Sunday, March 13, 2005
An important part of Labour's election strategy will be to avoid any media exposure it cannot control.
The first clue came with Labour's decision not to use a battlebus or hold any traditional morning press conferences during the campaign.
Tony Blair has also made a point of seeking out 'soft' interview opportunities, preferring an afternoon on the sofa with Richard & Judy to a grilling from John Humphrys on Today or Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.
Final confirmation of this strategy came with John Reid's manufactured outrage on BBC2 Newsnight last Tuesday. Jeremy Paxman referred to Reid as "Labour's attack dog", prompting Reid to claim that he was "insulted" (you can watch the clash online here).
Reid's absurd posturing is demolished effectively in an essay in today's Scotsman. Anyone genuinely insulted or offended would look shocked and taken aback; they would not say "I am insulted" or "I am offended".
Following the Paxman-Reid clash, anonymous "allies of the Health Secretary" weighed in with an attack on "West London wankers". One of these allies said,
"Why should we bother with them [Newsnight] when they have an audience of less than 200,000?"
Asked if Labour was considering boycotting the programme, he said: "We'll have to see what they want to talk about. You can't call a Cabinet minister a dog."
(Although it's apparently OK for a cabinet minister to call the leader of the opposition an "attack mongrel").
The implication is clear. New Labour resents the existence of a public forum in which its leading spokespeople are subjected to tough questioning. This manufactured crisis provides a pretext to intimidate Newsnight into taking a softer line in the forthcoming campaign, or even to freeze out the programme completely.
You can expect similar tactics at a local level. Don't be surprised if your local Labour candidate refuses to take part in three-way debates but instead functions exclusively through stage managed 'media opportunities'.
I propose a simple technique to thwart this strategy. In each constituency, local Lib Dems should allocate a team of two or three LDYS members to follow the Labour candidate around all day and keep shouting out the same embarrassing question about Iraq over and over again. Most candidates eventually snap when subjected to this kind of relentless bugging.
I also suggest that your codename for this cruel tactic should be 'Operation Attack Dog'.
1) Why did your party take us to war on a false prospectus?
2) Why did Tony Blair commit to support George Bush in going to war on the issue of regime change at least a year before the conflict, but keep this decision secret from Parliament and the British people?
3) Why did your party break international law and defy the UN?
4) Do you believe it was right to go to war without giving the UN weapons inspectors time to complete their work?
5) Do you still believe the Iraq war was justified even though there were no WMDs?
6) Do you believe the Iraq war has reduced or increased the risk of terrorism?
7) If George Bush attacks Iran next and Tony Blair supports him, would you agree?
The precise question would depend on the expressed views of the Labour candidate on this topic. The trick is to find one weak point and keep exploiting it.