How politics ‘works’

On the 2nd of June 2009 David Cameron wrote an article for the Evening Standard on why proportional representation was such a terrible idea – it was even chillingly titled: ‘Don’t back a vote system that will let in the BNP’. In it he argued that introducing proportional representation would actually be an ‘unfair, undemocratic, ineffective mistake’. Cameron also amusingly claims that:

The fourth major problem with PR is that the coalition governments it ­inevitably creates inevitably descend into backroom deals that betray the will of the people. Instead of voters ­choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos put before them in an election, party managers put together a government that suits them after rounds of horse-trading and bargaining for power.

Of course, that is a situation that could never come about under the current first past the post system and certainly something David Cameron would never do…

Anyway, think whatever you want about PR, it is the real deal, full proportional representation so that voters can make clear their exact preference of vote and know that such preferences count during an election and will be reflected in parliament. Voting in an election – irrespective of whether you live in an constituency that is always Labour or always Conservative – actually counts. Of course, the Tories – during their ‘horse-trading and bargaining for power’ with the Liberal Democrats would never allow us to have a system in which minority parties such as the Conservatives would be electorally screwed. Instead they gave us the limited change offered by AV – and even that will now only be supported by Labour and Liberal Democrats, with the Tories arguing ‘no to AV’ alongside other simplistic groups who somehow think that having the chance to put more detail onto a ballet paper somehow degrades democracy.

The consequence of this ‘horse-trading’ is that I had to Listen to William Hague employ the most ingenious argument on Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday. An argument that made me fill my car with expletives and my head with thoughts of punching William Hague in the face repeatedly until he realised just why he is so utterly wrong on every issue he has ever been invited to discuss. Here are Hague’s words – I transcribed them from the BBC iPlayer so you can share my feelings:

Well it [AV] is the worst of all worlds, even if one was going to embark on changing the electoral system this would certainly not be the system to move to. You can argue for the current system – as I do – on the grounds that it is decisive in the vast majority of elections it produces a clear decisive result with the party getting the most votes in the country becoming the government. Or you can argue, legitimately, for a proportional system, as in Germany for instance, where the seats received by the parties in parliament is in pretty strict accordance with the votes that they received in the country. The trouble with the alternative vote system is that it is neither of those… it is the worst of every world.

So, we could argue for PR, but we’re not allowed to because the Conservative party would never allow it. We can argue for AV and even vote for it, but we shouldn’t because it’s a terrible fudge and the worst of all worlds. You have to admire the argument, the tacit admittance that they would never allow us even a sniff of real progressive change and instead we get left with AV, which is a bit crap and we should therefore conserve the status quo. Continued voter apathy and the continued hatred of the Tory party will be the end result of this referendum. Even if we get AV we are aware of its limitations compared to full PR – as Hague rightly points out – it’s just that if you are one of the people in power who could have given us a system that we could have ‘legitimately’ argued for, but chose not to, you’re not just right, you’re a right [insert your own expletives here].

Beware the ‘Fluffy’ Story

When you read a newspaper it is important to remember not just to be cynical about the scaremongering, or disgusted at the lies on immigration, but also to question the fluffy stories. Take, for example, the lovely story of Cinders the pig, which – according to the Daily Mail – is ‘The world’s only porker who is afraid of mud‘. It is a charming story complete with a picture of a sweet little piggy in four small green wellies:

You can’t get much happier than a pig in muck, or so we are told.

But when this little piggy arrived in the farmyard she showed a marked reluctance to get her trotters dirty.

While her six brothers and sisters messed around in the mire, she stayed on the edge shaking. It is thought she might have mysophobia – a fear of dirt.

Owners Debbie and Andrew Keeble were at a loss, until they remembered the four miniature wellies used as pen and pencil holders in their office. They slipped them on the piglet’s feet – and into the mud she happily ploughed.

Now she runs over to Mr Keeble so he can put them on for her in the morning.

What a heartwarming story of how a pig overcame their fear of mud – not just a fear but a suspected phobia as if pigs have all the same everyday problems that humans do, look, it’s even wearing boots, made for humans. The whole story is silly, this pig (like all others I suspect) does not have a phobia about mud and its owners do not put wellies on it. The whole story – including the quotes from the pigs owners – is a complete lie, it is completely made up.

How do I know this?

Well, I simply consulted the PR agency that created the story, because said agency is now proudly using this story as a testimonial to advertise its services:

Emma Cantrill from Intelligent Profile says: “We asked Ross Parry Agency to help raise the profile of Debbie and Andrew Keeble’s sausage manufacturing business and to highlight their ongoing lobbying work to pay a fairer price for British Pork. While we knew that that it would create interest within the local media, we wanted a national story to really kick the campaign off.

“We approached Ross Parry Agency, a photographic agency in Leeds with a successful track record of syndicating stories. Ross Parry Agency provided brainstorming ideas and a number of angles.

“Debbie and Andrew had suggested that we use one of their pedigree pigs for the campaign, as she had a distinct personality and was slightly more fastidious than her colleagues. Ross Parry Agency took this one step further and created the ‘pig in boots’ shot.

“The story took us all by surprise and achieved worldwide coverage including:

  • 25 UK radio stations (Including 5 Live and Radio 1)
  • National and global TV (Including GMTV, C5 The Wright Stuff, Reuters, CNN, BBC The One Show)
  • Every national newspaper and various magazines
  • All international news and entertainment web feeds (including BBC Online, ITN, Yahoo)
  • “For an investment of £250 we gained £250,000 worth of coverage.

    “Debbie and Andrew recorded a 30% sausage sales uplift in Asda after Pig in Boots story.

    “The advertising equivalent for Pig in Boots would have cost £451,630 in coverage.”

To be fair to the Daily Mail they were clearly not alone in running this story – all news outlets are guilty of printing PR-created story as ‘news’ or ‘light relief’. The truth is this manufactured story is neither news or light entertainment, but a cynical ploy to secure advertising at minimal cost. As the testimonial clearly demonstrates, the pig was selected for being slightly cleaner than the rest, the agency then decided to shove some wellies on it because they knew the press love a cute photo.

That any media outlet seriously printed this as real news – just look at that Daily Mail article, they really think they have uncovered a spectacularly unusual pig, and even suggest it might have a phobia of mud – is laughable. It also brings into sharp focus that journalists and editors just don’t care what is news, anymore than they care about misleading headlines or the dividing line between comment and news, or the accurate reporting of risk – the recent scaremongering of pregnant women over absolutely minimal or in some cases non-existent risk is hypocritically matched by another Littlejohn column today criticising health and safety for focusing on providing solutions to what he considers absolutely minimal or non-existent risks.

The only thing an editor does care about is circulation and advertising revenue, sadly the only newspaper an editor would consider laughable in this instance would be the one that didn’t publish the cute photo of the pig. It’s a sad reflection of the majority of the UK press.

And remember, this ‘fluffy’ little story about the cute little pig we’d all love to cuddle ended up with a 30% increase in the sales of sausages…