As the general election lumbers ineluctably into view, householders across the United Kingdom must brace themselves for an avalanche of political leaflets. But hold on a minute before you bin the bumf.
According Richard Pope, web designer and political provocateur, there is a mine of unintended information in the annoying pamphlets littering your doormat. Pope told the meeting of the Brighton Future of News Group (BFONG) at the Skiff last night that careful monitoring of such material can prevent politicians getting away with murder.
Pope’s election leaflet project, The Straight Choice, is an attempt to turn the propaganda back on the spin doctors. He outlined a number of ways that journalists (and by implication any engaged citizen) can use leaflets to dig out inconvenient truths. Among these were:
- Track down ‘fake supporters’. Pope highlighted how a supposed group of British National Party members featured in one leaflet were, in fact, a group of Italian models whose photo the BNP had lifted from another source.
- Follow the money. A close reading of the small print detailing where the leaflet was printed can lead you to often surprising information about political donors.
- Spot the spoof: in a desperate attempt to snare your attention, the parties will dress up their dreary slogans as gossip magazine fodder. And you thought photos of celebs in front of their mantelpieces were dodgy – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
- Capture the contradictions. We all know that politicians of every stripe will promise the moon in order to get elected. But they trust us to forget about their lunar pledges as soon as we have tossed aside the handbill. Pope’s website aims to keep them on message and under the microscope.
- Splat the stats. It is amusing and instructive to compare the surreal use of statistics as politicians play the numbers game to support any policy they choose.
Pope was candid over his desire to see a party official lose a job over a gaffe highlighted by his website. A more measured ambition is to improve the quality of political debate – moving it away from gratuitous character attacks to sensible arguments over policy.
Don’t fret, however, if you are not deluged with leaflets in the coming weeks – this simply means that you live in an area where a donkey with the right rosette would find itself in Westminster. As Dan Wilson, who is campaigning for Nancy Platts in the Brighton Pavilion constituency, told the meeting, the prime purpose of leafleting is to gather names and addresses of each party’s supporters so they can get the vote out on the day. And he sucked the air out of the room when he suggested that the influence of newspapers on voting intentions is negligible.
“I’m not convinced that the Argus wields political influence,” he said.
It’s time politicos made their minds up about this. They accuse newspaper owners of claiming the prerogative of the harlot in one breath and of inconsequence with the other. Inconsistency from our elected representatives? Perish the thought.