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Thursday 28 November 2019

General Election 2019

Our election diary: Week 4

From Bristol to Belfast to Bolton, several brave Tortoise members share their thoughts as the election campaign continues to unfold

Throughout the election campaign, a group of brave Tortoise members spanning the political spectrum have been sharing their thoughts about how it’s all unfolding. Here are their latest dispatches from across the UK.

On standards of behaviour

Joel encounters an unedifying combination of climate change denial and verbal abuse at a hustings in Bristol.

“I went with my partner to the local hustings featuring the Labour, Green and Brexit candidates. No Lib Dem, and the Tory candidate didn’t turn up. In the white, generally more senior audience of over 150 people, it wasn’t easy to tell who supported whom, in the main.

“The Brexit Party candidate admitted to this being his ‘first time on a public stage’ and was (unwittingly, I believe) offensive to another candidate in a discussion about global warming. He didn’t help himself when he gave her an incredibly patronising pat on her shoulder by way of apology. I almost felt sorry for him, but I don’t want a naive ‘newbie’ as my MP.

“One of the small Brexit Party contingent, who were vocally disrespectful throughout despite repeated warnings from the chair, made a rather rambling claim that global warming was all rubbish and,’why can’t you guys just make the sun move further away from the earth?’ Because we asked him to get to the point and ask a question, we were shouted at. What disturbed me most was that he and a friend waited outside to shout further abuse at us as we left.”

On the tactics

Martha, a student in London, was horrified by the appearance of “@factcheckUK” on the Conservative Party’s official Twitter account.

“I’ve been appalled this week by the Conservative’s tactics on social media. Changing their press Twitter to @factcheckUK during the leaders’ debate was deliberately misleading. That’s why people distrust our politicians. They’ve also been caught again doctoring videos of Labour candidates, this time Jess Phillips. I had hoped the campaign would become more honest. As an electorate we need to be more sceptical. Young people are especially vulnerable to fake news, like these Tory videos. It needs to be called out and removed, not enabled by the government.”

But Paul in north London couldn’t disagree more.

“I’ve continued to enjoy the Conservative social media campaign, which has found a sweet-spot between being uplifting and irreverent, whilst hammering home the message that Corbyn is unfit for power. The ‘fact check’ Twitter handle change was nicely played, and highlighted the left-wing bias in the self-appointed fact checkers at Channel 4 and the BBC. It annoyed all the right people.”

Mwenya hopes that these early forays into political social media campaigning will mature into something more creative and substantial.

“Online misrepresentation and ‘satire’ from both sides won’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads the comments sections of video and news platforms, and is familiar to those who have grown up in the social media age. There are better and more creative ways to use digital tactics to engage audiences and better ways to critique the opposition.”

Piyush, door-knocking for Labour in Bolton West, notes on-the-ground Tory activity ramping up.

“I heard Aaron Bastani (co-founder of radical left-wing alternative media organisation Novara) say last week that the gap in the polls was nothing to worry about because it was still less than it was at this stage in 2017. His point was that Labour turned it around last time, so they will again. I’m less optimistic.

“I don’t know if the polling organisations have learnt from the last election but I am fairly sure the Tories have. I have seen a lot more Tory canvassers already than I did in 2017. Sure, Momentum has seen unprecedented levels of involvement. WhatsApp groups in Manchester reached capacity a while ago. But the Tories are at it too. I saw them in Bolton West. I saw them in Woodford Green when I went to visit my parents. It’s not just the Left that learns from what social movement studies call ‘collective memories of struggle’.”

On the manifestos

Most of our diarists haven’t read them. Those who have, such as Mike, are underwhelmed.

“Safe and bold. Boring and reckless. That sums up the two manifestos for the Conservatives and Labour. Clearly stung by the pretty disastrous manifesto unveiled by May a couple of years ago, the Tories are going for the ‘no hostages to fortune, steady as she goes’ approach. Their overall strategy is that they’re ahead in the polls, so don’t do anything to change that. So far in the campaign, Labour has made all the running – with new, headline-grabbing announcements. It doesn’t seem to have made much headway with the electorate though. Labour has an appeal to the younger voters – the very people who will be picking up the tab for the massive amounts of borrowing over the coming decades, but everyone seems to be glossing over that.”

Tory voter Paul is grateful for Labour’s “bold and ideological” pitch and finds the Tories’ effort “immediately forgettable”.

“Looking past their Brexit policy (neither liberal, nor indeed democratic…) the Lib Dems have taken the curious approach of personalising the manifesto around Jo Swinson – perhaps she’s more tolerable after a few puffs of legalised cannabis?

“At least Labour have gone bold and ideological – their offering is pure-play socialism, with a side of social justice. You could almost call it radical… if such policies hadn’t already failed time and again across the world. I’m grateful that they’ve at least written this down for us.

“And as for my team? An immediately forgettable document, which is probably the whole point. A few minor spending commitments, a focus on Brexit, and some uplifting words – confirming my premise that Johnsonism is a lightly reheated Blairite agenda.”

Mwenya laments the absence of any truly new ideas in any of the manifestos.

“The manifestos are just what you’d expect. The Lib Dems frame themselves as sensible centrists. The Conservative Party manifesto is, well, conservative. PM Johnson avoids anything too controversial in case he erodes what he hopes will be a substantial majority. The Labour manifesto actually isn’t that radical in context. Beyond the climate pledges and emphasis on the youth voice, the ideas and the criticisms are ones we’ve all heard before. What is missing is anything around how to really unify this country, how to empower local communities and how we move away from the debates of the last 40 years.”

And – are we missing something?

Lydia reports from an “eerily quiet” election in Northern Ireland.

“Last week, Radio 4 had candidates from Labour, the Conservatives and Brexit Party debating. Each candidate insisted that their party is running candidates ‘in every constituency in the country’. (lol)

“Even at this stage, when Northern Ireland’s place in the UK has gained so much fresh attention over the last 3 years, these politicians failed to realise the mistake in what they were claiming and no one at Radio 4 interjected to correct them.

“Aside from some cattiness around posters in NI, it’s eerily quiet on the election front. Such an important election and yet I sense there is a feeling of hopelessness, even from politicians, that we can do little at this stage to influence what happens in Westminster. It’s like the big parties think sidelining NI, not talking about it, will make the problem go away.”