Election Propaganda: Policy and Electoral Reform Edition

Recently I got a letter from Ed Miliband, asking me to take part in some sort of Labour Party policy consultation exercise.

A letter from the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition! Aren’t I a lucky girl!?

Well no, not really, for it was yet more postal propaganda rubbish – although I’m not yet entirely sure whether it’s better or worse than receiving a (similar) letter from David Cameron, as I did during the general election campaign last year…

I don’t belong to any political party or trade union – I’m actually strictly politically non-partisan (in that I despise all the major – and most of the minor – political parties equally), but I have also long been fascinated by the various factions and their increasingly desperate attempts to drum up support over the last few years by swamping our letterboxes with junk mail propaganda.

In my case, I get crap personally addressed to me from all of them (via the electoral register?), but the Labour Party is especially guilty of sending me a deluge of junk mail  – probably a side effect of a number of years of persistent letter writing to my old Labour MP (her team seems to have added me to an extra super-annoying mailshot database somewhere along the line – without my permission, I might add!).

This latest missive from Miliband HQ arrives on headed notepaper (“Ed Miliband: New politics. Fresh ideas”), featuring a black and white shot of the man himself looking pensively away from the camera, and a vaguely patronising/smug text about wanting to hear my “ideas, thoughts and opinions” on practical ways to reduce the deficit and allow the Labour Party to “stand up for you and your family” (something they certainly haven’t done for the last couple of decades).

It all sounds lovely and fluffy, although it comes across as a blatant (and, it must be said, rather pathetic) attempt to reclaim the traditional Labour support that the previous Blair and Brown governments so carelessly managed to lose in their millions as a result of their messy lurch to the right. Miliband quite clearly wants to be seen as the party’s ‘new broom’, sweeping away the past by offering the electorate an “alternative approach” to government that is different to both the ConDems and New Labour.

However, despite the carefully-worded begging for the involvement of the electorate by sending Our Ed “your experiences of how the cuts are affecting you and your family”, this is really just another attempt to grub up support in the run up to the local elections. And the cynic in me wonders precisely how seriously Labour will actually listen to their voters – or is this just more political hot air?

AV or not AV – that is the question:

Other recent arrivals on my doormat include a pile of propaganda leaflets concerning the upcoming referendum on whether or not to change the voting system used to elect MPs to a form of proportional representation. I’ve now received mailshots from both sides of the campaign (including the ‘Yes to AV’ leaflet that caused a bit of a racism row in the press), but I’m still no clearer as to the benefits of either.

The ‘Yes to AV’ leaflet arrived first, complete with celeb endorsements (from the likes of Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley and Colin Firth) and, rather cheekily, a pre-printed application form to send off for a postal vote in the referendum. Considering that the current postal voting system is one of the more problematic aspects of the present set up, this seems just a little odd to me!

I can’t say I was overly impressed with the very simplistic information about AV provided by the ‘Yes’ campaign in this leaflet; there’s a lot more to the whole issue of PR than they describe, and AV doesn’t necessarily always work in the way they claim it does (although they’re right in saying that the likes of the BNP can be “shut out” by such electoral reform, which is why the far right party opposes any change from FPTP to AV). Even if I wasn’t as politically aware as I am, I don’t think I’d be particularly convinced by the arguments put forward by the literature sent out by this pro-AV campaign.

The ‘No to AV’ leaflet, however, only arrived this morning, its bright and garish colour scheme making it impossible to miss on my doormat (lime green and cerise pink – mmm, stylish…), although perhaps that was the point. No celeb endorsements on this leaflet, although the ‘No’ campaign helpfully points out that the sportsmen Amir Khan, Steve Redgrave and Bobby Moore “were winners because they came first”. Well, yes, but do they know you’re using their images in your literature, ‘No’ campaign? I can be 100% certain that the late Bobby Moore doesn’t…

Despite the fact that the ‘No’ campaign are clearly angling for the retention of the status quo (which we do not need), what really puts me off their literature is exactly the kind of petty scaremongering and guilt-tripping that I associate with right-wing election propaganda, the use of lazy soundbites, and a laundry list of figures (with no sources, naturally) that seem to have been plucked out of thin air. Not encouraging, not convinced, and exactly the kind of thing we need to rid the political system of.

Personally, I find myself thoroughly conflicted over this referendum. I have written before about how the First Past the Post method no longer works in this country and how the British electoral system needs a huge kick up the backside to ever be effective again. However, I don’t believe AV goes anywhere near far enough in that respect – and I don’t believe that any changes resulting from this referendum would ever serve as a jumping-off point for further and much-needed electoral reform.

All of which leaves me in a quandary. The cynic in me sees the mere existence of the vote on May 5th as a sop to the Lib Dems and the Opposition, not as the kind of possibility for a clear and deep-rooted reform of our moribund system that a yes vote should bring (but won’t) – and a no vote is equally out of the question for me, as it will make much-needed change impossible and have the unfortunate side-effect of reinforcing the Tory sense of entitlement to power. And I’ve only got a couple of weeks to make up my mind…

As always, your comments and opinions are welcomed. Did Ed Miliband write to you too? Will you be taking part in his policy consultation? Are you planning to vote in the referendum? Have you decided which way to vote? Or are you as confused and conflicted as I am? If you think you can persuade me one way or the other then please have a go!

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