Tag Archives: PR

A Question of Substance

this_is_what_a_feminist_looks_like_tshirtSome days, I don’t tweet at all. Other days, I explode. Today was one of those days.

Let’s cast our minds back to September, when Ed Miliband was roundly mocked for refusing to pose with a “Help for Heroes” wristband for the Sun newspaper’s campaign backing the charity for ex-servicemen. He refused because he has staked his reputation on standing up to the Murdoch press, and had beenĀ roundly lambasted for posing with a special copy of the Sun backing England’s World Cup football team in June. Now, it’s October, and David Cameron has been slammed because he refused (five times!) to pose with Elle Magazine’s “This is What a Feminist Look Like” T shirt.

I’m with David on this, as I was with Ed Miliband last month. A t-shirt, or a special edition of a newspaper, or a wristband – does nothing to advance the causes in question. Nothing. And no, “raising awareness” doesn’t count. Instead of badgering Miliband to pose with a wristband, why not press him to adopt policies to improve the lot of former soldiers in Labour’s next manifesto, and holding Ed and his party to it if they win the election? And do we need Cameron to put on a fancy T-shirt or to address the fact that cuts are falling disproportionately on women and ethnic minorities?

Furthermore, the Sun’s campaign for ex-servicemen does a lot of admirable work, no doubt, but it also benefits… The Sun. They can get the party leaders to jump when they ask, and they can punish them if they refuse. That’s another subtext to their “empty chairing” of Miliband the next day. The fact that he didn’t pose with them became the story and another useful stick to beat him with. As for Elle – they have been occupied trying to “rebrand” feminism. It doesn’t need it. It’s necessarily confrontational and difficult because you’re challenging power structures. In many ways, given his policies, Cameron refusing to wear the T-shirt is actually somewhat honest. Elle wanted their feature spread, and they didn’t get it. Good causes are becoming entwined with corporate interests. Neither Elle nor the Sun are impartial – otherwise we’d hear less about the alleged slight of being rebuffed for a photoshoot and more about what concrete policies could be enacted to further the cause or end inequality between men and women.

And the second thing that had me frothing at the mouth before 10am was Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s non-apology for his earlier comment on British towns being “swamped” by immigration. He has said that his comments were “reckless”, and the BBC this morning said that he had been “slapped down” by No 10, but I have two issues with this.

Firstly, this dominated the weekend papers. Sure, he retracted, after dominating the news cycle over the weekend and this morning. So… the message got through, make no mistake. Secondly, No 10 never rebutted what he said. It looks like he has been (reluctantly and very slowly) shushed. Which fuels the conspiracy theorists who believe the immigrant invasion of Britain is being covered up by a liberal elite. For that matter, when he said it, not one journalist asked him to justify the claim. No facts, no figures. Boring, you might say. Yes, but in such an inflammatory debate that is fuelled by fear and xenophobia, facts matter more than ever. The average person may say such a thing, but Fallon is a Minister, he has a pulpit and he has staff to fact check for him. Either he didn’t, or he ignored the facts (that this is patently untrue). So either he is incompetent or deliberately stirring the pot. Whichever it is, it’s a case of style over substance. And he got all the PR he needed. Thanks, media, for not interrogating this at all.

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Empty Gestures

They did it last summer, and it looks like the government is at it again: the silly season is due to be dominated by damaging immigration discourse and ridiculous publicity stunts in poor taste that manage to simultaneously exacerbate the perception that the government hasn’t got a handle on an immigration system in crisis while convincing no one that their vacuous stunts make a difference.

So the most high-profile opening salvo: David Cameron and Theresa May hanging out with border agents in the home of people arrested for being suspected undocumented immigrants. There’s something quite awful about David Cameron casually leaning against the kitchen counter of someone’s home, uninvited. The occupants are conspicuous by their absence, and the media and the Prime Minister no less are in the intimacy of their home, broadcasting to the nation. Despite the fact that the occupants of the house haven’t been convicted of a crime, and might yet be innocent, the invasion of their home in such a high-profile manner really brings the hostile environment home; and the “Go Home” campaign it seems, is far from over. Cameron saw fit to double down:

“”When we find you, and we will find you, we’ll make sure you are sent back to the country you came from,” he said.”

Funnily enough, and despite the far right rhetorical grab, UKIP actually felt there was political mileage in denouncing the stunt as “vacuous”. Labour, oddly enough, criticised the government for not going far enough. This is what it has come to. The main parties are so desperate to be seen to be tough that they’ll say (and do) anything, and somehow conspire to leave UKIP (and the Greens I suppose, not that anyone asks them) to claim the moral high ground.

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