On 6th March 2015 an unnamed civil servant in the Scotland Office got a phone call from a friend in the French diplomatic service, who told him some bits of things the Scotland Office might find useful: the Scotland Office is the UK government’s Scottish department for matters reserved to Westminster. This was the memo that became Project Smear in the Telegraph on 3rd April, right after the leaders’ debate.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat candidate and former MP for Orkney & Shetland: he is the only Scottish Liberal Democrat reckoned likely to hold his seat on 7th May. He is still Secretary of State for Scotland, as he has been since October 2013, as ministers retain their ministerial powers until a new government is formed. He isn’t an MP – he hasn’t been since Parliament was dissolved on Monday 30th March – but he is still the Scotland Office minister.
The LibDems are about to lose three times over on 7th May: first of all, the most optimistic forecast for the LibDems has them losing over half their MPs: the highest estimate for LibDems post election is a maybe of 36, and most likely, in the region of 27 or so. While the LibDems have been trying to tell us for years that propping up a Tory government was really the best thing for them to do, voters would appear not to agree with them.
Secondly, there’s a solid likelihood that the SNP will have more MPs after 7th May than the LibDems: the lowest estimate for the SNP is 26, and the most likely is about 42 or so. It is likely that the LibDems will lose their position as the third party in the UK – that role will be taken by the SNP. This carries with it the privilege of asking two questions each week at PMQ, and various other roles and responsibilities that the LibDems have had for decades and they will lose, and lose to the SNP.
The memo attack on Nicola Sturgeon, a day after she had been lauded at the leaders’ debates, was certainly an attempt by the Daily Telegraph to discredit her. If the Telegraph employees who contacted Labour and the LibDems for comment were subtle enough, it was also an attempt to discredit those two parties.
The Head of Content (as Peter Oborne noted, the Telegraph no longer has an editor) may have been instructed by David and Frederick Barclay to win the general election for the Conservatives: and it is a matter of simple Parliamentary arithmetic to see that if the polls hold good, providing Labour and the SNP are willing to vote together against the Tories, the Tories cannot form a government.
Scottish Labour had a night to howl about this: between the first tweet from Simon Johnson at the Daily Telegraph at 9:42pm, to a final tweet by Scottish Labour at 7:55am on Saturday 4th April, the Scottish Labour twitter account either tweeted or retweeted 22 tweets, including one apiece from Kezia Dugdale and Jim Murphy, and two from Scottish Labour candidates, Margaret Curran and Douglas Alexander. (If Mhairi Black, the SNP candidate for Paisley, unseats Douglas Alexander, she will be the youngest MP ever to be elected, aged 20.)
Nicola Sturgeon is – as we know in Scotland – an experienced, able politician, with ten years experience as the leader of the Opposition, as the Deputy First Minister, and now as the First Minister, in Holyrood.
A Yougov panel of undecided voters failed to recognise Nicola Sturgeon at all when shown her photo in advance of the leaders’ debate on 2nd April: but after the leaders’ debate, Sturgeon was topping UK-wide polls, her results comparable to those for Miliband and Cameron.
Nicola Sturgeon spoke as older voters will remember Labour politicians once speaking – of an economy that should support the people, against people being ground up by austerity to “support the economy”, of concern for immigrants and asylum seekers as human beings. Ed Miliband and David Cameron both looked scripted: Miliband constantly turned to speak to “you at home”, not to the audience or to his six fellow debaters: Cameron seemed to have a checklist of things he’d been told to repeat when he was stuck for answer, and he was stuck for an answer a lot.
You know the cartoon I mean.
Complaining that Steve Bell is offensive is pointless.
Steve Bell has been offending people for decades.
The problem with Steve Bell’s foggily unfunny attempts to satirise the SNP / Sturgeon / Salmond, is that cutting-edge political satire depends on an intimate knowledge of the political scene: and too-evidently, Steve Bell is too ignorant of Scottish politics to be able to provide any of his usually fine satire.
The Guardian readers’ editor thinks that Bell is satirising “the roots of nationalism, not people, and he uses 18th century weapons of caricature”, and the Guardian’s Scotland correspondent tweets “we also defended the right of Charlie Hebdo to offend and @GdnScotland should not censor @BellBelltoons either”.
When discussing a political cartoonist who used to do cutting-edge satire that was funny because it was true, the key issue is not “is he offensive?” but “is his satire any good?”
Steve Bell isn’t coping with the change that requires him to learn about Scottish politics in order to satirise them. It would be kinder to let him go on sabbatical, rather than let him display his copelessness in public, but as Bell himself was never kind, why demand kindness for him?
This isn’t about censorship. This is about quality.
Afterthought: the alarming thing for those of us who are (or were) Steve Bell fans is that if the polls are borne out and 40+ SNP MPs go to Westminster and Labour is perforce obliged to enter a Lab/SNP coalition, there will be unprecedented opportunities for satire – all of which it seems Steve Bell plans to throw away because he seems to think “ha ha Scottish people” is sufficient for a joke.
What are the leaders’ debates for?
Because the UK is run by representatives from elected from constituencies, most of us watching a leaders’ debate will never get to vote for the party leader we think made best showing, or whose views we most agree with.
The current plan for the leaders’ debates – one on the BBC, one on Channel 4, and one on ITV – is for them to include the four men who lead four parties in the UK – the Conservatives, Labour, the LibDems, and UKIP: but exclude the women who lead the Green Party, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru.
In 2010, three leaders’ debates were for the three men who led what would obviously be the three biggest parties in the next Parliament, and in the sense that we saw David Cameron and Nick Clegg bonding as the two younger, public school men, excluding Gordon Brown, they were illuminating – even if Nick Clegg managed to parlay his brief popularity into a five-year crash for his party.
Steve Bell’s shtick is picking a comparator for a politician whom he knows he’s going to have to draw a lot. Nick Clegg as cardboard figure with massive chin. Edwina Currie as giant chicken. John Prescott as a toothless bulldog. Nicola Sturgeon has just become one of those politicians, as the very-soon-to-be First Minister of Scotland.
Edwina Currie said of him a few years ago:
He’s never kind, never affectionate. So it can feel hurtful. Afterwards, you realise it’s very funny and clever, but at the time you feel miffed that your enormous contribution to the country is not being recognised. Does it make you feel better when you see your political rivals skewered? Oh yes!
Steve Bell is a remarkable talent. I’m not in the least surprised at his longevity. Long may he continue.
So, Steve Bell might have picked something offensive, it might have been funny, it might have been clarifying or illuminating or silly, but the shtick Steve Bell seems to have chosen for Nicola Sturgeon is… Hitler.
The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 will be holding
three four debates before the general election in May 2015.
One of them, reasonably enough, will be a head-to-head between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
Another two, also reasonably enough, will include besides the Conservative Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour Party (still predicted to be Labour Prime Minister by a narrow majority), the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the LibDems, Nick Clegg – even though the LibDems appear likely to see their 57 seats drop to 18 after 7th May 2015.
The fourth debate will privilege a minor party above the SNP and the Greens: Nigel Farage, who is not an MP, whose party is still predicted to have no MPs after 7th May 2015, will get to take part in a four-way debate with Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg.