Personal abuse is not the way to fight an election

There is a growing despair at the knockabout mediocrity of what passes for political debate these days, and neither party is helping

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The Independent Online

Was Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s attack on Ed Miliband the election’s new nadir or was it George Osborne and Harriet Harman on the Andrew Marr Show vying with each other to get personal while claiming simultaneously that they weren’t?

I know I’m not alone at being so depressed at the entire empty campaign. Harman claimed 20 million people didn’t vote last time. Regardless of the absolute accuracy of that, it is a matter of record that less than two-thirds of the potential voter population actually turned out at the last three general elections.

Every survey taken on the matter reveals growing despair at the personal, knockabout mediocrity of what passes for political debate. Outside the media and Westminster, we hate the adversarial nature of PMQs and despair increasingly at the inane Question Time.

During his 2005 campaign to be Conservative leader, of course, David Cameron pledged an end to “Punch and Judy” politics, later admitting he had failed to do so out of  sheer “anger at  (then Prime Minister) Gordon Brown.

Today, the same David Cameron defends Fallon’s attack on Miliband, that accused the Labour leader of being prepared to stab the United Kingdom in the back the way he did his brother David by daring to beat him in the Labour leadership race, a public contest he won fairly of course.


The Conservatives, led by election strategist Lynton Crosby and Chancellor George Osborne, have made targetting Ed Miliband personally their strategy, with the help of their friends in the press – witness the Daily Mail’s lame attempts to portray Miliband as a former lothario.

It doesn’t appear to be working, does it? A recent run of polls in which Labour was doing a little better prompted a sudden, laughably blatant giant rabbit to pulled out of the hat in the shape of a mysterious extra £8 billion for the NHS, for which Osborne repeatedly declined to provide the costings. Surely, a gift to Labour’s aim to “weaponise the NHS” in the campaign?

Then there was the Inheritance Tax gift. It’s easy for able politicians like Harman, to make the leap from Inheritance Tax to those “posh boys” who don’t understand the rest of the country. But she, and Labour, can’t have it both ways.

How is “posh boys” more or less personal than “geek” or “backstabber”? As “posh” Osborne pointed out again, “not posh” Harman went to the same school as him (or at least the girls’ versions of St Paul’s in West London). That’s what I mean by nadir. Is this all they’ve got?

Not everyone will agree, but many people I know are just as sick of Osborne and Cameron being dismissed as posh boys as they are of Miliband being called “red Ed”. So, they went to good schools? Why does this make them any less capable of running the country than leaders like Sir John Major who went to a South London grammar school (like me). The politics of envy is as destructive to British society as the politics of wealth and snobbery.

There is little time now to look beyond the personal. And the insult-hurling politicians themselves are failing to attract that one third of the country, which is increasingly unlikely to vote at all, being sick to death of the lot of them.