The pitfalls of negative campaigning

JedwardBy Paul Burgin

I think it’s best if I start with a minor confession. Those who read my blog on a regular basis know this, but I think it’s right to state areas where you are weak on a subject which you are about to pontificate on.

It’s simply that I dislike George Osborne. He strikes me as not just an incompetent Shadow Chancellor, but an unpleasant, smug, self-satisfied, school sneak of a Shadow Chancellor, who cannot resist making occasional personal jibes about opponents which go a little beyond common decency. Calling Gordon Brown “autistic” is just one example.

“So what?”, many of you will say, “We feel the same way!”.

But one of the best, and simplest, things we can do in politics is to try and follow common rules of decency and fair play. If the Opposition want to play in the mud and stick with tabloid excuses for newspapers in the process, then that is their problem, because, win or lose, we’ll be respected more by the public for running a decent election campaign.

Part of the reason I write this is that earlier this week I think I went beyond what I feel to be the boundaries of decency. Not far beyond, but I do wonder whether I put my foot over the fence. Having seen the “Davorge” video on YouTube, I immediately put it on my blog without stopping to think, simply because I felt it showed the Shadow Chancellor as a joke and that David Cameron wasn’t prepared to ditch his old friend. I removed it when one or two Labour activists contacted me to complain about the ad, saying it was childish and didn’t address any Conservative policies. On reflection I agreed and took it down. I realised I had been hypocritical in posting the video, if only because of my motives.

However it did make me think about negative campaigning in general and just how easy it is to indulge in it, how easy it is to remember every jibe, every insult, every attack made on our side and to want to get our own back on those responsible and in doing so. But that fails to remember the important facts: it is wrong, it also turns away voters.

At the moment I am reading Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope and in it he touches on negative campaigning and how it starts, snowballs, and turns people away from politics including the very people who need our help and support during times of hardship.

The next general election is less than eight months away. It’s going to be a tough election with Labour fighting for that possible fourth term. The Conservatives will fight dirty, their supporters in The Sun certainly will and we need to stand firm, stay strong, and work out ways to communicate our message and why we honestly believe we would do better than the Conservatives in government in the future, without letting past memories get to us and cause a knee-jerk response.

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