General Election Begins: Grenfell Tower and GMB

Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-MoggOfficially, the general election campaign for 12th December started at a minute past midnight this morning.

We have no MPs – only Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, aka PPCs. Even full lists of the candidates for each constituency won’t be public til Saturday next.

So far:

Jacob Rees Mogg yesterday made a crass and disgusting remark to the effect that the people who died in Grenfell Tower were obviously not as smart as people like himself, or they would have ignored what the emergency services told them and left the building. Tory defences of Mogg’s remark have amounted to “Well, JRM is much smarter than the kind of people who live in Grenfell Tower.”

The emergency services have taken full responsibility for the misguided advice to people on upper floors not to evacuate: prior to Grenfell Tower being wrapped in cheap flammable cladding, anyone on a floor well above the fire would have been safe from the fire spreading and would have been in the way of firefighters and firefighting equipment if they had left down the only internal stair. Rydon, the contractor mainly responsible for installing the cladding that wrapped Grenfell Tower in a shroud of flame has recently been named by the Conservative Government as a trusted contractor for high-rise buildings in a new construction framework agreement.

Yesterday, Keir Starmer was interviewed on Good Morning Britain by Piers Morgan. The video of the interview was then crudely doctored and released by the Conservative Party to make it look as if Starmer had been unable to explain Labour’s Brexit policy, when in fact he had promptly and succinctly explained that Labour intended to negotiate the best deal possible in their first three months in government, and then put the options of Leave-with-that-deal versus Revoke-and-Remain to the electorate in a second EU referendum. Tory defences for this crude propaganda effort with the GMB interview have been “It’s shorter” “it’s satiric” “it must have ben done by a young person”.

This morning, James Cleverly, chair of the Conservative Party and therefore the person officially responsible for their election campaign, was shredded by Piers Morgan about the previous day’s proaganda tape based on GMB. He was so shredded, in fact, that when he got to Sky News, he refused to go on to be interviewed by Kay Burley, and Kay Burley empty-chaired him – repeating the questions she had intended to ask (which included Grenfell Tower, GMB, and queries about a Torygraph front pager crudely comparing Corbyn to Stalin) and repeatedly pointing out that Cleverly was in the waiting room, 15 feet away from her, just refusing to go on air.

Boris Johnson has released his campaign leaflets for Uxbridge, apparently to counter the strong rumour that he’d intended to jump to a safer Conservative seat having fought a 10,000 Tory majority down to 5,000 in 2017. His campaign leaflets don’t mention Brexit and don’t mention he’s Prime Minister, which suggests they were reprinted in a hurry based on electoral campaigning for Uxbridge before 2016, which in turn suggests Johnson really did want to jump to a safer constituency and worries he might lose his seat in this one (or go down to an embarrassingly tight majority).

So far, it seems, the Conservatives are having a terrible start to their general election campaign.

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiBut it would be a mistake to feel too cheered by this.

The real campaign isn’t being run by James Cleverly, but by a pair of contractors formerly employed by Sir Lynton Crosby’s firm CTF Partners, which specialises in unbranded social media disinformation campaigns. Crosby donated £23,000 to Boris Johnson in January this year.

To win a majority, Boris Johnson doesn’t have to have public opinion on his side. His campaigners, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, only have to change the views of a few thousand voters, scattered across a couple of dozen constituencies. Using micro-targeted campaign materials which need never reach the general public (though they must legally be identified as paid for by the Conservative Party) Topham and Guerin need to convince just enough voters in Tory marginals either:

– To not vote at all, if they are likely otherwise to vote for the candidate best placed to beat the Tory PPC

– To cast their vote for a PPC who can’t beat the Tory PPC

In some constituencies fewer than a hundred votes would be needed to change the course of the election: in many, fewer than a thousand.

It will be very difficult to counter this kind of campaigning. We might know more about how it was done in 2016 to help Leave win the 2016 EU referendum if Boris Johnson had agreed to release the Commons committee report on the results of their investigation, but he’s sat on it til after the general election: make of that what you will.

I am of the view, as I have said, that tactical voting in a FPTP system is necessarily a decision made by each voter in accordance with their conscience, and no criticism either way whether you vote for the candidate you really want to win, or whether you try to game the system to get the Tories out by voting for the candidate best placed to beat the Tories. But, nobody needs advice if they’re going to vote their heart, so my advice on this is strictly for tactical voters, especially in Tory marginals.

1. If there’s a non-Tory incumbent, vote for the non-Tory incumbent.

2. if there’s a Tory incumbent, vote for the candidate best placed to beat the Tory incumbent. Sources of information for who this is: Wikipedia, which has reliable records of the voting history of all UK constituencies and background notes on how the constituencies may have changed in recent years: Various tactical voting websites (I wouldn’t rely on any one of them, but put together I think they likely provide a good guide): Your own local knowledge of your constituency and the candidates: polling data, the closer we get to election day.

But most of all: Register to vote. Encourage others to register to vote, and to turn out and vote. Challenge and refute – if you can – misinformation about candidates being circulated locally. Report any political advertising NOT clearly identified as paid for by a political party *to the police*, if you can – as well as to Facebook or any other site you see it on.

If Boris Johnson doesn’t win a majority on 12th December, we may not have the Tories out – they might still be the largest single party – but if Johnson doesn’t get a majority and hasn’t delivered Brexit, I think he will quit before he’s fired, and UK politics will be cleaner for it. This is true whatever party you support, or whether you voted Leave or Remain. Boris Johnson should be gone by 2020, and if we can keep him from getting a majority, we can clean him out.

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