With one of the closest elections in a generation, politicians, parties and media outlets on both sides are increasingly turning to dirty tactics to gain the upper hand. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.
|Newspaper stories like this one only serve as a detriment to the public’s perception of politics (Source: The Daily Mail)
Election fervour is currently reaching its full momentum, with canvassers flooding residential areas adorned with rosettes and fuelled by a determination to win marginals, television events between main party leaders, and even Twitter introducing special election hashtags. One of the most unpredictable elections in a generation, some are even suggesting the stakes are as high as they were with the 1945 election.
Understandably, the mechanics of parties’ publicity campaigns are becoming desperate to push the polls up in these last few weeks, and this is evident in the surfeit of unscrupulous tactics. However, it is a sad occurrence that some politicians and media outlets appear to believe a clean election cannot be won, relying on slurring the other side through petty attempts of belittling that wouldn’t be uncommon to observe in a primary school classroom.
In traditional British fashion, the right wing press has been tripping over itself in excitement to slur the left with whatever interesting insults it can hurl; some headlines have been merely ludicrous, yet some have been laced with a toxic foundation of prejudice that should not be tolerated. In regards to the former, the Daily Mail has tried to continue an old story about Ed Miliband’s past romantic life, with the headline ‘Red Ed’s very tangled love life’, which in an excellent display of journalism, manages to subtly remind readers that whilst Miliband has not only lived a life of serial monogamy, he is also left wing; both slivers of information completely irrelevant and obvious to voters.
Although it is not ideal, neither for the British left’s election hopes nor as a positive advert of our general political situation, the media’s viciousness is to be expected. Indeed, with the two main parties tying in the polls and so little time until polling day, it is even expected that parties be vehement against their adversaries. However, election campaigns should primarily be about policies and the potential to exercise such policies – they should not be about personal attacks.
In a recent article in The Times, the Conservative Defence Secretary Michael Fallon wrote that Ed Miliband “stabbed his own brother in the back,” in the 2011 Labour leadership contest, and went on to say that he is “willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister and put our country’s security at risk.” On the surface, this may seem a strong argument about how the Labour Party would conduct itself in government, a fair thing to speculate about, but when this statement is considered it should alarm us.
The Conservative narrative of Ed Miliband as a politician with a history of personal betrayal, who would take this to the level of “stabbing the country in the back,” is one founded on a misinterpretation of the 2011 Labour leadership contest, which involved no deception or dishonesty that should lead to a conclusion of “betrayal.” Certainly, it can’t be argued that politicians should be judged independently of their personal lives; we do not want Parliament to be filled with men and women with racist views, for example.
However, ad hominem attacks on trivial issues like personal relationships are unnecessary and cheapen politics, which ultimately has lives at stake. Election campaigns should be focused on politicians in regards to their policies and the issues which significantly impact the public, like the capacity of a party to improve the economy or living standards.
When discussing political bias, there is an ironic risk of being politically biased, and whilst Ed Miliband has suffered a plethora of malevolent personal attacks, this is by no means what the issue is constrained to nor is it an attempt to elevate Labour into appearing morally superior with their campaigning than the Conservatives. It certainly can’t be assumed that if Labour had more of the press on its side they wouldn’t be attacking the Tories with the same venom.
Furthermore, it is not only right wing institutions and individuals who have been manipulating their given mediums to further their own party’s chances of gaining support in May. The Green Party’s political broadcast was incredibly disappointing, although it was a unique, interesting and accessible conception. Through a song called ‘Change The Tune’, viewers are told that the four main parties, the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip are “all the same.”
The homogenising of party politics is not distinct to elections and many people definitely do perceive the parties as equally irritating and alienating. However with such an unpredictable two party election, where there are strong differences between the futures advocated by the Conservatives and Labour, this is massively irresponsible. The Green Party implies there is no variance between parties but for millions of British people there are life-altering implications for them, indeed for both outcomes. Voters deserve to be presented with fair information by each party. It is again a dangerous rhetoric, perpetuated by those who seem to care more about their own party’s success than they do about the voters they claim to be representing.
Ultimately, no one benefits from media propaganda, personal attacks, or a twisting of the truth. The media should not be a battleground of manipulation or misleading messages, and it certainly should not be used as a platform for prejudiced views to be publicised under the guise of an election campaign. For a result in May that is truly reflective of the public’s view, we need honest and dignified political behaviour. Conducting elections with decency and veracity would not halt parties from criticising rivals or from publically and passionately fighting for principles they believe in, it would make this process a lot easier for voters to place trust in. Pettiness and propaganda is absolutely not the sole reason politics seems unappealing to many, but it is without doubt a real limitation to the electorate feeling respected and represented.