This election needs a soapbox or an Irn Bru crate

by Atul Hatwal

Paralysing fear has infected every aspect of the parties’ campaigns.

Strategists fear the voters, so they stage tightly controlled events, away from the truculent public. Junior staffers fear any slight mishap that might make the news, so even the most minor decision is dictated by a safety first doctrine.

And Ed Miliband and David Cameron fear everything and anything, otherwise they would not accept the counsel of caution from their advisers which shackles all that they do.

The result is an arid campaign, a dismal parade of media moments contrived for broadcasters that lack the incident and passion to galvanise anybody but the already committed.

A news vacuum is developing. The manifesto launches commanded attention earlier in the week, but now what?

The front pages are already drifting away from the election. Soon, as is always the way in politics, this lacuna will be filled with the grumbles of worried candidates and plotting leadership contenders, taking aim at their leaders.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For the party bosses running the party campaigns, there is an alternative.

1992, which has already provided much of the template for this contest, also offers a lesson in how to fill that vacuum without the need to scramble out new half-baked policy announcements dreamt up the night before or to escalate the ferocity of personal attacks to shock a path into the news.

Imagine if one or more of the party leaders took a leaf out of John Major’s book and didn’t just do managed Q&As with pre-vetted, politically emasculated supporters, but actually went out to meet the British public on the high street, in the shopping centre and at the market.

If they went to where the public are, rather than hiding in a hall ringed with security, put down a soapbox, stood on it and spoke to real voters.

Jim Murphy is Scottish leader in no small part because of his one man campaign across Scotland in the independence referendum, speaking to the Scottish public from atop his Irn Bru crate.

There were baying nationalist mobs, protesters, eggs, but also, fabulous pictures for print and broadcast, personal guts and raw emotion.

The plaudits from journalists or every persuasion – right, left, nationalist and unionist – after the clip below was shared were extraordinary. It’s hard not admire Jim Murphy’s passion, resilience and commitment.

The conventional political wisdom is that a chance encounter that goes wrong could become the defining image of the election. Sharon Storer confronting Tony Blair in 2001 or Gillian Duffy with Gordon Brown are the obvious examples.

But as so often, the conventional wisdom is just bad judgement disguised as sage caution.

The challenge for the politician in encounters with angry voters like Sharon Storer or Gillian Duffy is not what is said to them, but how they respond.

Sharon Storer button-holed Tony Blair as he was starting a visit.  The schedules the leaders’ have are incredibly tightly managed and the job of the team around them is to try to stick to the timetable. That means ushering the principal through the mob to the anointed point.

The options for an involved conversation in the middle of a scrum that is being moved on by the staffers and security detail, are remote. This was the problem in that exchange.

Gordon Brown did take the time to speak with Gillian Duffy in some detail and actually dealt with her various complaints reasonably effectively. The problem for Brown was what he said while still connected to Sky’s microphone, in the car afterwards.

More than anything else, the sight of a party leader, genuinely engaging with members of the public and standing their ground would demonstrate the types of leaderly qualities that an aspiring prime minister should display.

Plenty of people disagreed with Tony Blair about Iraq, but the so called ‘massochism’ strategy, where he confronted critics head on and answered their questions was a vivid example of leadership.

Even if there was some heated reaction from members of the public to a politician on a soapbox in their market, the volume of new content generated at each stop of the tour in terms of pictures, vox pops, video clips and instant reaction on social media, would soon crowd out the negative coverage from an individual event.

The defining image would be of the leader meeting the people, stepping outside of the Westminster bubble and into the public’s reality.

The only real risk would be with what the politician says and does.

It’s not the angry members of the public, not the possibility of being egged, but the risk of the leader losing their cool or having a Natalie Bennet brain fade which could seriously derail a campaign.

But if the politicians who would lead this country cannot deal with a raucous crowd, do not have the passion to make their voice heard and are unable to make their case outside of the refined environs of a stage-managed political rally, then do they deserve to win office?

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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10 Responses to “This election needs a soapbox or an Irn Bru crate”

  1. steve says:

    “It’s hard not admire Jim Murphy’s passion, resilience and commitment.”

    Quite right.

    If only Mr Murphy was leader of the LP nationally!

    Then the victorious momentum and successes currently being enjoyed by Scottish Labour would be found throughout the UK.

  2. swatantra says:

    Tony had his own WI moment where he got a big raspberry from the Blue Rinse Brigade. Sir John Major actually won in ’92 because of his soapbox stunt.
    But there’s everything to be said for politicians facing up to Public aprobrium. I’m all in favour of Hustings and TV Debates, but they do tend to be carefully stage managed, when they should be more like Speakers Corner, Hyde Park. The fact is all politicians are isolated from the public and live in ivory towers, especially so career politicians.

  3. Tafia says:

    The worst thing Labour could do in Scotland is put Jim Murphy on an Irn Bru crate outside of a locked and soundproofed room. He inherited a dire situation and by sheer force of personality has made things worse. Not only have a huge chunk of Labour who voted Yes switched to SNP, but more have switched to SNP since Murphy’s arrival purely because he is there.

    A lot of people nationally are clinging to this belief that the tories need to get 4-6% ahead of Labour to beat them – because of Scotland that is no longer true. More than half a million Labour votes are in seats that the SNP will win and as a result may as well go straight in the bin. Because of whats going on in Scotland, if the polls nationally are neck and neck, the seats at the end will be roughly the same as well and we are fast reaching a point that whoever ends up in Government in May will need a C&S arrangement with at least two parties (Labour) or as many as four (Tory because neither Plaid nor SNP will work with them).

    Likewise UKIP are bigger than their 14% nationally. They are virtually non existant in Scotland and exist only in a handful of seats in Wales (north east Wales mostly and Ynys Mon – all Labour seats and their vote in the main is English retirees incomers). In Englands as a result – where again they really only exist in pockets – they are actuallly higher than their national polling indicates.

    And who told Miliband to stare in to the camera – he looks like a psycho ax murderer.

  4. swatantra says:

    Has Ed got what it takes to lead the Country? Its all fine saying I’ll do this that and he other but can he make it happen? Can he produce those 200 000 homes a year? And can he reduce the wastage that exists in all Govt Programmes. Compared to other countries, Britain throws a lot of money at trying to solve our social problems, but without any success. Money is poured into the main areas of the Govt’s sacred cows, but the fact is there is no or little improvement; its money down the drain. Govt has to be seriously targeted, efficient and get results.

  5. owainaparddedig says:

    UKIP support is throughout Wales, as the results of the Euro elections shows:


    Plaid Cymru (15281)

    UKIP (12459), Labour (11793), Conservative Party(6686)

    Neath Port Talbot

    Labour (14531)

    UKIP (9224), Plaid Cymru (4867), Conservative Party (2990)

    Isle of Anglesey

    Plaid Cymru (6609)

    UKIP 5201, Labour (3055), Conservative Party 2715

    Blaenau Gwent

    Labour (6621)

    UKIP (4300), Plaid Cymru (1164), Conservative Party (883)


    Labour (10949)

    UKIP (8726), Conservative Party (4612), Plaid Cymru (2969)


    Labour (14253)

    UKIP (11809), Plaid Cymru (5392), Conservative Party (3434)


    Labour (24999)

    UKIP (18370), Conservative Party (15297), Plaid Cymru (8713)


    Plaid Cymru (7139)

    Conservative Party (2698), UKIP (4138), Liberal Democrats (2332)


    UKIP (8617)

    Conservative Party (7261), Labour (5011), Plaid Cymru (4936)


    UKIP (6563)

    Conservative Party (5987), Labour (5587), Plaid Cymru (3944)


    UKIP (11800)

    Labour (10121), Conservative Party (7538), Plaid Cymru (2947)


    Plaid Cymru (12720)

    UKIP (5780), Labour (4393), Conservative Party (3547)

    Merthyr Tydfill

    Labour (4631)

    UKIP (3995), Plaid Cymru (1264), Conservative Party (833)


    Conservative Party (7969)

    UKIP (6757), Labour (4746), Plaid Cymru (1504)


    Labour (10648)

    UKIP (10376), Conservative Party (5804), Plaid Cymru (1661)


    Conservative Party (9250)

    UKIP (8965), Labour (6808), Plaid Cymru (3824)


    UKIP (10412)

    Conservative Party (10158), Labour (5221), Liberal Democrats (4865)

    Rhondda Cynon Taf

    Labour (19579)

    UKIP (13471), Plaid Cymru (9748), Conservative Party (3890)


    Labour (7183)

    UKIP (6569), Conservative Party (2799), Plaid Cymru (1628)

    Vale of Glamorgan

    UKIP (9577)

    Conservative Party (9190), Labour (7926), Plaid Cymru (3484)


    UKIP (9569)

    Labour (8058), Conservative Party (5451), Plaid Cymru (3210)

    Welsh political commentator Gareth Hughes said Labour and Tory tactics attacking Ukip for being “racist” seemed to have failed.

    He said: “Rather than shrink the Ukip vote, the reverse happened and it consolidated support for the party.

    “They also raised Farage’s profile and confirmed him as the anti-establishment candidate.

    “The fact is that Farage is connecting with the public in a way that other political leaders are not.

    “It seems that voters have ticked the ‘none of the above box’ when it comes to the main Westminster parties.

    “It’s well documented Ukip made in-roads into the Tory vote, but it now appears they have also won votes from Labour too.”

    UKIP support is throught Wales and is coming from the Anglo Welsh community. To equate the UKIP vote in Wales to “English retirees incomers” in North Wales is Welsh Nationalist propaganda.

  6. Tafia says:

    It isn’t throughout Wales at all – that claim gives a false illusion that it’s evenly spread when in fact it isn’t, it’s in identified cluster hotspots in easily identifiable geographic areas. For instance on Ynys Mon their support is clustered around the south east corner of the island. Further along the coast they have strong clusters in Prestatyn, Wrecsam, Flint/Connahs Quay/Deeside. And likewise in the rest of Wales wherever there is a high Englsih percentage – especially retirees, that’s where UKIPs vote is.

    As a result, on Ynys Mon for example they are running around 15-20%, but it’s nearly all in one place, nearly all English retirees and nearly all ex-Labour and Tory voters which is why Plaid look like they will take Ynys Mon from Labour without increasing their share of the vote.

    And if it’s Welsh Nationalist propaganda, then you better have a word with Labour Wales, The Welsh Conservatives and the Welsh Lib Dems because they all say the same thing and somehow, I dont think they are welsh nationalist.

  7. Tafia says:

    In fact, me thinks you are a UKIP ‘agent provocateur’. It’s standard UKIP fare in Wales to try and push that they have wide appeal when in fact in reality they don’t. Year before last for instance they suddenly decided they supported bilingualism during the Ynys Mon Assembly by-Election and made great play of it in a rather sorry attempt to draw welsh voters to them. It failed and they have since abandoned that idea as evidenced only two weeks ago when Paul Nuttall was in Porthmadog (a heavily Welsh area) and when one of the audience asked a question in Welsh ( a legal right in Wales where Cymraeg has equal status to English and you have the right to use either anywhere at anytime) didn’t have an interpretor – the only political party to campaign in predominantly welsh speaking areas without one – highly and very laughably amateur.

    It is now de rigeuir in Welsh areas that no matter who you vote for – Labour, Plaid, Tory, LibDem etc, that whenever you encounter UKIP you speak cymraeg and only cymraeg to them.

  8. owainaparddedig says:

    @ Tafia

    The figures are not a claim, they are votes by the electorate.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Katy Clark called for a scrapping of kettling ,she may lose her seat, well if a riot breaks out,how can they control crowd,especially if ambulance drivers have to enter dangerous public order events, that the police can’t contain ,then?

  10. Tafia says:

    Owain, just sayin in X area you get Y UKIP votes is amateurish and shows you know little about what you are talking about. Ity’s where in the area those votes are that counts and how big population wise the area is.

    For instance Ynys Mon (Isle of Anglesey) has a total population including kids of less than 70,000. The UKIP vote is confined to virtually one corner, which has a high English incomer percentage and like wise in all the other seats – it’s compressed into zones. And even by your figures you can see that the closer you get to the border (Conwy, Flint, Wrecsam, etc the higher the UKIP percentage. Superimpose that oin a n’ethnic’ map and you’ll find it mirrors the non-english/english breakdown.

    I will be out leafletting with Plaid on Ynys Mon every night this week. We won’t be paying too much attention to that corner.

    You’re also using euro-election figures. They are never ever replicated in council or assembly or parliament level.

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