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PinkVanGate, FinkGate, BaldwinGate – why Labour should take heart from Tory press desperation

Posted on 14 February 2015 | 6:02am

From PinkVanGate to FinkGate to BaldwinRobinsonGate, the election is getting nasty and silly at the same time, and there are two common factors running through them all – Tory desperation and the Tory press.

Let’s take them one by one. Is it sensible for the Labour Party to have a specific campaign aimed at women voters? Yes. Why? Because women have in many ways borne the brunt of the Tories’ economic strategy (sic), the Tories and David Cameron in particular have a well-known ‘problem with women’ (Tory pollster) and Labour have a lot of policies on important issues like equality, low paid work, childcare, nursery years, – issues which the media barely focus upon, and so taking them out there in direct conversation is a good and necessary idea.

Does a van help such a campaign? Yes. Is the campaign helped if such a van attracts attention as it tours the country? Yes. The ‘furore’ over the colour is the media’s way of sticking to its intention of not bothering to cover the issues, preferring froth and trivia, of which PinkVanGate was a very good example. My message to Harriet Harman and her team: Keep on Driving. Oh, and if it had been a different colour, the same papers criticising the Party for having a pink van would have found rentaquotes to say the ‘white van’ or ‘black van’ was an insult to women or showed how out of touch Ed Miliband was.

Now FinkGate. To see Tories from David Cameron down, aided and abetted by the usual suspects in the media, try to turn widespread tax avoidance in a major bank into an issue for Ed Miliband underlined once more both how desperate he is, and how much of a help the biased media is to him in terms of framing a debate. But it didn’t work. Because the issue is too real, it strikes at the heart of what people feel about the global crisis and the inequality at the heart of our economy, and because Ed Miliband stuck to his guns.

Nor did it help that just as the story broke, Labour were holding a pub quiz to raise funds for the election campaign, whilst Cameron and Co were wining and dining hedge funders and oligarchs and raising vast sums in auctions which included a tour of Highgrove. How or when they got Royal permission to use Prince Charles’ residence as a prize at a party event is not clear. Suffice to say if we had ever done such a thing, the Mail, Sun, Express, Telegraph et al would have been salivating and frothing for days.

When I was a journalist, I remember the story of jockey Lester Piggott. Jailed for three years, stripped of his OBE, for tax avoidance. How the morals of our time have changed that David Cameron’s first instinct when tax avoidance is exposed is not to see it as the crime it is, but to stick up for the friends who bankroll him, and a minister brought into government with similar due diligence to that shown when he insisted on taking Andy Coulson into government.

As for the synthetic fuss the Tories and their lackeys tried to get going over a conversation between the BBC’s Nick Robinson and Miliband aide Tom Baldwin, it is such a nonsense as barely to merit a line in a blog.

What all of the above shows is that both the Tories and the Tory press want an election focused very much on processology, rather than on policy and the big challenges facing the country. Hardly surprising considering that when it comes to challenges as big as Ukraine, or Greece, our Prime Minister has rendered himself so irrelevant because of his UKIP-pandering EU ‘strategy’ that he is no more than a commentator and spectator, not a player.

For every day that the media is talking about the colour of a van, or something someone said to someone else that may or not have had the word ‘moment’ in it, then the Tories can avoid debate about the ruinous effect of their policies on families who have been forced into poverty, food banks which have become one of the few growth industries, a Health Service where a winter crisis Labour made a thing of the past is now back as an annual Tory event, suffering from the effects of a disastrous and costly reorganisation for which they had no mandate; then there is the debate they want to avoid on class sizes or tuition fees, or welfare and housing policies which are designed to benefit the wealthy and force the poor to move out.

Between now and the election David Cameron will come up with a nice line for the media every day, sometimes twice. He will be passionate on the news every night, always about something different from the night before. He will be determined to deal with whatever problem popped up on the media brief that morning. Then off to the next thing. It is embarrassing to watch.

Ed Miliband has had a lot thrown at him, and has stood up to it. He is never going to be an Obama or a Clinton when it comes to the public presentation stuff, but then nor is Angela Merkel. And if ever there was a week to ask whether Merkel style leadership is more effective than Cameron’s, we have just had it.

Ed seems to me to be finding a much clearer and stronger voice, at the right time. He still has a lot of critics, of course, and will continue to attract a lot of negative headlines. They go with the territory. But just as Fox News’ relentless attacks on Obama worked in his favour, so I think the incredibly desperate attacks of the Tory press can work for Ed. They allow him to show a calm and a resilience that people are beginning to notice. They convey the sense that the Tories really are worried. And over time the message will get through that the Milibaiting-hating is as much about the stance he took on Leveson as about any genuine desire to see Cameron back in power.

So Labour should take heart from the vehemence of the attacks. I suspect the issue of the media coverage of politics will become an issue at some point in the coming months. And I don’t think it will help Cameron.

Meanwhile, I thought this piece by Peter Oborne for the Spectator was worth sharing. He is not exactly my biggest fan, nor me his, but his take on Ed is very perceptive, and we will be seeing more of the same as serious opinion starts to balance up a little, and see the desperate Tory attacks for what they are.

  • Agree with most of this, but with a but. If we know the media will focus on process nit policy then we need to avoid giving them easy wins on process. Most of your examples our ‘process’ was OK, but not the pink van. It might be a standard Labour campaign colour, but one that’s totally inappropriate one of the women to women campaign because it is such an obvious gaffe for the process driven media. About five years ago I worked with a multinational consumer electronics company to try and convince it that its ‘pink it and shrink it’ sales strategy was reputationaly damaging. Fundamentally it’s also damaging to the actual substance of the campaign as nearly every woman I’ve spoken to does find it offensive and patronising, even those who recognise how trivial it is. They just don’t get why we don’t get it.

  • tfl

    Don’t you think that all the major parties are running scared. Sure The Con/Dems are scared – no matter who won the last election, the bad news inherited from Labour’s previous spell in govt meant that the winning party would become unpopular for taking the measures needed. Forget party petty politics – no matter who won last time around any real attempt to fix the issues would mean them to be unpopular today.

    And all the parties are wailing on about tax avoidance. To hear some MPs talk, you’d think the sky would fall in. Let’s face it – modern society does avoid tax. To that end, I would welcome Mr Milleband’s explanation as to his own successful methods of avoiding tax by changing his dad’s will AFTER THE MAN’S DEATH! That is of course tax avoidance. Vanilla, to be sure and something that all of us who could, would. But it’s still tax avoidance. How can he rail against any and all forms of tax avoidance when he and his family have benefitted from it and paid less tax than would otherwise be owed (which seems to me to be the very definition of tax avoidance).

    At the end of the day, none of the leading three parties are particularly loved by the public. We hold them in contempt over issues like their expenses. We have a low opinion of them and their dodgy personal lives (in all too many cases). We see MPs lie (and go to gaol over it). Politicians of all three parties appear to be increasingly desperate.

    About the only one not desperate is Farage – who has nothing to lose. And a lot to gain.

    The next few months are going to be depressing – as your article all to clearly reveals. Roll on summer

    • Michele

      ………….. AFTER THE MAN’S DEATH!…………..
      Jeepers, why screech? Carrrrrm yersen.

      It’s a fairly common occurrence, it even has a name! It was done by consensus between all the ‘beneficiaries’ as well as Mr M Snr himself.
      I suppose most of us should review our will every so often but tend not to (just like Dad Miliband – not your ‘Milleband’ – did I miss a :-s funny related to his millionaire status?).
      You also seem to have taken it for granted that the matter had not been discussed with him during his life or illness.
      Sweetness and light 🙂

  • Ehtch

    Cameron is carrying on like some Godfather, protecting those shady ones close to him. And as for the media establishment, they are a total disgrace, especially obviously the “middle of the road!?!” BBC. I am well sick of these pathetic daily news sound bites they spout out, directed by Tory HQ.

  • Gillian C.

    As it’s possible that Labour might have to do business with the SNP after the next General Election, a tartan van might have been more apposite.

  • Michele

    First time I saw the photos I simply thought ‘oooh good, noticeable …..’.
    It didn’t even occur to me that it was meant to appeal to women because of our gender or that some twerps might think so (and it does seem to be male commentators asserting that – or their Press Baron bosses insisting the populace gets whipped up with fake offence).

    As for women being offended by the pink …. if any have then I despair. NObody is talking down to us.

    I’d have had the same reaction had it been Tiffany turq (which I do now like) or a mellow orange but not if it had been black or white …… ooops better not go there.

    Better also not suggest any shade of brown or OMG grey (two other fave colours but grey is oh so omnipresent and uber-popular for chatter at the mo ;-)).

  • Michele

    Another example of Dacredom misrepresenting with not-facts on :

    Can nothing be done about such outright lies from (must be) coerced (or bought) writers?
    The attacks on Dresden were not ‘bombing Nazis’ as in bombing troops, they happened over a civilian population just as had those by Germany on London, Liverpool etc.
    They were the straw that broke the Nazis’ backs but that doesn’t disallow regret at their being essential.

  • Tiz Me

    Interesting article. I’m not a Labour supporter. But I’ve thought there was something promising about Ed since his election as leader. I also found the Oborne article interesting – especially of course the last line.

  • Michele

    Am not so keen on the Oborne commentary, it’s less about defending EM than about sticking the knife in yawn yet again at TB. Such envy, yuk. Don’t these people realise they display more hatred than TB ever has?

    I also don’t accept that EM pulled off the No vote re action on Syria (re DC’s so-called attempts for a Yes re the unusual early recall of Parliament).

    There would have been a Yes result if the occasion had been those couple of days later, if MPs had not been recalled from holiday before that tragic weekend.

    Once Parliament knew Assad had definitely used gas (which proof happened just a couple of days later I/m sure it would have been Yes).
    DC hasn’t got he stomach for what TB has had to endure all this time (who has?), his early recall was not sincere,

  • Christopher Mooney

    Attacks in the Tory press really don’t resonate with the general public any more.

    Readership has more than halved in the last 10 years.

    People get their news from 24 news channels, or social media. Something the Tories haven’t adapted to at all.

  • Christopher Mooney

    If you watched the US elections in 2008, and 2012, you will see what’s going to happen.

    Republican candidates really overestimated the power of their partisan media machine.

    They really didn’t adapt to social media age. And that “word of mouth” is just as important as a headline attacking Obama.

    A viral tweet, or Facebook post, criticizing the government will reach many more floating voters than a Daily Mail headline.

    All the Daily Mail exists for now is to entertain core Tory voters.

  • Christopher Mooney

    Ed Milliband is very comfortable taking on the Tory media machine, as it’s power is much diminished.

    They’ve been attacking him for years, and none of it has resonated.

    Why is a floating voter going to read a biased newspaper, when they can get reliable, independent news, elsewhere?

  • Michele

    What the heck is this ‘game’ that Doive is playing re TV discussions?
    It’s ever so nice of him to pretend that 6 or 7 leaders should be present, if I start my own party this weekend can I be included too?

    He’s looking more and more pointless, illogical, batty (or even spiteful?).
    Did he have this idea before or after Natalie Bennett’s so-called ‘car crash’ interview?