You’d need a heart of flint to suggest that the recent announcement of Samantha Cameron’s pregnancy were nothing more than a Tory political ruse with which to win voters’ affections. Nonetheless, it must be admitted that family sentiment has served politicians well since it became acceptable to allow them to slobber over our children during election campaigns. That is just a nauseating fact of the modern polity we have to endure, (I bet no-one ever had to pass their kid over for a kiss from Disraeli or Gladstone), and in these post-Diana times there is regretfully little we can do about it.
What is not tolerable, however, is a politician’s use of public money for spending, purportedly in the nation’s interests, when it is to the betterment of a political party facing a serious challenge at the ballot box in a little over one month’s time. The editorial in this week’s Spectator takes issue with Gordon Brown’s use of the public purse, to the tune of £34 million in February alone, in funding ‘public service’ advertising on radio and public transport billboards, covering a bewildering array of government services aimed at helping us ‘lose weight, buy a car, claim more benefits, deal with door-to-door salesmen or stop smoking’.
Of course one might defend the funding of this campaign, extolling the virtues of big government, as comprising the cheapest way of communicating the availability of these public services to potential ‘customers’. However, this merely begs the question at issue, and does nothing to explain why such spending this year is 24% higher than the figure for February last year.
But what must be of greater concern was the top headline in the BBC radio news on Wednesday that the government has controversially awarded a £4 billion defence contract to build a light tank for the British Army in
, to an American manufacturer, rather than BAE Systems, which may now have to shed up to 500 jobs. Afghanistan
On the face of it, this might not appear to lend any electoral benefit to Gordon Brown’s government. Why should anyone think the better of it for losing hundreds of British jobs during one of the worst recessions of modern times? But what is a far greater concern for Brown’s government, as it seeks to shore up public support before May, is the frequent, damaging criticisms concerning underequipped British soldiers (‘the borrowers’) since the invasion of Iraq seven years ago. These criticisms over underresourcing have become even more profuse over the campaign in Afghanistan in recent years – specifically over deaths which greater armour could have prevented - from all ranks in the army.
Labour must be sensitive to the effect the weekly drip-feed of news articles ending with the words ‘the relatives have been informed’ has on the collective subconscious. So one can see the logic in turning that on its head and putting the story of greater provision of armour to troops in
on the news agenda. So the question is, would the country’s media have felt the same obligation to report Labour’s plans to better equip British troops in Afghanistan , had BAE Systems won the contract and those jobs remained intact? And the answer must be no, given Labour’s pledge in 2008 and 2009 to reflate the economy through ‘fiscal stimulus’ aimed at increased domestic productivity. It was the very loss of those jobs which made this a good news story for Gordon Brown. Afghanistan
There was a very good documentary about Silvio Berlusconi on BBC2 on Wednesday night. Now there’s a man who can ruthlessly exploit the media to his advantage. And, (despite the expenses farce and the ‘cab for hire’ nincompoopery of late), while no-one could say there is a single politician in Westminster who could better Berlusconi for corruption, links with organized crime, abuse of office and general howling-at-the-moon, prostitute-hiring vulgarity, at least he uses his own media channels for political advantage, and at least he pretends to use his own money for political advantage. Neither of which can be said to apply to Gordon Brown.