I have read several articles about Labour Party’s attack ads this week. Opinions differ obviously, but two articles have left an impression on me.
The first is Andrew Marr’s ‘How Labour lost the moral high ground’ in the New Statesman. The premise is that it is the Tories who are known for their defamatory, and often false, attack ads, and joining them in the gutter is poor political and moral judgement. In the run up to the next election, Marr argues, Britain needs its politicians to focus on the big issues that engage voters, which is where the centre-left should be at an advantage. By definition, conservatives want to conserve things the way they are. The left want things to change.
Reading Marr took me right to the heart of the Beatitudes. It is all there. Turning the other cheek, not being defined by the behaviour of our enemies or repaying them in kind, resisting being dragged into unrighteous response. We are defined by our standards and if we lose our distinct flavour it will be difficult to recover.
Marr argues that now is the moment to pursue a different direction, and he is joined by Daniel Finkelstein who writes in The Times that the UK desperately needs its leaders to agree upon a new code of conduct. This call comes at the end of an article (‘Divisive political ads are just getting started’, The Times 20/05/23) which traces the journey taken by leaders responsible for political messaging in the US since the 1950s.
American politicians feared the damage populism could do to a nation. They had seen it in pre-war Germany and wanted to create a pliant and satisfied electorate. Eisenhower decided that a way to achieve this was to use television ads to explain his philosophy to the nation. We all know what these ads have become today, and whilst our TV culture has protected the UK from what has become normal across the pond. the rise of social media has made it possible to lie and attack opponents via an unregulated back door.
‘We can be better than this’ has to become the call of those of us who believe in the wisdom of the Beatitudes. And a culture changes as more individuals within it begin embodying that change more decisively.