There is something remarkably gratifying about your politics becoming the subject of a doolally rant from Peter Oborne.
His comment piece in today’s Mail is both astonishing and embarrassing in its swivel-eyed political illiteracy – riddled with hackneyed clichés to such an extent that you can almost see his words foaming on the page like some twenty-first century incarnation of a nineteenth-century pamphleteer.
Of course on one level he can be simply dismissed as a slightly dotty commentator who, whilst perhaps a little too spiky to be regarded a lovable eccentric, nevertheless fulfils a role in the media as a vocal representative of a certain small-minded, right-wing conservatism. Of course, whilst in US politics the right has radio ‘shock jocks’, Britain, despite an increasing pace of life, still conducts its politics in a comparatively leisurely fashion, better suited to writer-provocateurs in our newspapers. These I always imagine to be sartorially-challenged individuals given to flamboyant or eccentric dress – ‘sock jocks’ if you will.
On another level, however, Oborne’s flailing around is a fascinating indication of the rising panic on the part of Britain’s conservative politicians and commentators who have coasted along for years, relying on a ropey strategy perhaps best summarised as opportunism bolstered by a confidence born of entitlement. Oborne, whether as ‘sock jock’ or unofficial Tory mouthpiece, reveals how politically confused and contradictory the right-wing of British politics has become – grasping out in a vacuum of principle for a policy to justify this strange sense of entitlement to power.
Bizarrely, he decides that the key point of political differentiation is not principle, policy or even political message, but rather election slogan. Sadly, I suppose his obsession with slogans is not unexpected from someone who is part of a media industry that seeks in its own condescending way to portray British voters as supine – unable to make political choices based on more substantive criteria without the benefit of the media intervening to interpret and translate.
Oborne, interestingly, also accuses the Lib Dems of opacity on the big issues. This seems to be one of his odder comments, reflecting more the fact that his preferred emperor is clearly wearing no clothes and, I presume, hoping that by shouting loudly at as many people as possible, no-one will notice.
It is also contradicted by his admiration of Nick Clegg’s stance on Afghanistan and civil liberties. In the same piece!
Add in the fact of the Liberal Democrats’ four key election commitments and Oborne’s article is reduced to simple, ignorant bluster.
This is confirmed by his dependence on a tiresome and dull confusion between campaigning and political positioning in a dismal attempt to justify an accusation of hypocrisy:
“For example, one internal campaigning document – called Effective Opposition – hypocritically advised the party’s candidates to face in both directions at the same time.
It urged them ‘to secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour and similarly in a Tory area secure Labour votes by being anti-Tory’.”
Oborne, like many ‘sock jocks’, appears to think that politics should occur in a vacuum of activity. The reality is any party looking to win a seat will be looking to maximise its support from voters by differentiating itself from other parties. To do that well, you need to present your policies in a way that is both relevant and effective. If you believe in the importance of local community politics that is going to be different in different parts of the country. It is basic campaigning common sense.
Fortunately, voters realise that, even if armchair media pundits – who lack accountability and often comment without any sense of responsibility – do not.
All of this adds up to one important thing: this election is still wide open and in the hands of the British electorate.
And the Tories know it…