Franklin D. Roosevelt campaigned against Herbert Hoover in the 1932 US presidential election by saying as little as possible about what he might do if elected, a circumstance which has unmistakable parallels to the British Election Campaign. Unfortunately, Britain is a victim. We live in an information age, yet it seems that politicians are keen to say as much as they can, without really saying anything at all. Why, if Britain had a pound for every time a politician evaded a question she would be able to clear the deficit herself! Speeches during the election campaign were saturated with positive lexis about a ‘better Britain’ (note: the alliteration which makes that sound-byte oh-so-catchy), as well as empty phrases which sound good but don’t hold politicians to account if their party is elected to office.
That said it’s unsurprising that politicians covered their backs in this campaign; after all, Nick Clegg showed what happens when you make an explicit promise to the electorate but fail to deliver. In an ideal world, politicians would be honest about their policy aims and priorities during a campaign, including who they would enter a coalition with if they were not able to reach a majority. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a real one; a world where politics is a game and sometimes a party has to play dirty if they want to win.
Whilst FDR played the silent game during his campaign, he’s more well-known for immortalising the devastating power of fear in his inaugural address:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
The Conservative party’s greatest campaign tool was not promises about what they would offer the electorate in return for their vote. It was fear. A dark, evil tool of manipulation which they used to instil fear in voters, regarding a hypothetical influence the SNP might have on Britain if the outcome of the election had been a Labour-SNP coalition. Certainly, the newspapers helped the Conservative campaign by cultivating an image of Labour’s leader as a man who can barely eat a bacon sandwich, much less represent English interests in the shadow of Nicola Sturgeon and the Scots. The Conservative campaign won out over Labour’s positive rhetoric of “putting working people first” because it seems working people were more fearful of self-interested Scots than they were of privileged Tories.
The outcome of the election is alarming. Not only do we now have a Conservative majority government unregulated by the Liberal Democrats, but we have a nation that is divided. Whilst the political tool of fear may have allowed David Cameron to walk back into No. 10, his party failed to recognise the broader picture impact of such a strategy. An overwhelming victory for the SNP in Scotland means the United Kingdom risks being ‘united’ no longer. With Scots wanting an end to austerity, it seems hard to comprehend how David Cameron can satiate their appetite. The two countries want completely different things, and with their marriage on the rocks, talk of divorce is bound to be just around the corner. The union has not been an easy ride; Britain’s history books are rich with English and Scottish conflict. Yet the outcome of the Scottish referendum confirmed that we’re better off together. A Conservative government that has no intention of providing the end to austerity that rallied Scots to vote for the SNP is an incredibly destructive force that could ruin relations between Scotland and England beyond the point of reconcile.
Roosevelt was wrong. There are plenty of things to be fearful of. I, for one, am incredibly afraid of the Conservatives and what they could do to our nation.