I’m still a social sciences nerd so I was intrigued to read a short post on Conservative Home about how the Prime Minister is dominating the news cycle.
If there is one thing this government likes to do it’s make policy announcements. Set speeches. Signal this or point towards that.
The year started with a blaze of such announcements, from immigration to economics (pro tip: we are totally heading for some sort of second crash and Osborne is putting clear water between him and any falling masonry) and social affairs. The latter has mostly been the PM looking prime ministerial, usually framing these issues through the lens of security. Most recently, saving his fire for Muslim women who can’t speak English.
The tactics are interesting. He takes something that’s not necessarily unreasonable and puts crazy rocket boosters on it. Case in point, the English issue.
Should everyone speak English? Yes. Because it matters in terms of access to opportunities and playing a full part in society, being part of the community around you. There was an opportunity to talk invite people who can’t speak English being part of “us”; or, rather, to be even more a part of us. They already are, of course.
Instead, while having cynically cut funding English language services that were designed to help people in this exact situation, Cameron singles out Muslim women, frames the whole issue in terms of radicalisation as if they are the reason some young people are joining Daesh when countless mother’s hearts have been broken by this, and then throws some (but nowhere near enough to replace what he cut) money at it.
Cue discussion and think pieces for days.
He gets to look tough to the ring wing and leaves the rest of us wading through the nonsense, fighting to tease out the nuances with a deliberately naive right wing press insisting, “Is it unreasonable to want everyone to speak English?” No, but…
Turns out this is a well-deployed media agenda-setting tactic:
“These Monday initiatives have three main purposes. First, to get the media to report and comment on Government plans that are not about the EU referendum, thereby reminding voters that it has other reasons to be here. Second, to show people that the Prime Minister is still in office and still in charge. And, third, to tackle issues that are important to him.” – Paul Goodman
And for those nerds interested in process:
Sunday provides an opportunity to brief bits of the speech or article or initiative to the Sunday papers. Monday brings the address or piece itself, together with a photo-opportunity for the cameras. By the afternoon, the blogs and oped-pages are filling up, and the mix of outraged commentary, analysis and counter-intuitive support can be guaranteed to drag on into Tuesday. Tiger mothers – back in the jungle? Strengthening cohesion or stigmatising Muslims – what do you think? That’s three days worth of coverage. Voters won’t remember much of the detail, if any, but the thrust of Cameron’s case might just linger a bit in their minds for a while. And as long as it’s one that’s not offensive to them then it’s mission accomplished for Downing Street. – Paul Goodman
Oh, and that fight we’re all having? Well, that’s part of it too. Unfortunately, these games have real-world consequences. Muslim women are statistically most likely to suffer from Islamophobic attacks. Being singled out negatively on the biggest political stage, linked with people’s fears of Daesh and radicalisation, only serves to further alienate them.
But, it depends whether you’re really trying to help or just cynically posture, using Muslim women as a foil:
Number Ten itself admits that it’s hard to make an impact if you don’t provoke a row: “there has to be some grit in the oyster,” as one Downing Street source put it to me. – Paul Goodman