This is it. Parliament has dissolved, the election is in full swing and it’s time for campaigners to hit the ground running. Ed Miliband is feeling particularly chatty, and is aiming to knock on at least four million doors by May 7. Sadly, there simply isn’t enough time to explain the party’s five big pledges to everybody and their mum. But don’t worry, because Labour has dreamt up an innovative solution to get their key messages out there: crockery.
That’s right: for a mere £5, you could be the proud owner of a shiny mug emblazoned with one of Labour’s central promises. Worried about the NHS? There’s a mug for you. Concerned about your child’s future? There’s a mug for you. Hate immigrants? There’s a mug for – wait, what?
It’s only been a few days, but Labour leaders are already getting all kinds of flak for trying to flog us a mug advertising their would-be tough guy stance on immigration. Even Labour MPs have branded the “controls on immigration” trinket "shameful". After all, not even the official UKIP mugs say anything overtly unfriendly towards foreigners. What gives?
The Labour camp probably thought they were telling the British people what they want to hear. Pollsters reckon nearly half of voters have been wanting Mr Miliband to say more about immigration, and issuing a strongly-worded coffee mug is a start down that road towards appeasement.
But let’s just pause for a moment to address the fact that Labour is not and has never been tough on immigration. Ed Miliband has admitted the party was pretty lax about it when they were in power, and their new flagship “attack” is a promise to implement a two-year wait before foreigners can claim benefits. That will accomplish next to nothing.
Believe it or not, most immigrants come here to work – not to claim benefits. They also tend to pay more in taxes, but that’s neither here nor there. The most frustrating part of this epic political fail isn’t the fact that Labour has been using a dishonest and arguably racist mug to win votes. It’s that they’re trying to use a mug to win votes, full stop.
The 9 worst car crash interviews in recent politics
The 9 worst car crash interviews in recent politics
1/6 Chloe Smith on Newsnight
George Osborne was enjoying a good day as he scrapped a planned 3p rise in fuel duty in June, 2012. But then someone had the bright idea of putting Chloe Smith, a junior Treasury minister and then something of a rising star for the Tories, on Newsnight. But she was unable to convincingly answer a single question posed to her by Jeremy Paxman, even the ultimate killer blow: “Do you ever think you’re incompetent?”
2/6 Boris Johnson on Andrew Marr
Eddie Mair, standing in for Mr Marr during his stroke recovery, might have been seen as something of a soft touch in March 2013 before he destroyed the London Mayor on the BBC’s flagship Sunday current affairs show. Mair presented a series of anecdotes about the harsher side to the fluffy-seeming Mr Johnson’s rise to power and concluded: “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” Boris didn’t quite seem to know how to respond.
3/6 Ed Miliband on Good Morning Britain
Labour’s leader faced some slightly inevitable accusations of being “out of touch with reality” from ITV’s Susannah Reid after she surprised him with a “how much does X cost question”. This time it was during an interview on how much he knew about his much-vaunted “cost of living crisis” – and Mr Miliband underestimated the average household grocery bill per week by about a third. He admitted he was wrong – but later tried to wriggle out of the situation by claiming he was only referring to “basic groceries” not his “overall shopping bill”.
4/6 Rachel Reeves on Daily Politics
The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary got very mixed up on whether Labour were promising “a freeze or a cap” – when energy prices actually stopped rising and fell. Refusing to accept that her party had enacted a u-turn on policy, she said: “It wasn’t us who changed – it’s the world that changed.” She later couldn’t give any examples of retail prices being successfully fixed by governments – stumping for “the minimum wage – the price of labour”.
5/6 David Cameron on Gay Times
Grilled on his MEPs’ voting records on gay rights in the European Parliament, a pre-prime ministerial Mr Cameron suggested they could vote any way they liked. But he also said the right not to suffer discrimination based on sexuality was a fundamental human right – meaning it should not be subject to an open vote. The former PR man got so flustered he had to ask for the cameras to be turned off because he was getting “distracted”.
6/6 Nigel Farage on LBC
Nigel Farage’s image as a plain-speaking, not-like-that-lot-in-Westminster politician suffered one of a number of dents in May 2014, when a tense 22-minute confrontation with LBC’s James O’Brien had to be cut short by his spin doctor. Patrick O’Flynn – who is now an MEP for Ukip – had to step in when Mr Farage was repeatedly questioned on his views on race and why he would be uncomfortable if a group of Romanian nationals moved in next door to him.
Now, cheap political merchandise is nothing new – every party in Britain has been pushing the same tote bag for twenty years. But this immigration mug is by far the most exciting thing Labour has done in weeks. In fact, it’s generated so much buzz that the Greens have even tried to ride Mr Miliband’s crockery coattails by releasing a counter mug (it reads “standing up for migrants” and also costs a fiver, in case you’re interested). This is starting to get a little sad.
The epic mug battle of 2015 is only the latest in a cheap set of campaign gimmicks that are beginning to define this crucial election. Don’t know how to talk to women? Let’s paint a bus pink. Don’t know how to attack Labour? Attack the SNP. Don’t know how to sort out immigration? Paint a mug that says otherwise.
If this is really the sort of highbrow political discourse we’re going to have to endure for the next six weeks, count me out. These sideshow acts are distracting voters from the issues that truly matter – and if Labour’s immigration mug has misled a single person into voting for Mr Miliband come May, we should all be extremely worried about the future of this country.