Friday, 30 May 2014

Owning The Narrative: How The Far Right Wins In Elections

The Pirate Party didn't do that well in the last election. In Britain, the three Pirate Party candidates gained 8,597 votes altogether. That's 0.5 percent. It's not enough to win a seat in the local councils OR in the European Parliament.

In Europe overall, we got one MEP elected. Sweden's two didn't make it back in. So who got the popular vote in the Europarl elections? The Far Right. In the UK, that's UKIP.

What were British voters thinking?!

Take a look at this comment on HuffPo. Go on, read it. This is what they're thinking:

You know it, I know it, and the cat on the wall knows it. No amount of patient persuasion is going to convince them otherwise because they honestly believe the narrative the Far Right have sold them; that all their woes can be laid at the feet of the Foreigners Flooding Our Shores. This is why they believe it; neither Tory nor Labour governments have done anything to solve their problems.

The fact that there's no truth in UKIP's assertions is nothing to do with it. British people are seeing the cost of living rise and they've been provided with a scapegoat, a gift that keeps on giving. Try to imagine how crazy things would be if UKIP actually ran the country and decided to halt all immigration, or at least slow it down. I wouldn't be here for a start, I'm Irish. Mind you, I'm white...

So what can we do about it?

If we simply react to each and every accusation, such as the ignorant statement above, we're on the back foot, and losing the argument in the eyes of the public whether we can prove we're correct or not. We need to own the narrative and get UKIP and the Far Right on the defensive, struggling to answer us effectively. I'm not suggesting we have a media conversation about this, oh no. I'm calling for an all out online scrap at every opportunity.

Argument, not conversation

You'd be able to see my two exchanges with the MEP hopefuls at the Manchester Meetup if they hadn't been edited out (their roof, their rules, I'm not complaining. Ask Loz Kaye if it happened or not if you don't believe me) of the YouTube videos.

In the first one, on Surveillance, I declared that there is NO OVERSIGHT of GCHQ and that my MP Hazel Blears would not say plainly whether or not she needs permission to carry out her oversight duties. I invited the audience to try to get a straight answer out of their own MPs and see if they got the same result. 

In the next, I challenged the UKIP candidate about the lack of a free market to practice free market economics in. This was the Net Neutrality discussion. I suggested that increased competition would speed the advent of net neutrality because faster connection speeds would tempt consumers to go with new suppliers but UKIP was having none of it. "Market forces are at work," declared the former BT manager, who clearly had no idea what I was on about. 

"Yeah," I countered, "for the supply side. The demand side doesn't have much in the way of choice and take it or leave it isn't much of an option." 

All he could do was repeat himself, squirming in his seat like a maggot on a hook.

This is the kind of thing we need to do; go to their meetings, social media accounts, to the comments in their op eds or anywhere else where we can engage with them. There's no need to be rude or in any way abusive. Just be very firm about what the issues really are and force them to admit or to display the fact that they haven't got the answers in front of the biggest audience you can possibly get into. Will they retain support when people see their idols have got feet of clay? I think not.

Raise awareness in the mainstream

Are there really only 8,000-odd nerds and activists in the North West? No, of course not. However, the Pirate Party isn't well known outside of activist circles. Remember my computer shop gif? Here it is again.

Want to know what inspired it? My PC stopped working so I brought it in to the retailer I bought it from. There I had a conversation with the manager, who told me he spent £5k on music licensing a year. Had he ever heard of the Pirate Party? Nope. That's the problem. When people in the trade don't know who we are, what hope have we that Joe Bloggs down the road does?

Of course, it's important to manage our image carefully. The last thing we want is to permit people to perceive us as a political one-trick pony. That means we need to speak the language Joe Bloggs speaks and reach out to him as well as the activists and internet enthusiasts who seem to make up most of our base.

Own the narrative

I can't say how many times I've mentioned this before but this post pretty much covers it. We need to have our version of our story as the common public view, which it ain't. The current narrative is, "Hungry Hungry Hippos Foreigners Are Taking Over And Only UKIP Can Save The World Us." What it needs to be is, "Multinational Corporations Are Taking Over and Only The Pirate Party Can Save The World Us."

How can we get there?

  • Identify the bad guy
  • Identify the problem
  • Provide a solution
  • Engage thought leaders in conversation about it. Argue with them (be polite but firm)
  • Look for ways to reach bigger audiences. Ideally, you want people with a lot of reach to help spread the message

Hold your nose and look at UKIP's message to British voters: you know how your cost of living has rocketed? That's the foreigners, that is. You know how it's hard for you to find a job at a decent wage? That's the foreigners, that is. You know how we don't appear to be in control of our own country? That's the foreigners, that is.

No amount of gentle correction is going to shift that perception. We need to use the same tactics if we're going to have the same effect. You know how your cost of living has rocketed? That's the multinational corporations, that is. You know how it's hard for you to find a job at a decent wage? That's the multinational corporations, that is. You know how we don't appear to be in control of our own country? That's the multinational corporations, that is. They've completely subverted the democratic process. Have you noticed that the Western governments are all copying each others' policies? That's the multinational corporations, that is.

UKIP are noisy, bigoted, and say what many people actually think but wouldn't dare to say out loud. Political correctness and the threat of Plod knocking on your door for making off-colour jokes online just add to the general air of paranoia in which parties like them thrive. Their apparent fearlessness is what captures the public imagination. We need to do the same, but without the bigotry. The trick is to avoid coming across as shrill conspiracy theorists. We can do it; we know the internet. It's time to get to know the British public.

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