Saturday, June 22, 2024

Snap, Crackle, Pop! (1987)


From the Socialist Standard, June 1987

‘Those who are experienced in such matters tell us that all brands of cornflakes taste the same. It has also been said that they all conform to a standard of nutrition which results in the package having more food value than the flakes. It is rather like this in the political field. The parties which are likely to get into power in this election all offer the same low level of social nutrition and politically they all have the same flavour. Their only difference is in their presentation - their packaging - and this is where they are in competition, their programmes and their leaders dressed, decorated, obscured so as to bear little relation to their true character.

This is the work — indeed, the preoccupation — of a band of manipulators known as public relations personnel. The first example of their work to spring in mind is Margaret Thatcher. Her transformation is now part of history. Her image-makers saw her hair and said it was all wrong; that is why some hapless hairdresser now labours daily to maintain that famous blonde, forehead-revealing sweep. Her voice, they found, displeased their ears; so she had to be induced to tone it with a soft huskiness. That neck-straining angle at which she holds her head when she is being interviewed for TV is not something she was born with; it was taught to her by those public relations people.

When they had finished they looked on their work and thought it was good. Then it was the turn of the experts in political presentation. The Labour government of 1974/79 had been notable for its confusion and vacillation; Thatcher would adopt the contrasting image of the prime minister who. through thick and thin, stuck to her guns because she had firm convictions. This was the stance she adopted during the Falklands war. while British and Argentinian workers were doing the actual fighting and dying. It should have cost her a lot of votes, among people who think it preferable to have peace in the world. Instead it did a lot to help her to victory in 1983.

Among her recent triumphs was her visit to Moscow, to talk weaponry with Gorbachev who, had he been a Tory election agent could hardly have done more to help Thatcher back to power. Thatcher argued that the talks would never have taken place but for Gorbachev's respect for the nuclear arms of British capitalism; therefore people should not vote Labour who are in theory pledged to cut back on those weapons. Cleverly stage managed, the tour was a veritable banquet for the media, who seemed to overlook the fact that Thatcher and Gorbachev had done little more than catalogue each other’s arsenals of mass destruction. There is still no hope that the world is safe from the great powers' capacity to destroy it many times over. The triumphant achievement of the visit was to provide Thatcher with a Gorbachev factor to help her win this election, as the Falklands factor did in 1983.

While Thatcher was strutting in Moscow, Neil Kinnock was blundering through a brief, disastrous meeting with Reagan in Washington. (Reagan has never made any secret about being an election agent for Thatcher). Labour's public relations workers are desperate to change their image but the Washington trip turned out to be another of their recent debacles.

But the work goes on; the transformation of the Labour Party cannot be allowed to rest. Their political packaging experts have decided that their historic bondage to the Red Flag was a vote loser so they have substituted a pink rose. They symbolised the new era by changing the party's campaign colour from red to a restful blue, grey and red. They prohibited Neil Kinnock to any longer thatch his hair across his baldness; Labour's Mister Nice Guy, they said, must appear frank and unashamed of such things.

Under this packaging lie the same policies which have failed in the past: basically. Labour presents the same remedies for the ailments of British capitalism as it did in 1974 . . . 1964 . . . 1945 . . . Now they are able to use this tactic that unemployment, poverty, bad housing, war and other such problems have been caused by Tory rule — as if these things did not exist before Thatcher came to power in 1979.

This election will be won by the party which comes off best in the political packaging contest. Millions of votes will be cast for what the capitalist parties appear to be — what they encourage us to think they are — and not for what they actually are. Discerning workers, asking themselves how they should vote to change society in an effective way. will peel back this packaging. They will find that these parties all taste the same, that they offer an unvarying, unnutritious deception. And that — if they will forgive the phrase —- will be the crunch.’


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