Wednesday, 31 July 2013

A second purely hypothetical conversation

The scene: A party leader is seated behind a large desk, to his right is a strategic adviser. A third man, enters the room, he is a longstanding party representative who was first elected when the other two were literally still in nappies.

Strategic adviser:  [using an unnecessarily curt and patronising tone] Good afternoon, please take a seat ... I hope you appreciate that we have taken valuable time out of our very busy schedules to see you.

Old school politician: Yes lad, I am aware that you boys are busy, however I had rather been hoping that this would be a confidential discussion.

Strategic adviser:  Oh, I'm afraid that would be totally out of the question.

Old school politician:  How come?

Strategic adviser: Well as his strategic adviser it is important that I am party to any discussions that take place, but my presence will also be of benefit to you, as I will be quickly able to address your concerns in regards to official party policy.

Old school politician: [addressing party leader] Is this what our once great party has been reduced to?
Strategic adviser:  Perhaps things were different in your day, but without my input there wouldn't be a chance of us returning to power.

Old school politician:  What do you mean by your "input"? ... What exactly is it that you do for the party?
Strategic adviser:  I help to develop the party line on the issues of the day. My team do extensive research and determine which will be the most popular policies on any given issue. Once the core policy lines are determined I help the party to define central narratives in order to convey our message to the voter.

Old school politician: [addressing party leader] Hark at that gibberish, have you nowt to say to me young lad?

Party leader: To be honest, I'd be lost without policy advice. Politics has changed a lot since your day. 

Old school politician:  [Irked tone of voice] What do you mean since my day? I am still an active elected representative for this party am I not?
Strategic adviser:  [insincerity obvious in tone of voice] Sorry old man, no offence intended. Perhaps we should say, politics has changed a lot since you were first elected?

Old school politician:  Well, in some ways things have changed a lot since 1970, but other things remain the same. Empty populism is still empty populism.
Strategic adviser:  [Agitated] I'm not sure what you're getting at ...

Old school politician:  Well to spell it out for you young lad, what this party needs is ideology, integrity and a strong message on social justice. It doesn't matter how you package up all of the strategies that your polls tell you the public won't hate, your "narrative" is never going to work because it's not coherent. In order to have a coherent narrative there needs to be a moral foundation to the story. Your story has no moral because it's built on a foundation of opinion polls and bloody management speak.

Party leader: [trying to calm the situation] Well, since we don't have a lot of time, perhaps we should move onto this list of issues you would like to raise? [holding sheet of paper]
Strategic adviser:  [consults his copy of the list as if inspecting something utterly distasteful - like a used condom perhaps] Well, item one on your list is trade unions, perhaps it would be logical to start there?

Old school politician: [impassioned] Surely it is insanity to break the historic link with the trade unions, not only was this party founded to represent the interests of the workers, the unions still provide 80% of our funding!
Strategic adviser:  Well that may be true, but the right-wing press are eating us alive. They hate the unions and they're using our links to the unions as a stick to beat us with.

Old school politician:  But the unions aren't all that bad, the tabloids journalists criticise the unions because they are the paid mouthpieces of the corporate establishment. Every time the right-wing hark on about trade unions, we should compare our funding with that of the government. Surely a message that we are funded by millions of working people, whilst the government are funded by a few dozen multi-millionaires isn't that hard to fit into your "narrative"? [contempt in voice obvious as the word "narrative" is spat out]
Strategic adviser: Look, we're moving on from the unions, and there's nothing old school dinosaurs like you can do to stop it. We simply can't create the kinds of polices that will be popular with the press if the unions are allowed to interfere.

Old school politician:  [seethingly angry but attempting to remain calm] So let me ask you this ... Where are you going to make up the 80% of our funding you're going to lose by doing this? 
Strategic adviser:  Well we're hoping that we'll get state funding of political parties onto the agenda...

Old school politician: So you're trashing our main source of revenue and all you've got to offer is some vague hopes? What are you going to do if the other parties refuse to go along with central funding?
Strategic adviser: Well, we'd have to look at direct funding from business and major donors.

Old school politician:  [raised voice, turning to shouting] What? You mean we'd have to adopt the same crony capitalist funding arrangements as the government? Are you crazy? Don't you think that these businesses and wealthy donors might want to influence policy too? Don't you see the insanity of throwing away donations from the unions because of their influence over party policy and replacing their donations with capitalist donations, and giving the bloody capitalists even more influence over party policy?

Party leader:  [interrupts because things are getting too confrontational again] Well, lets say that we agree to disagree on that one. What's next?
Strategic adviser: [sarcastic tone] It seems our policy on the health service isn't to your satisfaction.

Old school politician: If we actually had a policy on the health service, then perhaps I might be able to form an opinion on whether it is satisfactory or not!
Strategic adviser: [clearly irritated] What do you mean by that?

Old school politician: I meant what I said young lad, something you young pretenders should learn a thing or two about.

Party leader: But we do have a policy on the health service, though don't we? [worryingly this seems to be asked as a genuine question, as if he himself is in doubt about the existence of party policy on the health service]
Old school politician: [Angry reaction again]  It doesn't matter. As far as the public are concerned, you don't have a clear policy on the health service and you're not doing enough to combat the ongoing privatisation. I mean even the Early Day Motion against the keystone privatisation amendment was first proposed by that Green MP wasn't it? ... Then what? You just let the government rewrite it in slightly different words so that all services would still have to be tendered to the private sector and the lowest bids would still have to be accepted, irrespective of patient safety or quality of service ... You just let them sell it off in front of your noses!

Party leader: [conciliatory tone] Well you're clearly upset about this ...
Strategic adviser: [Interrupts] Look, there's nothing we can do about it anyway. The health service must be privatised because of the US-EU free trade agreement. There's nothing a few old school lefties like you can do about it.

Old school politician: So you're telling me that national health policy has been completely outsourced, and now it is now decided between a bunch of unelected neoliberal technocrats in Brussels and the bloody Americans?

Party leader: Well I wouldn't put it like that...
Old school politician:  How would you put it then?

Party leader: Well, it's just out of out hands now isn't it?
Strategic adviser: [interjects before the old school politician can start shouting again] OK, so we've established that there's nothing we can do to accommodate your concerns about the health service, what's next ... Zero Hours Contracts?

Old school politician:  Well we should oppose them.
Strategic adviser:  We can't.

Old school politician:  Why on earth not?
Strategic adviser:  Because we didn't oppose them when we were in power, in fact we let them spread like wildfire.

Old school politician: What has that got to do with opposing them now?
Strategic adviser:  [adopts intensely patronising tone] Well, if we begin opposing them now, when we didn't oppose them before, that makes us look inconsistent. If the polls tell us just one thing, it's that the voters hate inconsistency.

Old school politician:  What a load of cobblers.
Strategic adviser:  Look we can't oppose Zero Hour Contracts because the government and the right-wing press would just accuse us of opportunism, and that's that.

Party leader:  [adopts cheerful tone, because he seems rather pleased that the old school politician is merely bubbling with unspoken rage rather than shouting] So what's next?
Strategic adviser: Legal loan sharks? What do you even mean by that?

Old school politician: You know, those parasitical companies that make usurious five thousand percent loans to the mentally ill, the financially illiterate, the absolutely bloody desperate... What do you call them again?

Party leader: Payday loan companies. [sense of smugness at knowing the answer] 

Old school politician:  Yes, that's them. They suck money out of the poorest communities, they donate money to the bloody government and they are so immoral they're even regulated in the United States! We should oppose them and promise to ban them.
Strategic adviser:  No can do!

Old school politician:  What?
Strategic adviser:  [adopts excruciatingly patronising tone again] We can't oppose them now because we didn't oppose them when we were in power. If we change our position now, we'll look inconsistent, we'll look like opportunists.

Old school politician:  [addressing party leader] Hark at this gibberish again. Is it not better to admit we made a mistake and do something that is morally right?

Party leader: [intake of breath, about to speak]

Strategic adviser:  [interrupts] Certainly not.

Party leader: [intejects quickly to avoid more argument on the subject] What's next on the agenda?
Strategic adviser: [distainfully reads out list] Workfare ... Atos ... retroactive law ... Royal Mail privatisation ... PFI ... Look here. These are all things we introduced last time we were in power! I'm getting tired of repeating myself, we can't change course now. We mustn't appear inconsistent so it's just better to keep our heads down and wait until we get back into power.

Old school politician: And then what? We'll address them when we're back in government?

Party leader: Perhaps.

Strategic adviser: [fires scornful look at party leader, in the manner of a teacher scolding a child that has stepped out of line] We can't be seen to make any such promises.

Old school politician:  So given you're refusing to actually oppose anything that the current government are doing, why should anyone vote for us?

Strategic adviser: Well, you know as well as I do that some 20% people always vote for us because they're political tribalists, enough of the rest will be impressed at the consistency of our narratives.

Old school politician:  Consistently shite they are!

Strategic adviser: [taking moral high ground] Well, you'll convince nobody with foul language.

Old school politician: Well I certainly wasn't getting through with reason was I?

Party leader: [scanning list] Well there are just a couple more items on your list, what's this about fracking? 

Old school politician: Well there the environmental case against fracking, but you should really be attacking them on their blatant conflicts of interest.
Party leader: well... 

Strategic adviser: [interrupts] Look the environmental case is a no go. The press would paint us as environmentalist hippies, so we can't go there, and the conflicts of interest angle is also unworkable ...

Old school politician:  Why? There's at least half a dozen of them with major interests in the fracking business they've just given a huge tax break to.

Strategic adviser: Well if we attack their conflicts of interest, then they'll attack ours.

Old school politician:  We shouldn't damn well have conflicts of interest. I don't have conflicts of interest. I don't accept corporate donations. I don't accept corporate freebies and junkets.

Strategic adviser: Well, most of your colleagues do. Nobody but you is going to vote in favour of stopping corporate donations to politicians. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas you know!

Party leader: What's this last one? Internet Censorship...

Strategic adviser: Well we can't oppose that can we?

Old school politician: [exasperated] Why not?

Strategic adviser: Because their strategists have played a blinder on that one by tying it up with rape porn and child abuse. If we oppose the introduction of internet censorship, the average Joe will think we're opposing it because we approve of porn and child abuse. Nope, it just won't wash.

Party leader: Okay, that's about it then isn't it. Thank you for raising these concerns.

Old school politician leaves the room muttering about historic party figures spinning in their graves.

Strategic adviser: I don't see why you waste your time with these dinosaurs. Can't you just deselect them and replace then with reliable people that know how to stay "on message"?

Party leader: No, not really. We can't force them out, but they're a dying breed anyway. Most of them have gone in the last 19 years, and the few that remain are getting old. Anyhow, they do still have some popular appeal with left-wing voters don't they?

Strategic adviser: How many times have I told you to forget about left-wing voters. They don't matter. They'll vote for us because they have no other alternative. They're hardly going to vote for the other two parties are they?

Party leader: I suppose not.

Strategic adviser: [laughing] I mean does he really think that people would vote for militants like him? Nobody wants their politicians banging on about ethics and integrity and social justice do they?

Party leader:  [laughing in the manner of someone that clearly doesn't understand what's funny] I suppose not.

Strategic adviser: Right, who have we got next? Oh, it's the guys from Policy Exchange. They've got some great ideas we should look at...

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