If the Labour Party’s official campaign broadcast for the upcoming European elections is a prolepsis of what is to come, the General Election faces being overwhelmed by excessive bickering and political posturing. The video depicting an assemblage of white, upper-class men pontificating around the cabinet table as Nick Clegg shrank lower into his seat with every passing second might have seemed a hilarious idea late one night amongst strategists, but it has backfired in the most spectacular fashion.
The advert was painful to watch, a cringeworthy four minutes during which the government’s shortcomings were shoddily satirised, whilst Labour policies were conspicuous by their absence. Although the portrayal of an out of touch majority party with a spineless coalition partner rings true with the masses, to draw attention to their defects in such a crass, puerile manner was both unnecessary and counter-productive.
Labour should have more class than that. Whatever your views of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it is safe to assume that a campaign ad of this nature would have never appeared under their leadership. They were savvier political operators, more dignified people than that. There is no way that this video was released without Ed Miliband and other senior figures in the party viewing and approving it beforehand, which poses legitimate questions about the judiciousness of a set-up that believes this is the most appropriate method to earn votes and trust from the British people.
As if a juvenile video was required to remind us of the patently obvious. The fact that the Cabinet is swarming with privileged, under-qualified men is an indisputable reality that would not have failed to escape even the most casual observer of events in Westminster. Baroness Warsi, former Conservative Party chairman, observed recently that David Cameron is presiding over an Eton Mess. Yet just because the government contains a high-profile cabal of irritating private school boys does not mean that they are insensitive to the needs of the underprivileged and disabled, as this ad went more than some way to insinuating.
Of course Nick Clegg is a sell-out, an increasingly unpopular figure who has gone about destroying his hard-earned reputation by putting up a pitiful fight to implement his party manifesto in government. It is in poor taste to relish Clegg’s plight from bright political hope to ‘un-credible shrinking man’, just as it is improper for Labour’s opponents to cast derisive aspersions in their direction on the basis of one campaign ad, however embarrassing it may be.
Amidst the attempt to score political points, Labour have missed the biggest point of all. The most pressing concern as the European elections approach is Britain’s relationship with the EU, an issue which was strangely overlooked in the ad. Perhaps that is because they have remained largely passive on the subject, not making any assurances about holding a referendum should they return to power. The amateurish nature of the ad will only reinforce they view of those planning to defect with their vote to UKIP that they are making the right call.
How pathetic it was to see one of the leading political institutions in our nation delivering a message so negative and unimaginative that it has surely alienated many going to the polls on May 22. A silly video is not, in isolation, an adequate reason to vote against Labour, yet it fits in appropriately with the narrative that they are not a credible alternative, simply in the business of opposing coalition policies rather than coming up with any of their own. Ed Miliband needs to come out on the front foot after this campaign ad debacle, fighting the government on issues that strike a chord with people, rather than trying to manufacture faux outrage against other parties. Nobody will have been persuaded by the unsubtle message sent out on the TV. The points made in the broadcast are self-evident.
Arguably, the worst thing about the ad is that it was not even funny. The only people who will be laughing are those party leaders who may now steal a few votes from Labour. Highlighting alternative policies, as opposed to poking fun at the government, is the key to success in elections over the next twelve months. Labour have to learn their lessons from this farce, or else face another five years of coalition including the ‘un-credible shrinking man’.