Attack lines that could hurt Brown and Cameron

Lib Dem leader hones campaign technique

As my colleague Samira Shackle notes elsewhere, Nick Clegg's media double-whammy this morning did little to move on the story of possible post-election deal-making.

In neither his appearance on Radio 4's Today programme nor his authored piece in the Times did the Liberal Democrat leader choose to be any clearer on which way he would jump in the event of a hung parliament.

But what his newspaper column did provide was a neat attack on both Labour and the Conservatives and their claims to be progressive. The lines are worth repeating because we will hear them again and again during the unofficial and official election campaign.

 

1. "Mr Brown has created a tax system where the poorest pay a higher proportion of their income in taxes than the rich."

This is the theme David Cameron warmed to during his party conference speech last October. Indeed, he sounded at his most impassioned -- and won his most sustained ovation -- during a passage that opened like this:

In Gordon Brown's Britain, if you're a single mother with two kids earning £150 a week, the withdrawal of benefits and the additional taxes mean that for every extra pound you earn, you keep just four pence.

Expect more of this from both Cameron and Clegg.

 

2. "Mr Cameron's top priority is tax cuts for millionaires."

The Tories' commitment to raise the inheritance-tax threshold inspired Gordon Brown's best one-liner of 2009:

This must be the only tax change in history where the people proposing it -- the leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor -- will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries.

As George Eaton wrote yesterday, inheritance tax could yet become politically toxic for the Tories, and not just because the revenue-recouping windfall tax on non-domiciles may not add up.

Both major parties had better ensure that their rebuttal units are working hard to combat these attacks.

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Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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