Theresa May’s few appearances in the opening stages of this most unexpected of general elections have been sparse to say the least. Whilst Corbyn and Farron have been all over the press expressing policy, kissing babies and slating Tories, May has kept her public engagements to a stage-managed minimum. She’s refused to engage in TV debates, refused all but a handful of press spots, and refused to mingle with anyone other than hardcore Tory activists, most egregiously so during a recent photo op at a Bristol housing estate where genuine residents were barred from getting anywhere near their prospective prime minister, presumably for fear that they might ask an awkward off-message question.
And this brings us to the point; Theresa May’s entire campaign is being run with unprecedentedly rigid message discipline. You should know the chorus by now: STRONG AND STABLE. Like a Dalek squawking “Exterminate!”, Theresa has turned strong and stable into her catchphrase, her hook, crutch. She’s tweeted it, she’s chucked it out in stump speeches and she’s dropped it repeatedly in the few interviews she’s given. Like this:
She’s parroted this meaningless alliteration so many times I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Lynton Crosby has her believing it has some sort of Candyman-esque powers: you can summon Thatcher’s ghost by chanting “strong and stable” 5 times in the face of a dole scrounger. Depressingly, this isn’t far from the truth – or at least that’s what the Tory election machine is betting on. And if we acknowledge this sheer cynicism, it’s hard not to see the use of ‘strong and stable’ – no matter what side of the political fence you sit on - as laying the groundwork for a new low in British politics.
Strong and stable is utterly meaningless. In any usage, the two words are defined by context. And in this instance, there is no logical context that can justify ‘stable’ whatsoever. Three massive, polarising public votes in as many years can never be seen as stable. It’s troll level ludicrous to suggest otherwise. As for strong? Theresa May winning the leadership of her party because the other candidates stabbed each other in the back or shot themselves in the feet can never, ever be seen as strong. Lucky and conniving, yes. Strong, no. Even to argue that the party is strong and stable compared to it’s closest competitors in the Labour party is a huge reach – Like him or not, in Corbyn Labour have a leader with a huge mandate. During his time the Tories have had two different leaders, none of whom have commanded the same level of support amongst members. On purely objective terms, strong and stable is a groundless lie.
The Tories know this. They know this and they don’t care. They don’t care because they have decided to run an election on an entirely cynical new premise, quite possibly inspired by the success of Trump. It’s a premise that has been tried out tentatively but is now being wholly embraced: Reality is whatever we say it is.
There have been no policies announced by the prospective Conservative government because there is no need to announce policies. In a similar manner to Trump, May can just say “we have good policies. We have the best policies, and we are strong enough to deliver them. We all face hard times ahead, tough times, and you need a party that can deliver the stability. You need a strong and stable leader. And I will be that strong, stable leader.”
Unsurprisingly this level of bludgeoning message discipline – indeed any form of discipline – plays well with May’s most rabid support group; the readership of the Daily Mail. It’s worth noting that Mail readers love that May openly opposed Brexit, but now ‘has the discipline’ to grit her teeth and get on with it. To a readership made up of objectively ignorant bigots and objectively prurient voyeurs, there is nothing but thin-lipped satisfaction to be gained by watching someone else diligently doing a job that they despise. If they can see someone force themselves into unnatural robotic positions that deny emotion or human contact all the better. Emotions are for people who laugh and weep over the world and you won’t find that here sonny! Just sneers, disapproval, tits and Dunkirk spirit.
The Tories have chosen to repeat three words again and again as an auto-suggestive mantra. Strong and stable is devoid of content. They know it looks stupid, they know it sounds weird, and they know it sounds robotic, but – and here’s the bit that’s killing me –they don’t care. And they don’t care because they have such contempt for the electorate of Britain that they believe that can get away with what is, to all intents and purposes, an attempt at mass hypnosis conducted in plain sight.
As far as I can see, their thinking goes thus; yes, huge swathes of people recognise the repeated use of ‘strong and stable’ as a cynically designed attempt to implant a message into the public’s mind. BUT! Equally huge swathes of the people are suffering election fatigue, and will only be watching the unfolding bullshit with half an eye. If we can ensure that our one message is repeated ad nauseum it will penetrate the public consciousness and the plebs – who are far too busy struggling through their day to day lives to pull us up on this – will have absorbed our catchy message, ably assisted by a sympathetic press. They’ll vote our way based on a vague emotional feeling that we’re strong and stable. They won’t need to know a single thing that we actually stand for. Fuck the intellectuals who pull us up on this, they’ll never win anyone an election, we just keep chanting strong and stable, no matter how dumb it sounds, it’ll slowly seep in. The power of suggestion is so strong (see what I did there) that it will be implanted deep in the nations psyche. They won’t even have a choice.
It looks like this poll is bearing me out on this -
Only 15% of voters are currently aware of 'strong and stable', which means they either haven’t heard it at all, or they’ve heard it but haven’t clocked it’s being battered into their heads - and in many ways I feel the latter is more likely - how else could 6 out of 10 people who describe themselves as 'highly' attentive to politics not recall a phrase that has been hammered home at every opportunity? Unless of course there is another option; there are a whole load of people who claim they pay attention to politics who actually know very little...
I find it deeply worrying that the entire Conservative party – who surely can’t all be irredeemable, amoral fuckers - appear to be going along with this flagrantly cynical ideology. It would be normal to fight an election on issues. To present ideas. To offer people hope, a better future, and a sense of well-being. At the very least, in the past politicians would at least try and glitter the turd. Now I feel like they’re just shitting on the table. If the Conservatives do score a run-away success with the technique they’ve embraced then I fear it signals a disturbing watershed for British politics – what we’re enjoying right now (and I know this is emotive, but facts is facts) is some entry level fascism. I know some clever prick out there is all set to go on about Godwin’s Law, so here’s a burst of Goebbel’s famous speech on propaganda;
There was no point in seeking to convert the intellectuals. For intellectuals would never be converted and would anyways always yield to the stronger, and this will always be ‘the man in the street.’ Arguments must therefore be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect. Truth was unimportant and entirely subordinate to tactics and psychology.
The rank and file are usually much more primitive than we imagine. Propaganda must therefore always be essentially simple and repetitive. In the long run basic results in influencing public opinion will be achieved only by the man who is able to reduce problems to the simplest terms and who has the courage to keep forever repeating them in this simplified form, despite the objections of the intellectuals.
Ummmm.. Sounds familiar…? Still, I’m sure it all worked out just fine last time this happened :)
So this isn’t completely doom and gloom, may I just conclude by sharing this tweet from HRTBPS who is someone you should follow on Twitter for all the bantz. He’s actually worked out a way of using social media usefully. Whodathinkit?
1. Search vulnerable Lab seats— hrtbps (@hrtbps) May 2, 2017
2. Audit timeline of Tory candidate
3. Send me any bad tweets
4. cc in local press
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