I find it funny that political parties, when attempting a verisimilitude of objectivity, dress their campaign materials up to look like newspapers. It's as if they're stuck in some previous era, when newspapers were regarded as some kind of reliable bringers of news and information, rather than the yelling parodies of partisanship and self-interest we know and love them as. "How do we get the public to trust our message? I know, we'll make ourselves look like those paragons of professionalism, the much-loved British press!"
This, for example, plopped onto my doormat (at least it would have done, had the cat not pissed on the doormat the other day in what I regard as a protest about the quality of election literature) this afternoon:
See how the top bit is made out to look a bit like a newspaper? And it's printed on cheapo Bronco paper as well, just like our inky friends in Fleet Street. But there the similarities end, because at least this bit of Tory trumpet-blowing coughs up where it's coming from right at the very start:
There you are, a picture of David Cameron and a clear message that it's from the Tories. In a way, then, I find this kind of thing, repulsive and awful as its contents may be to me, refreshingly honest. Sure, they may be calling their pretend newspaper 'News' and they might be printing it on newsprint and giving it a newspaper-style title to make you think it might be one of those crappy free papers whose only purpose is to be transported from letterbox to recycling bin with stories about craft fairs and coffee mornings; but at least they're nailing their colours to the masthead.
At least they aren't pretending, like our national newspapers, that they're just reporting the facts, or claiming some kind of investigative, journalistic approach, or saying that they are in any way independent. I kind of like that. It is what it is. It's dressed up like a newspaper, but since we know newspapers are a biased load of old cock, we enter into the spirit of things, and see through it straight away.
And when this newspaper talks about immigration
as if it really is one of the most important issues that matters to me (it isn't), at least they're honest about where they're coming from, rather than cobbling together a load of rubbish about housing queues, immigrants getting free cars, East Europeans eating swans, and so on. They just tell you what they want to do:
Don't get me wrong. I don't agree with it at all. But there seems something more honest and open about this Conservative fake newspaper than there is in a lot of the real newspapers you see. Having said all of which, the back cover has some scaremongering that's truly worthy of the screamsheets - and perhaps this is the scene of the Tories' final push.
Having failed to scare everyone about Nick Clegg (though as Ben Goldacre notes, smears are often more effective than corrections), and having failed to scare everyone about Gordon Brown attacking a defenceless 62-year-old bigot nice lady while on the campaign trail, they're moving on to fear of a hung parliament. I think it's a possibly fruitful avenue for them because not everyone can remember the last hung parliament, and it wasn't the most successful endeavour in the history of British politics anyway. So it's ripe territory for sprinkling the scare seeds.
But then there's something else I notice coming through on this page of the leaflet; there's a shrillness to the tone, a "You will sit back and take the medicine because we know what's good for you" kind of attitude. Apparently, I have all kinds of delightful idealistic dreams about a hung parliament, and I need some sense knocking into me. There's a whiff of being scolded again, just as I recall from the Mail's angry attitude towards its readers when some of them dared look the wrong way the other week.
And I think I know why that is. The fear isn't coming from us. It's coming from these people. They're the ones who are really scared; they're the ones who would have the most to lose in a hung parliament - the Tories, having spent Lord Ashcroft's millions on the 'Vote for Change' signs that litter the countryside, on the billboards and the leaflets like this, can't bear the thought of not getting the result they are entitled to; their friends in the press can't bear the thought of not getting the power they are entitled to. It's fear all right, but not amongst us - they're worried about not getting what they think they deserve.
I just wonder how many people will look at that leaflet, and treat it as a source of news, or as just another source of propaganda, as they would treat any daily newspaper, those toxic brands that people are turning away from in their thousands. And I wonder how deeply the messages about fear penetrate, when it's not us who should be afraid. But we'll see. Maybe Thursday night is the time for fear to really start.