Tuesday 25 October 2016

'Milimonument' proves politics is now beyond parody

Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30

"People today are always complaining that politicians can’t be trusted and never keep their promises so, in an age of memes and viral photographs, what better way to instantly communicate a message of an unbreakable commitment than with a giant stone slab"

You can almost see why, in a moment of madness, UK Labour Party leader Ed Miliband thought it was a good idea to etch commitments to the electorate on an 8ft 6in stone monument and vow to erect the monstrosity in the garden at Downing Street.

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People today are always complaining that politicians can't be trusted and never keep their promises so, in an age of memes and viral photographs, what better way to instantly communicate a message of an unbreakable commitment than with a giant stone slab engraved with a truncated version of Labour's manifesto.

"No one takes us seriously on immigration, but all of that will instantly change as soon as voters see 'Controls on immigration' carved in stone on a giant monolith," is probably how one PR flunky rationalised the plan during a brainstorming session.

And lo, the "Milimonument" was commissioned, emblazoned with Labour's six-point plan and unveiled with great fanfare in an appropriately reverential place, a car park in Hastings in front of a group of slack-jawed activists. Evidently pleased with the finished result, the Labour leader happily posed for photographs in front of his "policy cenotaph" and swore, if elected prime minister on Thursday, to restore some credibility and authenticity back into politics.

"These six pledges are now carved in stone, and they are carved in stone because they won't be abandoned after the general election. I want the British people to remember these pledges, to remind us of these pledges, to insist on these pledges, because I want the British people to be in no doubt - we will deliver them. We will restore faith in politics by delivering what we promised at this general election," he said.

At first, the reaction on social media was a kind of dumbfounded shock. No one could quite believe what they were seeing and the immediate assumption was that the pictures of Ed beaming in front of his Platitude Plinth were photoshopped.

Then, as the realisation slowly dawned that this was an actual thing that had definitely happened, the ridicule began and hasn't stopped. A writer from satirical political comedy, 'The Thick of It', tweeted that the show had come to an end because politics is now officially beyond parody.

"Ed Miliband builds a policy cenotaph and you wonder why we stopped doing 'The Thick of It'," he said.

Conservative blogger Guido Fawkes noted that other political leaders now really needed to up their game and nothing less than political pledges "written in their own blood" would suffice if they were going to be taken seriously by a jaded electorate.

On Twitter, #EdStone started trending, as people began photo-shopping Biblical robes on Miliband and presenting him as some kind of latter-day Moses, descending from a mountain with commandments carved in stone. Others noted the striking similarity between the monument and a tombstone and wondering if it marked the imminent death of Miliband's political career.

The nadir perhaps came after it was pointed out that Downing Street is a Grade One listed building and Labour party members were forced to confess they didn't know whether the monument was likely to get the planning permission it needs to be erected or if it would end up in a skip.

Speaking about the debacle yesterday, determined to put a positive spin on the ill-advised fiasco, Miliband muttered that at least people were talking about Labour policies. However, if he really thinks the vacuous banalities that some poor unfortunate was forced to chisel into rock for him are bona fide policies, then politics really is in trouble.

Promising things like "an NHS with the time to care"; "a strong economic foundation" and "controls on immigration" are meaningless, worthless slogans that could have come from any party's policy platform. What is Labour offering, an NHS devoid of waiting lists or a hug during a doctor's visit?

The commitment on immigration is another case in point. There are already controls on immigration in the UK. In 2013, 50,741 people were removed from the country under immigration laws. So, what exactly is Labour offering to do about immigration, other than indulge right-wing hysteria about a problem that doesn't exist?

While Labour laughably thought they were redeeming faith in politics with their idiotic giant slab, what the party has actually done is underscore why people loathe modern focus-group politics so much.

More concerned with style over substance, photo-calls and press releases over well-researched policy proposals, politicians have turned politics into a cheap marketing exercise in which they repackage stale ideas and fight for market share.

Politicians need to sell their message to the electorate in order to get elected, but resorting to tactics more commonly associated with used car salesman in the United States in order to do it cheapens politics, tarnishes their brand and turns them into a joke.

At least in Ireland, when Fine Gael came up with their five-point plan they resisted the urge to engrave bullet points on an obelisk and have Enda Kenny unveil it at a press event, like a model at a car show.

That's not to say Irish politics isn't replete with cringe-inducing photo-ops, like Simon Coveney gurning over a plate of Irish beef in New York or Paschal Donohoe donning a cowboy hat to promote a country music festival, but they have yet to go full 'Spinal Tap'.

The tragedy of the Milimonster is, during the campaign, the Labour leader had largely succeeded in escaping the media caricature of himself as a hapless, bumbling dolt and, in debates, had come across as genuine, committed and caring.

Now, the big question on everyone's mind is how can the man who oversaw the unveiling of a giant monument to cliché, as some kind of election-stealing set-piece, be fit to lead one of the world's biggest economies? Let's hope the Oxford-educated minion who came up with the idea and turned him into a laughing stock doesn't cost him the election.

Irish Independent

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