Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Daily Mail’s magic trick: former half-human Red Ed, now fully formed

So the Mail/Miliband hoo ha drags on – as I write this an argument already played out a hundred times on twitter is being hashed out afresh on Question Time. I don’t want to contribute to either side of the moral debate, but I do want to make an observation. For once, the Mail, the hymn sheet of middle England, looks out of touch, while weirdy, wonky red Ed looks positively cuddly. How did this happen?

When the Mail ran Geoffrey Levy’s piece on Ralph Miliband last Saturday, it expected some backlash. Indeed, it wanted one. Ed Miliband was apopleptic. Who wouldn’t be? The paper also will have anticipated a certain amount of outrage from what Paul Dacre usually dubs the ‘liberalocracy’. In both cases, a bit of playful disruption would have boosted the Mail’s anti-establishment image and rattled a few cages ahead of the press regulation skirmishes to come.

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Boris vs Political Homogeny

There is an increasing dissatisfaction amongst the British public with traditional politics and politicians who are perceived as untrustworthy and lacking conviction. Gone are the days of revered and reviled politicians with a cult-like following. In a muddied playing field where the only political colours seem to be varying shades of brown, strong personalities are succeeding in favour of particular social mores.

In this new political era, where the differences between figureheads seem minimal at best, could we be approaching an era where personality means more than values?

Boris Johnson, who has remained a constant feature in the public eye under a plethora of different guises, has come under fire on more than one occasion for misdemeanour, yet has emerged relatively unscathed when it comes to public opinion.

The public are endeared by his bumbling Have I Got News For You comedic persona and he has an uncanny ability to rouse the crowd. Scandal after scandal, Johnson has emerged triumphant, securing his place as Mayor of London for a second consecutive term, with many a bookie taking bets that he may vie for party leadership in the future, despite denying the suggestion on numerous occasions.

However, following the Eddie Mair interview this weekend, it will be interesting to see if Johnson has been beaten at his own game. Tired and unprepared for the onslaught upon his integrity, Johnson was unable to keep up with, counter-spin, or wriggle out of, Eddie Mair’s questioning. Not since the Paxman vs. Howard interview in 1997 have we seen such squirming.

We will have to watch to see if memes develop around this to damage Johnson’s career, or whether the event will simply go further to expanding his public profile. In an interview earlier yesterday, he appeared to take the critique with good grace, stating that Mair was “perfectly within his rights to have a bash at me”. Only time will tell if the Cult of Boris will live to tell another tale.

My Thoughts on The Olympic Torch Fiasco from Early June

The Mail’s furore at the Olympic torch sponsor-gate is misplaced. It’s emerged that, whilst a large proportion of torch bearers are the promised saintly examples of youthful attainment and inspiration, a few are portly middle managers called Kevin, whose achievements stretch little further than turning up to work for a company whose coffers are helping fund the relay. To which I say, what did you expect? It’s reasonable to want to have a go on a toy you’re paying for. The issue here isn’t sponsorship in sport, it’s the way that sponsorship is sold to the public.

According to official communications, revenue from sponsorship accounts for more than 40% of Olympic revenues. Partners also provide ‘vital technical services and product support to the whole of the Olympic Family.’ You don’t have to tunnel far through the bullshit to understand that the Olympics could not in a million years happen on their modern scale without hefty corporate backing.

Here’s the thing: by and large, this is not a problem. Obviously, nobody wants to watch a month long ad disguised as a sporting event, but provided a few moral scruples are applied and a balance is struck between idealised narrative and what’s required to fit the bill, I can’t imagine that many people in our commoditized world have a serious issue with corporate funding per se.

The reason that there is an issue- and unquestionably there will be more issues before the world’s athletes touch down on British soil- is the total lack of this kind of frank talk in LOCOG’s communications. The British Public were sold a 21st century fairytale, in which the torch was to be escorted through a series of autumnal hedgerowed lanes, tastefully graffitied urban jungles and the set of Downton Abbey by an unrelenting stream of youth club leaders and the cheerfully disenfranchised. What they got was reality, where for every few stirring stories of personal triumph over adversity, we are required to tolerate one Ralph-Lauren wearing project manager with a dopey grin on his mug.

The question is now begged of how many more flies remain to be picked out of the ointment. The Olympics is, by and large, a purely commercial proposition to a sponsor, and they won’t have paid without significant assurances around logo visibility, ticketing allowances and more. We had another flicker of media rebellion last week amidst revelations about the price of eating and drinking inside the stadium. The press and the public will not swallow a myth forever- in fact, feed them one and they’ll start actively looking to disprove it. Unless you really can offer them happily ever after, there is no way round the need for some transparency and honesty.

The Olympics has always been a vehicle for outrageously overblown propaganda- the torch relay itself was largely invented by Joseph Goebbels for the Berlin Olympics of 1936 as a means of portraying perceived ideological links between Naziism and Ancient Greece. However, in a Now Economy defined by vocal crowds and marmite world views, it’s pretty hard to make this kind of thing stick. Rather than risk it, you’re much better off speaking to people like adults than risking a half-pregnant promotional fiasco.

A Major Record Deal

At Borkowski towers we took in John Major’s statesmanlike Leveson testimony with bated breath, gathered around a single laptop like blond-mopped 30s tots listening timorous but resolute to the velvety tones of Churchill on the wireless, the glow of the screen illuminating our haggard faces like a ray of hope stealing through the curtains of ignorance which mask the grubby windows of press transparency.

Eyes locked in half-closed intensity, hair cemented into the iron permanence usually seen, nay felt, only in the ancient standing stones of the Earth’s wild corners, he dids’t bestride the narrow courtroom like a colossus. His views on civil service-led regulation were heartfelt, his words on the plurality of the media erudite, his blue-wash tie-shirt combo possessed of all the gravity of a pre-Veritas Robert Kilroy Silk.

After about 5 minutes, we came round and remembered that John Major’s face, demeanour and clothing repel the human attention span so effectively that his aides have to wear protective eyewear when preparing him for speeches. We thought we’d help the poor chap out with some alternative visuals better suited to a fickle and feckless 2012 audience. Behold the result.

What did Trenton Oldfield Mean for Stuntsters?

Back at the start of last week, wherever you turned in mediaworld you found someone sticking their oar in (sorry) to the discussion on wayward idealist Australian Trenton Oldfield and his Pankhurst-esque self-sacrificial boat race stunt. I shan’t bother now to throw in my two cents about the morality of Oldfield’s actions, but I do think that what he has done impacts negatively upon those of us whose business and/or passion it is to grab headlines with acts of disruptive showmanship.

The first thing to say is that this was a pretty bland stunt. What I’m more worried about, however, is what this will do for police and public paranoia in the run-up to the Olympics. Already at boiling point, the police and LOCOG have spent the past few months whipping each other up into a frenzy over crowd control and health and safety. This will only confirm their worst fears. Any innocent reveller or spectator at any event could be a dangerous, subversive madman! Time to send in the thought police.

Generally, too, this event comes as part of a zeitgeist increasingly antithetical to the art of the stunt. The (largely negative) commentary on Oldfield’s actions focused more than almost anything else on how dangerous his actions were, how he endangered his life, how he caused inconvenience in restarting the race. Outrage at his politics would have been much more interesting- not to mention more favourable for his agenda. Caught in a pincer movement between a blandly litigious society on the one hand and a media landscape oversaturated with ill-considered stunts on the other, the public have no appetite for maverick antics.

Perhaps what’s been lost is a belief in the stunt as a piece of fun, a joke, almost a gift. Rather than a piece of direct action or a forcible promotion, a stunt should be playful, gentle and, preferably, crazy. A stunt’s impact comes from laughter, and from the sheer joy that persuades people to share. All the classic stunts share this aspect, whether they be making a serious point- Joey Skagg’s giant bra springs to mind (link)- or selling a bit of fluff like Reichenbach’s T.Arzan (link).

I call for a return not only to creativity in stunting but a permissiveness and relaxation in its execution. In our red-tape age it’s easy to forget that a public performance should be joyful. Whether you’re an activist or a marketer, try and perform, not preach. Theatres are far more fun than churches.

Of Pasties and Pussycats: One Weird Week for Politics

What a week for political communications. ‘Pastygate’ is a uniquely 21st century scandal which, regardless of what it reveals about the government’s relationship with the everyday person, certainly says a great deal about the effectiveness of its PR machine. At the same time, whilst Ed Miliband has arguably had a decent week for once, the Labour party has been shaken by a much publicised defeat in Bradford West at the hands of none other than downright weird man-cat George Galloway.

First, those pasties. For me, the entire affair was summed up by Paxman’s expression to camera on Wednesday’s Newsnight. The look I’m talking about came as Tory MP Nadim Zahawi defended his party leader’s inability to recall the precise location at which he last enjoyed a pasty. Comprising disdain, crumpled bemusement and downright remorse, Paxman’s face radiated not only scepticism toward a party unable to connect with its voters, but disbelief at the fact that this had been deemed a suitable topic for interview.

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Update: Like the Protestors, the Story Surrounding St Paul’s is Going Nowhere

Since I last penned a brief note on the St Pauls occupy London shenanigans, it seems there’s been some new story almost daily. The resignation of two senior church officials, the alleged 48 hour deadline, the declaration that the protestors are here to stay, the threat of legal action by the city, comments from both sides of mainstream politics (including Jonson’s memorable exhortation ‘In the name of God and mammon, go’) and now, finally, a silence-breaking Observer article by Ed Miliband.

In between the possibly hypocritical condemnations by the Tories, the possibly equally hypocritical support offered by Labour, the regulations of the City of London and the public dithering of the Church of England, there’s enough fuel here to keep the media busy for as long as the camp remains in place, and probably longer.

Dr Rowan Williams’s comments last week, in which he acknowledged the inequality inherent in the financial sector and called the protest ‘a real focus for people’s feelings and their imagination,’ were perceived by many as an antidote to the church’s infighting. In fact, they confuse matters further by acknowledging the ideological alliance between the church and the protestors while smartly avoiding the legal conflict.

The whole affair’s like a messy divorce case: the issues are being ignored because everyone has a claim to being a victim- a problem the media has taken it upon itself to sort out. The entire confused, irrational mess was summed up by the Daily Express last week in an unintentionally genius bit of satire: a reporter camped out in front of the house of a protestor, armed with a tent and a sign reading ‘how do you like it?’.

It’s an interesting quandry: it’s hard to think of a recent protest of this scale which has earned itself so many column inches, and arguably, visibility is enough. The rational, we might argue, will draw their own conclusions. However, my fear is that the temptations of a juicy bit of finger-pointing will obscure the issues at heart far more effectively than a thrown fire extinguisher ever could.

Stripping For Votes Could Work, Just Nobody Tell Theresa May

The video of Polish politician Katarzyna Lenart stripping for votes has generated the kind of online buzz that other party political broadcasts (and I use the term in its loosest sense) could only dream of. Shot on what appears to be a pretty low grade camera and featuring a swivel chair that wouldn’t look out of place in the head office of a packaging company in Slough, it looks a bit like something you’d find on Babestation at 3am. Still, at least she doesn’t stoop to airbrushing.

The knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss this out of hand. It’s not just crazy, it’s obvious. Surely even the voyeuristic, big brother guzzling, internet porn fed, fetid mess of a world we live in wouldn’t fall for something so desperate. It may be getting watched, but it won’t win votes.

Having said that, futurology is a tricky discipline, especially in the fad happy world of politics. Perhaps Lenart’s dance is so mad that it works. Lord knows we’ve been waiting for something to kick off the ‘digital elections’ repeatedly promised- and denied- through campaign strategies over the past few years.

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Rory Weal and the Brand Narrative Quandry

(You can also read this post in the Huffington Post, here)

The excitable and ubiquitous coverage of ‘labour boy’ Rory Weal following his appearance at the Labour Party Conference on Monday said a lot about the power of narrative. From Melanie Philips’s enraged dismissal of his ‘mantra of hate’ in the mail to the Guardian’s moving video content, everyone found something to grab them about this 16 year old child of the welfare state turned political prodigy.

It’s hardly a surprise: his back story looked pitch-perfect. Following a divorce two and a half years ago, his family home was repossessed and he was cared for by his mother alone: despite her suitably hardworkinLabour Boyg yet appealingly lowly job as a cleaning supervisor, his ravaged family required a leg up. They aren’t TV Guzzling, lazy tabloid welfare bugbears, yet Rory stated categorically that ‘I owe my wellbeing and that of my whole family to the welfare state’.

Now he’s working to develop his socialist creds: an interview published in the Times on Wednesday was a total spinmeister’s wet dream. In it, he name checks The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist (his ‘call’, in narrative theory terms) in the same breath as extolling almost calculatedly ordinary clothing brands like Primark (where he bought his tie) and Tesco (the suit: ‘great buy’, says Rory). He stresses that his less extraordinary friends are issues driven, too, but acknowledges, humorously, that the issues which drive them involve the ‘trebling of their bus fare’ rather than ‘party politics’. His favourite programme is Question Time, but he despairs, affectionately, of his mother, who won’t stay up to watch it.

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Lib Dem Conference: A Leaky PR Ship With No-one Manning the Hull

In his Today programme interview with Justin Webb yesterday, Nick Clegg’s intended, unflappable nice guy image was showing the kind of serious wear and tear that can only result from a shortage of publicity muscle and back room support. By turns repetitive and needlessly confrontational (over the question of Italy, for instance, he veered back and forth before tersely interjecting that noting the difference between Britain and Italy was ‘a statement of the obvious’), he answered questions like a man in HomeBase asking after a product he’s forgotten the name of.  When you’re getting rattled by Justin Webb, you know you really have a problem.Dead yellow bird

The conference as a whole seems to have been getting more coverage than any other party conference in recent memory. Journalists can sense the chinks and cracks forming in the lib dem PR armour. All this is fuelled by the #ldconf twitter discussion which is more overwhelmingly negative than even a cynic like myself could have predicted, with some particularly quotable intrusions from John Prescott, who recently responded to journalists irate at accreditation issues with the somewhat inflammatory tweet “Is the #LDConf accreditation crisis at a conference centre proof they can’t organise a p***up in a brewery?”.

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Borkowski