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130429smear

The Nasty Party is at it again, spreading dire warnings about its political foes and trawling opponents’ appearances on the social media for anything it can use against them.

Labour and – especially – UKIP candidates had better watch out; these are people who will take any apparently-innocuous off-the-cuff comment and turn it into galloping racism (for example) before your eyes!

The Party of Smears kicked off in typical fashion yesterday by attacking UKIP as “a collection of clowns” in a protest party with no positive policies, that was primarily opposed to foreigners.

The comment about being a party of protest will also ring in the ears of Labour candidates, after former party leader Tony Blair warned Ed Miliband that Labour must not be seen as one.

According to the BBC, UKIP reckons it has evidence that Conservative Central Office is spreading smears about its candidates, after spending months trawling through the Twitter and Facebook accounts of anyone likely to be a candidate.

Meanwhile The Guardian has reported a warning to Labour MPs from party vice-chairman Michael Dugher, that they will all be under “intense scrutiny” from the Tories for the next 18 months to two years, with Conservatives “scouring” opposition MPs’ Twitter accounts (and, we can well expect, Facebook pages) for damaging or embarrassing material.

“The message was that while you might not be household names now, any slip can instantly make you one and do huge damage to the party. The next 18 months is crucial. And the next few weeks are crucial ahead of the June spending review,” a ‘source’ is quoted as saying.

Facebook has already been the subject of controversy over alleged links with the Conservative Party, after blogger Tom Pride said he had been told by a Job Centre Plus employee that the Department for Work and Pensions had conspired with the social media giant to create a blackout around his blog because it criticised the Coalition government.

That blackout spread to other blogs including Vox Political, in a bid to choke off critical political writing, with potential readers warned that sites “may be unsafe” in an effort to turn them away. Although initially successful, with hits on this blog suffering during the early part of last week, the attack was routed after Facebook users were told that they were being manipulated. Hopefully, visits to this site will soon be back to pre-attack levels.

UKIP has taken the Tory attacks in its stride. The relatively young party has taken on nearly 2,000 candidates to contest the local elections on Thursday and has admitted it has not had time to check all their backgrounds properly. Therefore, the party says, it is glad the Conservatives are doing this job and has begun investigating six candidates over alleged links to the British National Party and other far-right groups.

UKIP sources have also stated their certainty that, if they were to investigate Conservative candidates in a similar manner, they might find “even more examples” to use in a counter-attack, summing up the Tory tactic as “morally reprehensible and downright dirty”.

“It isn’t scrutiny; it’s smear,” said a spokesperson.

Of course, this fighting among the right-wing, minority-interest parties (and if you don’t think the Tories are a minority-interest party, you haven’t been following their policies for the last three years) should be very helpful to Labour.

UKIP’s popularity splits the right-wing vote, meaning Labour has more chance to gain a majority in marginal council wards (and, by extension, marginal Parliamentary constituencies). At least, that’s one theory.

The problem is the fact that Labour voters might decide to defect on Thursday, as well – maybe even to UKIP, despite the fact that that party’s position is further to the right than the Conservatives’.

Much of this problem, Labour believes, lies in policy – with many people unaware of what most members of the Labour front bench actually do.

And this is compounded, in my opinion, by the fact that the one policy area in which Labour’s position is known is such a cast-iron, vote-losing, disaster for the party: Welfare/Work and Pensions.

Yet a Guardian article about a possible reshuffle makes no mention of Liam Byrne and his deputy Stephen Timms whatsoever – despite the fact that their decision not to oppose a blatantly illegal stitch-up of the system by the Tory DWP secretary Iain Duncan Smith enraged Labour heartlands across the country. Indeed, a fellow blogger recently headlined an article with the profanity (which I’ll edit here) ‘Liam Byrne f*ck off’.

It is long past time that Ed Miliband told him to do so. If Labour does not abandon Byrne’s horrifying attempt to equal the Tories’ brutality towards Britain’s most vulnerable people, in favour of a new policy that attacks the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability rather than the symptoms, then Labour will lose the next general election.

And that will be an even graver disaster for us all.