Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Conservatives' election strategy and "dirty tricks": how to divide your enemies and threaten people

Q: How do the Conservatives, the party that represent the interests of Britain's rich and powerful, persuade others to vote for them?

There have historically been two strands to this answer, depending on who they are trying to persuade.

To the "middle class", the Conservatives use the double-pronged "threat" of the Labour party as the party that will take away their money through taxation (and destroy the economy), as well as the "threat" that the "feckless/ undeserving/ immoral" segments of society pose to the rest.
Married with the psychological "threat" of the alternative is the "opportunity" that the Conservatives say they can bring to the middle class - that they offer the easiest (low tax) route for the the middle class to rise upwards to the golden realms of the elite. The message is fear on one hand, and greed on the other.

To the "working class", the Conservatives use the similar "threat" of the "feckless/ undeserving/ immoral", which is presumably much closer to home to them, married with the message that the Conservatives represent the "party of opportunity", allowing the "hardworking" to rise up to the middle class. Again, it is fear on one hand, and self-interest on the other.  

Over the long history of the Tories, they have been adept at masking their recurring incompetence inside an exterior shell of assured self-confidence. This may well also be a metaphor for the state of modern Britain itself: but that's another story.

Divide and rule

George Osborne's use of the "strivers versus skivers" rhetoric is the latest telling of a narrative from the Tories that has been the same for many decades, which has intensified with the coming of Thatcherism.
The psychology of politics is a science in itself, and the psychology of the Conservatives is well worth studying in detail. The author looked at some examples from the Conservative government a few years ago, and came up with some interesting results. But as the only way that the Tories can become the government is by making their enemies hate each other, divide and rule is the best way to achieve it. As said earlier, this is a strategy they've practiced over many years.

This explains why Cameron's election strategy - devised by Lynton Crosby - has been all about the negatives, which reached a particular nadir a few weeks ago. But things have hardly got much better since, and there has been the relentless promotion of the "threat" that the SNP have over a possible Labour government - about the most cast-iron example of a literal "divide and rule" strategy you could witness.
The baseness of psychology required to formulate this strategy is stark, and it tells you much about how many Conservatives view human nature: as a game of winners and losers, where those who "lose out" have done so through their own mistakes, and therefore should be deservedly punished for it. As well as mirroring the thinking of Ayn Rand, it also - alarmingly - mirrors the thinking of one of the most destructive psychological disorders.

The kind of Britain that the Tories espouse is one where the disabled and the unemployed are presumed as probable fraudsters for simply wishing some financial aid from the state.  It is a Britain where the unemployed are sometimes forced to work for their benefits (which is not only immoral, but also bad economics). People have literally died as the indirect result of government welfare policy. But under the Tories "divide and rule" strategy, those people that died were not penniless and starving because the government withdrew their benefits, but because of the choices that those people made. They were defined as "undeserving" i.e. they deserved to die.

The use of "divide and rule" provides the most important element of electioneering - creating a "scapegoat". Whether it's the SNP (or Scotland in general), "immigrants", "skivers", or whoever, the electorate - from a psychological point of view - have convincing "hate figures" in order to turn to the Tories as their saviour.

But for a cynical and immoral "divide and rule" strategy to work to its best, you also have to know how to use cynical and immoral "dirty tricks"...

How to use "The Dirty Tricks Handbook"

First and foremost, you have to control the "narrative". This is the "story" of what has happened up to the election. In short, it's propaganda - a lie - that you tell voters. It must be simple to be easily memorable, and repeated regularly.
The Tories' "narrative" about Labour - repeated by Cameron - is that they "broke the banks", and that it was "Labour overspending" that caused the crisis. Only the other day a treasury civil servant said catagorically that this "narrative" was untrue and a historical fallacy. It was a banking crisis (partly caused by lack of government regulation) that created the financial crisis. The "Labour overspending" happened as a result of the crisis; it was not the cause of it. The fact that so many people in the UK have such bad memories that they don't remember this is deeply worrying. The Tories are relying on the notion that if a smart, smooth-talking politician keeps on saying something, people believe it is true. And - horrifyingly - the evidence supports that notion.

Secondly - but probably as important - you have to have the media on your side. In this election, there is convincing evidence (also carried out by Loughborough University) that the media are solidly on the side of the Conservatives. This also seems to extend to the BBC, given the regularly tough questioning given out to Ed Miliband especially, compared to the tame (and sometimes poorly-phrased) questioning given to Cameron and other Tory figures. Given the similar educational backgrounds that many media figures have to many politicians, this shouldn't be so surprising, but it certainly puts paid to any real sense of media "freedom". Also, given that Ed Miliband had effectively declared war on a large segment of the media "establishment" following the events of Leveson, it is even less surprising.
It wasn't always like this, though. Under Tony Blair, the media "establishment" was largely on his side, but again - especially in the case of Rupert Murdoch - it was a case of currying favour in order to gain the support of the media. If the media really wasn't so influential, why did Blair (and Cameron) so obviously want to win them over?

Next, and related to the two previous ideas, is how essential it is to control the agenda. The Tories did this with ruthless duplicity. The whole "debate about the debates" was a prime example of the Tories controlling events in order to allow David Cameron to dictate to the media and the other parties precisely on what terms things would be allowed to happen. It was a disgraceful - but horribly effective - strategy.

Fourthly, apart from the "big lie" to control the "narrative", is the use of character assassination. This was alluded to earlier with the negative attacks on Miliband as someone who would "Stab Britain in The Back". In the case of this election, they seem to have been fairly ineffective (even counter-productive), but in the past had a greater chance of success - with the help of the media (see above). Related to this point is using your opponents' comments in an out-of-context manner to try to destroy their reputation.

One of the most interesting - and to your rival party, confounding - tactics is the use of "projection". This is a psychological term more commonly used as a tactic of narcissists to confound those around them when under threat. In political terms, this is when you accuse your rivals of the exact same errors that they accuse you of - "projecting" your own weaknesses onto your opponents. As this is the last thing your rivals are expecting, it leaves them confused and unclear where to go next with their argument.
An example in this campaign is Cameron's claim the other day that the Tories are for "hardworking people" and against the excesses of bankers, unlike Labour (because they bailed them out, and allowed excessive bonuses). This statement is so catagorically opposite to the Conservatives' reality that it beggars belief that Cameron can even convincingly utter it. As anyone with a brain knows, the Conservatives finances are strongly-reliant on groups and individuals in The City and offshore clients.
This kind of statement tells us more about the worrying ease with which David Cameron can spout complete nonsense from his mouth while seeming to believe every word of it. But Cameron has a track record for being a compulsive liar (or - let's be fair - possibly just a complete idiot), as well as a bully; not to mention  a coward, and an incompetent.

Lastly, you can always steal the clothes (i.e. policies) of your opponent and claim they were yours all along.

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