Monday, 12 April 2010

Rifts Caused By Clean Campaign Pledge

A division has opened up between the parties and candidates over a seemingly innocuous pledge to avoid resorting to 'dirty' tactics during the election campaign.

Conservative and Green party candidates in the two Reading constituencies kicked off the general election campaign with a bi-partisan pledge to make this a positive campaign which doesn't descend to personal attacks.

Reading Guide describes how the pledge
"is seen as a meaningful gesture to end some of the doorstep lying, political PR spinning and personal insults which, sadly, is typical in many consituencies from parties across the spectrum."
Reading West's Alok Sharma said, "voters are completely turned off by personal attacks and negative campaigning," adding,
"Whilst we are about it, it would be helpful if every political party in Reading stuck to explaining its own policies rather than trying to invent policies for other parties!"
He also gives space to opponent Adrian Windisch, who explained,
"We have seen a decline in voter turnout and people have lost trust in politicians. One way to gain it back is to talk about policies not personalities."
On his own blog Adrian Windisch provides the full text of the pledge, which all candidates standing in Reading have been invited to voluntarily abide by.

And BBC South political correspondent Peter Henley has been following the matter. In Reading East the 'two Robs' (Wilson and White) were happy to speak with one voice on the matter too.

He notes LibDems Gareth Epps and Daisy Benson were both happy to sign the pledge: Cllr Benson said, "I've signed it on the basis that I've got nothing to hide in terms of having a clean campaign. I was happy to sign it."

Anneliese Dodds offered her support "Certainly, we'll abide by it, it's what I've been doing for the past four years," adding, "Of course we want to see a clean campaign, but people to have to be honest."

This line seems to have opened the floodgates as Cllr Warren Swaine calls on Ms Dodds to apologise for the range of inaccurate and personal attacks she has been making in her election literature.

He argues that policy and personality in politics are interwoven and inseparable - since they reflect what a person represents and whether the public can place their trust in them is a matter of them meaning what they say and doing what they mean.

Clearly he doesn't believe Labour as the matter escalated when he made an official complaint over Labour's 'libellous' claims in Ms Dodds campaign.

But the matter has become a greater bone of contention for Labour. Naz Sarkar refused to add his signature to Ms Dodds', commenting, "this 'pledge' is a cynical attempt by the Tories to close down debate on issues where they feel vulnerable."

And when LibDems called on Rob Wilson to face the public Conservatives have been shown to be inconsistent and evasive in their approach too - rather than responding directly to a challenge and providing an explanation why he was unwilling to answer questions on environmental matters the tory MP launched into his own diversionary attack on a widely discredited rumour.

Clearly Mr Wilson doesn't agree with either his colleague Mr Sharma or the pledge they both signed!

In his final Westminster Diary of the parliament Rob Wilson describes his belief in the necessity of good manners and courtesy. His enlightening comments show he accepts sincerity at face value and thinks this makes for a more effective way of dealing with people, even if this means the result is unwanted...


Update: Baba Mzungu notes a spokesperson for Labour leader Gordon Brown recently said "manifesto pledges are not subject to legitimate expectation."

Oranjepan says:
Greens have been eager to raise their profile ahead of an election in which they still wait to gain their first seat. They have made a string of pledges which they hope will gain public attention, but the sceptics may well say they've let their enthusiasm get to them and have been duped - this 'pledge' looks like an effective endorsement of their ideological opponents.

It was often said that Tony Blair's success as a politician came down to his ability to do sincerity - but would you trust a liar who promises not to lie? Clearly there are still many people who say 'yes'.

Politicians from the school of realpolitik will argue trust is overrated - what's needed are guarantees.


More from on the election trail


  1. I'm surprised you didn't mention where Cllr Swaine calls Naz Sarkar a liar. I asked him if he thought he was exempt from the pledge, he responded by attacking me.

  2. Adrian,
    I did cite that source, but Cllr Swaine doesn't use such words to describe Naz - only the Labour campaign. So in-keeping with the story I felt it worth sticking to the substantive matters.

    As the affair seems to show, pledges aren't always worth the paper they're written on.


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