In a previous post the manipulation of the messages people receive from the mainstream and mass media is described.
If we are to counter the power of propaganda we must first learn how the Conservatives manage to ensure their manipulation is turned into votes and electoral advantage. Once learned we must be totally focussed on ensuring we put in place ways to deliver different and authentic views of the world.
In the last general election the Conservatives took the "dark arts" of politics to a new level.
Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist, was employed in 2013 by the Conservative party as chief election strategist for a reported fee of
£500 000. Sam Delaney graphically describes how Crosby "won the 2013 election".
Crosby stripped down the number and complexity of the messages the Conservatives were trying to get across. The only issues would be those that "tap into what the electorate are already thinking". A job done by over 30 years of neoliberal propaganda on welfare and immigration and on the belief that Labour were economically incompetent. These messages were at national level hammered home time after time.
Labour were drawing close to the Tories in the polls and at this point a brutal attack on Ed Miliband began. This was a "dead cat" ploy, so called because throwing a dead cat on the dinner table would have a dramatic effect, as not only would people be upset they would also not be talking about any thing else. The noise about the cat would divert attention from opposition issues that were beginning to take hold.
The dead cat was that Miliband had stabbed his brother in the back to secure the Labour leadership and could not be trusted to deal with Alex Salmond, who wanted to be rid of Trident. From that point on the mainstream media focussed on Miliband's perceived weakness. Rings bells currently on how the media (famously Laura Kuenssberg) are repeatedly portraying Corbyn as weak and hard left. More about "dead cats", and related "dog whistles" can be read at Another Angry Voice.
The manipulation however goes much further than keeping focus on simple repeated messages and "dead cats". The Tories utilised a 40/40 strategy. The 40 most marginal Labour constituencies and the 40 most marginal Conservative constituencies were identified. Thereafter followed much hard and expensive work to identify voters in these constituencies to target during the election. Delaney describes how Tom Edmonds, working for the Conservatives did this:
'Our first task was to identify the exact people the party needed to communicate with. “The first two years was a case of building our database of Tory voters – and potential Tory voters,” he says. “We grew our mailing list from 300,000 to 1.5 million. That doesn’t happen overnight, and it took money. We did some stuff on change.org and other petition sites to find people who were interested in causes that chimed with Conservative values. We sought out like-minded people on YouTube and Facebook. Once you have these people on your mailing list, you can start communicating with them on a regular basis.”
As the election drew closer, Edmonds and his 10-strong team – under the stewardship of Crosby – began producing bespoke content for specific voting groups around the country. There were those who perceived the Conservative campaign to be low-key in comparison to the theatrical broadcasts and poster unveilings of the past. But Edmonds insists this was a view generated by a London-based media that was not the target of their carefully planned digital campaign. He shows me a selection of messages, each sent out to different types of potential Tory voter. One tweet was designed specifically with female Ukip waverers in mind: “We knew they would lean Conservative when the choice was about the economy, and their family’s future,” explains Edmonds. The message read: “We’re building a brighter, more secure future for our children and grandchildren. A vote for Ukip, or any party other than the Conservatives, would let in Labour and the SNP – and risk everything we’ve achieved together over the last five years.” Attached was a short video about the economic recovery.
Another sponsored tweet, aimed squarely at Lib Dem waverers in the south-west, declared: “This general election is not like last time. By voting Lib Dem you could end up with a chaotic coalition of Ed Miliband and who-knows-what other parties that could put the economy, jobs and public services at risk.” The accompanying image showed a swingometer with Cameron looking decidedly prime ministerial on one side, and a confused looking Miliband, flanked by Salmond and new SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon on the other. An arrow pointed to a small amount of white space dividing them, beneath the headline: “Yours is one of 23 seats that will decide this election.”'
Tory online activity was immense - they were spending £100,000 a month on Facebook advertising alone, and funding a 10 man team to harvest the results did not come cheap.
They made full use of this data in implementing the 40/40 strategy. The Tories ensured activists from other areas were canvassing in the 80 constituencies, and that individually crafted letters and emails were delivered to constituents who were identified as supporters. It is alleged that people were employed to deliver leaflets in these constituencies, and the cost of this not declared. Considerable expenditure, including transport, hotels and subsistence costs, was incurred and either accounted for as part of national campaign expenses or not recorded at all.
The Electoral Commission have investigated and found that the law relating to electoral expenses was broken by the Conservatives, and fined them the maximum amount for doing so. Police have also investigated, and files are being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to at least 12 Police areas. Serious allegations, that may result in the election of some Tory MPs declared null and void, with bye elections needed.
Channel 4 News were the only mainstream media organisation to take this seriously, and their painstaking investigation has resulted in exposure of this serious corruption of our parliamentary democracy. This 8 minute video shows the breaking news.
How, with all the Tory manipulation and shady electoral practice can Labour get across messages about social justice and an economic policy that will work for all ? This is considered in the post Counter the Lies and Manipulation.