More on the manifestos - bodylanguage

17 April 2005
Manifestoes are body language before content: an attitude, a spirit, as well as an approach. Having spotted the missing word in my previous blog, here is a closer comparison of the Tory and Labour offerings.The Conservative Party manifesto for the 2005 British election is a gimmick. Many of its pages full of large handwritten anti-labour remarks. It is a picture pamphlet with little text. It is like one of those books for children which assumes that to make learning interesting it must appear to be exciting. As the late Saul Bellow might have said, the excitation is a substitute for genuine passion. Hollowed out, lacking self-belief, the Tory manifesto dares you not to vote for it. At one point it even has an action strip of six photographs. These show a woman having her handbag snatched. No caption accompanies the pictures. Are they a manifesto pledge? In her comment on my April 7 blog entry about the way the Tories selected Nick Herbert Sophie Scruton defends a “thorough democratic process”. I’ll come back on this. I think the Conservatives are turning their back on democracy. But they are not alone. Labour’s manifesto too is a lacklustre affair. Its gimmick is not to have one. This expresses its unique character: never before has Labour enjoyed power for two full consecutive terms with a large working majority. Now, for the first time, it has the privilege of writing a manifesto which can say to voters ‘we are experienced, we know how to do things’. Accordingly it has 24,000 words (compared a mere 7,500 torywords). And the core of the document has been drafted by Labour’s younger, practical generation. But spatchcocked onto it is the leaders introduction and various wrapping phrases and paragraphs. These make the whole thing a Frankenstein of a document of ill-assorted body parts. In his preface the Prime Minister says, “Eight years ago, I offered new leadership – fresh, idealistic, energetic but untested.” He does not say what he offers now. But logically it follows that this time he offers a leadership that is stale, cynical, drained and familiar. At least that sentence was clear. Take this paragraph of Mr Blairism: “In our third term we will cement a new social contract with rights matched by responsibilities. No going back to ‘no such thing as society’. Going forward instead to power and resources in the hands of the law-abiding majority. A government committed both to abolishing child poverty and to putting the values of individual responsibility and duty at the very heart of policy”. From the word ‘cement’ onwards it isn’t even trying to be clear. The words are a black hole of meaning sucking in the reader in the hope that he or she will project onto them whatever they want to read. Enough! A hundred pages onwards and Labour’s manifesto concludes with its section on democracy. It declares it has enshrined a new constitutional settlement between the nations of the United Kingdom (pull the other one) and states – it will be OK, its 112 words, I’m not reproducing the other 26,000: “Widening access to power is as important as widening access to wealth and opportunity. National standards are important to ensure fairness. But the best way to tackle exclusion is to give choice and power to those left behind. Our political institutions – including our own party – must engage a population overloaded with information, diverse in its values and lifestyles, and sceptical of power. However, people are passionate about politics – when they see it affects them. So our challenge is to bridge the chasm between government and governed. Our third term will build upon our unprecedented programme of constitutional reform embedding a culture of devolved government at the centre and self-government in our communities.” Hold on a second. Did you spot “chasm”? After eight years of enshrining new constitutional settlements and unprecedented reform there is still a chasm! Namely, a vast, yawning gap. And the government is going to build on this? It gives castles in the air a new meaning. Another give away word here is “devolved”. Non-British readers (and even your average British subject) may not be aware that in UKanian-speak power devolved means power retained. It means giving the appearance of democracy. It means… well, it means long the live the chasm between us in government and you the governed. Real names comments welcome. Please email [email protected]
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