number 3241, simply omitted.
It was all fun and games, so far, but then it started to get serious. It turned out, some businesses had not signed the letter at all. Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme, confronted David Gauke with the fact that simply looking over the first forty or so names of the list, he identified at least four occasions on which the signatory did not own or hold any shares in the company.
This began to expose the more significant problems with who signed the letter and on behalf of whom. I am no captain of industry but people who own a small business tend to describe themselves as the owner or the proprietor. Perhaps managing director or general secretary at a push. They do not tend to describe themselves – the selection below is, again, from a cursory glance – as “consultant” (what does a consultant do at a funeral parlour, exactly?), “admin”, “payroll”, “office manager”, “office assistant”, “executive assistant”, “medical director”, “academy director”, “Chief Inspiration Officer” (a what, now?), “site manager” of a regional dept, “sub postmaster” of a branch.
I am not suggesting that all those people don’t do valuable jobs, of course. But small business owners, they ain’t. And, however loose your criteria, you have to draw the line at people who are explicit about being retired, on one occasion, for 20 years.
All this makes one terribly suspicious as to whether the companies being signed up and splashed across the Telegraph even knew they were. And it should have made The Telegraph suspicious, when one of those small business owners described himself as a waiter.
Did Deane’s Restaurant Group know that they had been signed up as Conservative supporters on a national broadsheet by a barrista of one of their Belfast cafes? It seems not.
Aurum Solutions certainly did not know anything about it, as the real owner made quite clear. And the person who was meant to have signed it, even, had not.
David Gauke tried to make light of the discrepancies and suggested that the letter “was signed by people of no political background”. That is also, however, inaccurate. One of the entries of “small businesses” is actually the “Stanley Ward Conservative Club”.
I have spoken to at least two Conservative councillors who signed the letter. And remember Ben Manton? The barrista from Belfast who “misread the form”? Well, he is the Conservative parliamentary candidate for his constituency.
A cursory glance of the list reveals no less than seven Conservative parliamentary candidates: Selaine Saxby, Rebecca Pow, Chris Pearson, Iain McGill, Ben Manton, Nicola Wilson and Keith Dewhurst.
Keith Dewhurst, astonishingly, signs the letter as the Chair of a Welsh charity which helps people with disabilities. Since when does the chair of a charity “own” it as a “small business”? And what position does that leave a charity in, which is meant to be apolitical, both ethically and under the Charities Commission’s rules?
Again, a light search of the list yielded at least seven charities, which nobody owns and, certainly, for the political affiliations of which nobody can speak, including:
I have sought comment from them and have so far not had a response.
Certainly, questions will continue to be asked, especially about CCHQ’s use of this data. This was the disclaimer at the bottom of their letter.
The more one looks at this list, the more the conclusion that it is a deliberate attempt to deceive the electorate becomes inescapable. Certainly, it is an example of hugely shoddy journalism from The Telegraph – if I, as a novice and on my own, can find this stuff out in a few hours, they should have in ten minutes. Their headline still reads “huge boost for Cameron as 5000 small businesses…” BLAH BLAH, as they correct the list provided to them by CCHQ and published unchecked. Not a shred of integrity.
It is funny, but it is also tragic and sinister.