by Atul Hatwal
16/04/12 10.30 Update: Fair’s fair: it looks like the party press officer who told the Guardian that the PEB used actors, was wrong. We know that some weren’t and the Guardian piece was at least partially incorrect.
So the record needs to be set straight for this article. It looks likely that the people featured in the PEB weren’t professional actors, they were supporters. It is certainly the case that no-one has contradicted the Livingstone team’s contention that they were supporters.
But whether these were actors or carefully selected supporters, the central point of the piece remains the same: to cry in response to a video montage of your own supporters, reading your script , about how much they want you to be mayor, that you have already seen, is more Pyongyang than London.
13/04/12 10:51 Update: Well, there’s been quite the flap following this piece. The Livingstone campaign are resolutely denying that any of the people in the PEB are actors. This is the relevant section from the Guardian on which the article is based:
On Wednesday Ken Livingstone revealed his emotional side, sniffling at a launch of his new party political broadcast. “The people you saw on the screen represent hundreds of thousands of Londoners who desperately want a mayor who is going to make their life easier in this city,” Ken said, as Ed Miliband patted him on the back. For sure, the broadcast is slicker than anything his team has previously produced; it features a boxer, a groundsman, one posh woman and an extremely cute baby. But who exactly are they? The Labour party confessed yesterday that the Londoners are all actors – but actors who support Ken. Of the crying, it said: “It was very genuine. It really was.”
Clearly there has been some form of breakdown in communication between the Livingstone campaign and the Labour party press office. The issue at the heart of this article is authenticity. The key question is: were the people in the PEB were scripted?
If their words were drafted by the campaign team then it is disingenuous to claim these are the authentic responses of ordinary Londoners that prompted a heartfelt reaction from Livingstone. If their words were their own, then patently that is more powerful.
At the moment it looks like team Ken are saying that people were scripted. We will update as we receive more information.
Another week, another new depth plumbed in the mayoral campaign.
For those who haven’t seen it, the PEB is very effective. Engaging and well-paced, above all it shows rather than tells. It features Londoners speaking about their issues, directly into camera, edited tightly together. The climax at the end where they each ask Ken to win for them carries some real emotional weight.
I’m no fan of Labour’s candidate but even I was impressed.
Until, that is, I read the Guardian diary. This told me that the plaintive and persuasive Londoners were in fact all actors. Not a boxer, a mother, a groundsman or a businessman. Just actors, hired to do a job. “Labour supporting actors” is how the party press office described them, as if this somehow helped.
This mini-revelation robs the PEB of its authenticity. It remains a very good piece of political communication, but watching the broadcast again, knowing that these folk were shipped in from London’s version of central casting, drains the emotion out of the piece.
Oh well. “Disappointing” was my take. And then I thought, “hang on.”
Most people will have seen this photo of Ken Livingstone, overcome by emotion, crying at the screening of his election broadcast.
At the time the explanation given to reporters was that Ken was moved by the genuine words of Londoners and the responsibility he felt to win the election for them.
Stirring stuff. Shame it was rubbish.
The actual situation in the room was this: Livingstone was crying after watching a series of actors that had been carefully selected by his team, read out lines that his writers had penned, in a style directed by his staff. He knew that these were not typical Londoners. He knew that this was his script.
But still the tears flowed.
When looking again at Livingstone’s reaction, it’s hard to know which explanation is worse – that he forced himself to eke out some tears for political affectation, or that he was moved to tears listening to sweet words of flattery that he had practically written himself.
Calculated cynicism or rampant narcissism. Maybe a bit of both? Either way, what it’s not is genuine.
Last week I wrote on Uncut about how Boris’s expletive filled outburst in the lift could actually benefit him. For a brief moment Johnson allowed the identikit politician’s Stepford demeanour to slip and showed some real passion.
It was similar to when Hillary Clinton teared up on the campaign trail in the New Hampshire diner in 2008 or John Prescott punched the egg-throwing idiot during the 2001 general election.
In each of these cases, the moment was driven by a human connection and an emotional reaction.
Ken’s press conference was the opposite. It was all about him. He was watching his own election broadcast, responding to his own words and pictures and putting his emotions on show for the assembled journalists in a neat package for the news clips.
Livingstone’s tears were as synthetic as John Prescott’s punch was authentic.
As this confected distraction unravels, yet again the real losers will be Londoners. Boris Johnson’s gaffes and mistakes go unreported because media oxygen is being sucked up each week by the latest Livingstone imbroglio.
Whether its tax avoidance, relations with the Jewish community or crocodile tears, this election has virtually become a referendum on Ken Livingstone. There’s no space in the debate for policies or issues, just the one, over-weaning flawed personality.
What a mess.
Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut