A strange story in the Guardian this morning: “Labour and Conservative attacks on Ukip backfire,” booms the headline. Mention is made in the first line of Labour and Conservative polling that shows “attacks claiming Nigel Farage is a racist have backfired.” The piece is neatly set up. But then something strange happens.
Where normally there would be evidence, some figures from the aforementioned polling, maybe some quotes from a focus group, there is nothing. Just a lacuna at the heart of the story. The only hard numbers referenced in the piece are from the published polls, which tell quite a different story. One where Ukip’s ratings have clearly slid backwards over the past fortnight.
So how to explain such a story? Certainly, the way its written would seem to treat Joseph Pulitzer’s three rules of journalism – accuracy, accuracy, accuracy – as merely the vaguest of guidelines.
But there’s a clue. A big fat fingerprint. It’s a quote from the ubiquitous “source,” which pops up in the third paragraph: “Calling people names does not work. It confirms the old politics.”
Given the story refers to private Labour and Conservative polling, it’s clear the quote is from someone in one of the two main parties.
And in the absence of any actual evidence to stand up the assertion in the headline, the person giving the quote would need to carry some political heft. No major news outlet could run such a big story, without any facts, on the word of a normal MP or adviser. This would have to come from the top.
Which prompts the obvious question, cui bono: Number 10 or Ed Miliband’s office? In whose interest is a piece saying that attacking Nigel Farage as a racist doesn’t work? And who would frame it as confirming, “the old politics.”
The culprit becomes clearer.
The Conservatives have been privately ecstatic with the way Ukip have been pummeled and Farage has been personally hit in this campaign. For them, its a case of least said, soonest mended. Even if the published polls are under-stating Ukip’s support, its hardly in their interest to boost Ukip’s momentum and renew faith in Farage’s insurgency. Let’s not forget Ukip take four times as many votes from the Tories as they do Labour. Illogical barely describes the contention that the Tories would give a briefing which helps Nigel Farage.
And when was the last time a Conservative – politician or spinner – talked about, “the new politics?”
We do know, however, that “the new politics,” is something that Labour is particularly keen on. It is also the Labour leader who has been under significant pressure to call out Nigel Farage for being racist following his comments about Romanians. Not least because Yvette Cooper and David Lammy were so clear in their condemnation of Farage’s racism on Monday. And the Guardian is the chosen medium for so many Labour exclusives.
Suddenly, the mystery does not seem so perplexing after all.
But as the initial bewilderment passes, a bad taste is left. The bad taste of the Labour leader’s office apparently briefing journalists to boost Nigel Farage, the day before the European election, just so they can ease their own internal party pressures.