Lynton Crosby thinks you’re an imbecile. Are you?

Miliband's Sandwich

Are you an imbecile? If you voted Tory last May, Lynton Crosby, the Conservatives’ 2015 General Election Übermensch, certainly thinks so. Today’s Guardian contains a piece by Sam Delaney that sets out the cynical, reductive pillars of his campaign strategy, and it makes for depressing reading – like an obituary for your intellect.

Crosby, hired in 2013 for the idiot-stoking sum of £500,000, is considered a genius in Tory circles. It’s tempting, if you’re a non-Conservative, to write off his contribution. After all, wasn’t he the degenerate behind Michael “Hammer” Howard’s “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” 2005 campaign – a pub conservation with a billboard budget? Yes he was, but what’s disturbing about Delaney’s piece, is the suggestion that the duff thinking underpinning that patronising Dracula Vs Blair contest, was the fundamental principle guiding the 2015 strategy.

Crosby wasn’t stupid enough to literalise the insult this time, but it’s that one potent idea that still shapes his conception of you, the pliable, docile voting public. Posters like the one depicting Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket (in place of the chip surgically removed from his shoulder) didn’t create a perception, says Crosby, “it just drew attention to it.” Apparently he was thinking what you were thinking, begging the question – were you thinking?

The article makes Crosby’s philosophy clear enough – employ the so-called “dead cat” ruse, the tactic whereby you throw a figurative stiff feline onto the table in the middle of dinner, getting the pliant media to shift attention to whatever you want them to talk about, cultivate myths about the opposition based on the public’s ignorance and/or tabloid understanding of their values and attributes, gently reposition floating voters in key marginals with e-comms that introduce the fickle change-fearers to the empowering joys of tactical voting, and hammer home the key messages, stripping the election of all its nuance; disabusing the people of their misplaced desire to interrogate the issues. The vote is now a simple, binary choice between polished leader and awkward cartoon character, economically literate party and profligate mob, pragmatists and ideologues, sensible politics and chaos.

The worst part? It worked, apparently.

So this begs the very real question of whether the electorate are indeed as backward and lacking in political sophistication as Crosby imagines. Can we assume that these tactics were decisive? Did Crosby make the weather or, like Rupert Murdoch before him, just read a forecast and invest in umbrellas?

You feel there’s something to his suggestion that Labour were “intellectually lazy” and “didn’t do the work”; even the most committed Milibandit on Twitter, the left’s digital branch office, struggled to tease out the party’s cohesive vision for the future. I voted Labour in 2015, determined to do my part in preventing another five years (or more) of David Cameron’s reactive form of government, with the occasional half-baked policy idea crowbarred in, but I did so frustrated by Labour’s piecemeal politicking, crass virtue signalling and timidity. If I felt that way, and I pay attention to these sorts of things, able to pick out the key actors from a line up, understanding both the antecedents and details of party policy, then how grave were the suspicions of those who only brushed up against Labour in grabs on the evening news, or via silly stories in the red tops written for those with a reading age of five?

And yet it troubles the soul to think that Joe Public and his illegally sub-let housemate, who occasionally provides additional benefits in exchange for free food and energy, were so easily programmed. The Conservatives ran a thin and uninspiring campaign. Anyone who’d scrutinised the coalition’s record would be struck by how fragile the economy was, how ineffective George Osborne had been on bank regulation, industry and infrastructure; how the government, with the Liberal Democrats’ help, had weakened the health service, loaded students with punishing levels of debt and handed power over the housing market to their friends in construction at the expense of those wanting cheaper homes and affordable rents.

Above all, and perhaps especially, given the value Crosby placed in David Cameron’s image being decisive, “we had a good product”, those taking a deep and probing interest in the political scene, would have noted how little vision the Prime Minister had, that the Tories’ talisman was a knee-jerk man, a vacillator and a waffler; in power for its own sake and in service to his class interests. How did those fingering ballot boxes on May 7th miss all this? It seems they either didn’t know or, as they’d benefited from Tory policies aimed at key demographics – pensioners, existing home owners, business people, middle-high income earners, didn’t care.

All of which seems to confirm a suspicion that may yet destroy the Labour Party. As discussed in this blog, Jeremy Corbyn’s hopes for 2020 (he currently has an approval rating of -38) rest on the assumption that there are millions of would-be left leaning voters who will be enticed to step up once the party fully returns to its socialist roots. There’s no evidence these people exist, because they don’t vote at the moment, so remain imaginary, but these homo ficti alone can change everything by beefing up the hard left’s representation when added to the pool of existing box crossers who, history tells us, will lean toward the Conservatives to protect their gains from decades of social inequality and policies that prop up and cultivate individual self-interest. But if Crosby and the Tories are right, the only voters playing the game are the ones we have – inherently conservative types who’ll only trust Labour in sufficient numbers if, as in the era of Blair, they believe they’ll by and large govern as Tories with a conscience soothing social liberal bolt-on.

Why are voting patterns so regimented? Why can’t you beat the system in the post-ideological age of embedded Thatcherism? Because, thinks Crosby, the public are politically ignorant, have no understanding of the issues, have no desire to look into them and only start to think about these things when the starting gun’s fired for the election. Such rank stupidity, with millions trying to orientate themselves in years of policy making from a standing start, with no context for their deliberations and no desire to be better educated on the subject, makes it possible to play up to prejudice, underline myths, turn multifaceted debates into child-like arguments, and deny millions their chance to be better informed and think for themselves.

It’s little wonder that when it comes to the players in the election, Crosby’s first instinct is to imagine them as children. When talking about pollsters, for example, or slaves to public opinion, he used a junior metaphor – “are we there yet? Are we there yet?” To Lucky Lynton, a man paid a fortune to prey on the people’s half-formed perceptions, that’s the game: managing the views of the naïve and ignorant. One hopes, despite the 2015 result, that he’s underestimated the voters – that a chunk are alert to the underlining realities but ultimately chose to be selfish, to preserve their way of life. But when you hear a report on the Today programme about SNP canvassers door stepping the public in Glasgow, with one woman persuaded to drop her lifelong affiliation to Labour with the words “Nicola Sturgeon”, because she quite likes her, then you begin to wonder.

We get the governments we deserve. Oh, to live in a world where everyone had a basic level of political education. Imagine how difficult it would then be for Lynton Crosby to run a campaign like that of 2015. Imagine how much political parties would be forced to change. In the meantime, enjoy the government you’ve got, allegedly chosen by Crosby’s millions – the thoughtless, clueless and fearful.

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 17:22  Leave a Comment  

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