Politics & Media
Jun 21, 2024, 06:27AM

Talking Heads and TV Debates

I’m so bored with the General Election.

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I knew months before the election was called who I was going to vote for, and all the campaigning, all the politicking, isn’t going to change my mind. I suspect most people in the UK feel the same. The endless coverage, the non-stop repetition of the same points on our screens, in our Twitter feeds and on the radio, the dreary talking heads jabbering on at podiums in televised debates, all of it’s just a show. Everyone knows that Keir Starmer will be the next Prime Minister. We also know he was chosen in advance by the ruling elites to serve their interests. The rest is theater.

The Labour Party slogan is “Change!” Just that: one word written in white on a red background, held aloft on boards by astroturfing Labour Party loyalists behind whoever they’re campaigning for, at every venue they attend. It’s a uniform picture across the country. The images are close-cropped to give the impression of large crowds, but they’re not. It’s the same half-dozen or so noisy activists standing behind the same gormless Starmerite candidates, selling the same old political lies.

The Labour Party doesn’t represent change. They’ve adopted the Conservative Party fiscal rules which means they’re obliged to implement virtually the same policies. They’re not challenging the establishment. They won’t tax the rich. They’ve courted the business community. Their latest recruit is Brexit-supporting billionaire, John Caudwell, who previously gave half a million pounds to Boris Johnson.

He says: “Over the last two years especially, I have been amazed by how Keir Starmer has transformed the Labour Party and brought it back from that Corbyn brink,” adding: “We need a very strong Labour government that can take extremely bold decisions and you can rest assured that I will be doing my best to influence them wherever I can, in putting the great back in Britain.”

Read that again. What he’s saying is that he hopes to influence Labour Party policy so that it aligns with his own interests. That’s what he means by “putting the great back in Britain.” You can’t be clearer than that. As Carla Denyer, co-leader of the Green Party put it: “Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party. He’s changed them into the Conservative Party.”

One of the peculiar aspects of this election is the refusal of Labour Party candidates to attend hustings or answer questions from the public. Starmer has ignored calls to debate with Andrew Feinstein, his Independent challenger. This is despite that fact that, in a recent interview, Starmer cited Nelson Mandela as his political hero. Feinstein served under Mandela. You’d imagine that Starmer would want to meet a man who knew Mandela. Clearly not. Any interrogation of Mandela’s approach to the Palestinian question would leave you in no doubt: Mandela supported the right of Palestinian self-determination; unlike Starmer who is, by his own admission, an ardent and unapologetic Zionist.

“I support Zionism without qualification,” he told Jewish News after his ascension to the leadership. When Nick Ferrari asked him, in an LBC interview, if a siege of Gaza was an appropriate response to the October 7th attacks—"cutting off power, cutting off water?”—Starmer’s response was, “I think that Israel does have that right.” He’s since attempted to row back from the statement, but it’s clear, watching the interview, that he knew exactly what he was saying. Labour MPs have been consistently whipped to follow the party line that called, not for a ceasefire, but for a “humanitarian pause” which would’ve allowed Israel to continue bombing. In a debate with Feinstein, a man of unimpeachable integrity—anti-racist, anti-apartheid, anti-Zionist—he’d lose and be revealed as the rank opportunist he really is.

Another MP who has refused to debate with the opposition is Praful Nargund, who’s standing for Labour against the previous candidate (and ex-leader of the Party) Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s another anti-Zionist standing as an Independent in this election. Nargund was parachuted into the seat by the Labour leadership in defiance of its own members, who overwhelmingly chose Corbyn as their candidate.

Nargund is also an avowed supporter of private healthcare, which again shows how much the Labour Party has shifted to the right under Starmer. A number of Labour candidates have received substantial funding from US style private healthcare investors, including Wes Streeting, the former Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, soon to be the actual Secretary of State. The party that created the National Health Service—its greatest and most celebrated achievement—is now planning on selling it off by the backdoor to the highest bidder, and never mind the consequences.

The same thing is happening in my own constituency of Canterbury, where the Labour candidate, Rosie Duffield, has said that she won’t attend hustings, citing security concerns. Here’s her statement:

‘Hustings are usually an enjoyable and interested part of any political campaign, but sadly the actions of a few fixated individuals have now made my attendance impossible. The constant trolling, spite and misrepresentation from certain people—having built up over a number of years and being pursued with a new vigour during this election—is now affecting my sense of security and wellbeing. The result is now that I feel unable to be focused on giving a clear presentation of the Labour Party’s manifesto commitments.’

Duffield’s an outspoken anti-trans campaigner and she has been threatened in the past, but this isn’t what she is referring to here. The “certain people” she has in mind are her own constituents, less concerned with her attention-seeking statements on the trans issue, than with the fact that she’s a useless MP, hardly ever seen in the constituency, who at one stage had 18,000 unanswered emails on her computer. The reason that she’s unable to give a clear presentation of the Labour Party’s manifesto commitments is, more than likely, because she hasn’t gotten around to reading it yet.

A Labour peer, Lord Cashman, described her as “frit or lazy” and almost immediately had the whip removed; but it’s a measure of the real depth of her fear that the following day she showed up to a highly publicized event with Feargal Sharkey, ex-lead singer with the Undertones and prominent anti-pollution campaigner. What’s the difference between appearing at a pre-arranged hustings debate in front of the public, and a pre-arranged photo-shoot with a famous pop singer? Nothing but the questions that might be asked and the fact that, at the hustings, other candidates would also be available to make comparisons with.

It’s part of a pattern. A number of Labour candidates are refusing to debate the issues at public venues. These include Thangam Debbonaire in Bristol West and Polly Billington in East Thanet. It’s a general tendency in the Labour ranks, the reliance upon broadcast media and photo-shoots as a substitute for face-to-face conversations with members of the public due, in no small part, to public anger at Labour’s refusal to commit to stopping arms sales to Israel.

Another thing that makes this current election unusual is the proliferation of Independent candidates and new parties, both on the right and the left. Prominent on the right is the Reform Party, led by Nigel Farage. The Reform Party is unusual in a number of respects. It’s not really a political party. It’s a limited company in which its leader, Farage, holds a majority stake. It has presented its program not as a manifesto, but as a contract. Farage likes to play the “ordinary bloke": often appearing with a pint and a cigarette in his hand, although he’s from a very privileged background.

He gets a lot of airtime, interviewed regularly on the BBC and other media platforms. A recent election debate, live streamed on ITV—a major commercial channel—included Farage as one of the speakers, despite the fact that he’s never been a member of Parliament, and that Reform has only ever had one MP, Lee Anderson, who arrived as a Tory and then defected. This stands in marked contrast to the media’s treatment of George Galloway, also the leader of a rising political party, elected to Parliament seven times on his own merits, who’s never been called to attend a live debate. Not once. If that doesn’t reveal the political bias of our media class, I don’t know what does.

I’ll give Farage his due: he’s entertaining, as is Galloway. A head-to-head between those two would be worth watching. As for the rest: it sends me to sleep.

—Follow Chris Stone on X: @ChrisJamesStone


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