Trying to understand a UK general election awash with confusion

The use of spin and slogans over coherent policy communication has made this election hard to follow.

Whatever individual, company or special taskforce has been charged with formulating party messaging in this general election, all of their work be traced back to one original source. That is Original Source, the shower gel manufacturers, the company with a branding team so assured of their product’s worth that every bottle celebrates its own exuberant excess.

“40 Real Zingy Limes”, make one 250ml bottle of lime shower gel and if that seems like unnecessary over-filling then do avoid the Mint and Tea Tree body wash which is “crammed” with no less than “7,927 Tingling Leaves”. Yes, 7,927 leaves of mint for you to tingle yourself with and one might have thought Cleopatra was opulent for having a bath in milk.

That nobody hesitates in buying these products is not testament to the skill of Original Source’s advertising team but rather to a wider culture where an endless stream of  numbers and statistics  leave people in disarray. The Conservatives “will increase the overall schools budget by £4 billion by 2022” according to the party’s manifesto.

But is that a proportionate commitment to spending on education or is £4 billion meagre in the context of inflation and the current educational budget? How many bottles of shampoo could I make out of 4 billion mangos? The only response to any of these questions is a mantra of “strong and stable”.

This very same innumeracy seems to plague a number of politicians charged with delivering truth to the people. Diane Abbott, shadow Home Secretary and likely disaster whenever precision is needed, took her time in deciding on exactly how much money was being pledged in Labour’s policy on police funding that aims to recruit 10,000 new officers over the next four years. It would cost “about £300,000”, she said to Nick Ferrari live on LBC radio.

Except that it wouldn’t, because it would really cost “about £80 million” but even that would be teasing, because in fact it would really be “£800 million”. By which, of course, she meant  £300 million per year by 2022, as later clarified by the party.

The left has no monopoly on faulty memory or poor maths, the tendency to muddle numbers has appeared, more troublingly, in the  Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, who shaved a cool £20m off the cost of High Speed 2 (HS2) railway despite being responsible for the department doing all the government’s sums.  

HS2 would link London, the East Midlands and Manchester and while nobody seems quite sure whether it’s a good idea, its construction allows for lines like being “off the rails” and “runaway trains”. Because of course this is the sort of thing that  really gets the youth involved in politics.

Not that the youth need any more encouragement. Facebook is rife with statuses and stock articles about the importance of voting, most of which assert that our forebears died for the right to vote. Then again, if we are ascribing ideological value to something because people died for it then it is easy to see why the Conservative austerity locomotive rolls on, crashing into hospitals, the homeless and elderly, ensuring that their sacrifice will be to the gain of our children’s boss’s boss.

Still talking about the importance of democracy and the necessity of discussion seems to be a pleasant, neutral path to tread for those intent on avoiding the divisive state of British politics. None more so than Jeremy Corbyn, whose repeated calls for Theresa May to  debate him on television has allowed him to avoid discussing most other issues.

Though it is a fair point to level at May, whose campaign, until now,  has involved vetted crowds of supporters, limited press interviews, and a language composed entirely of slogans. Even when May is not hiding behind tired reiterations of strength and stability, any hope for clarity is forlorn.

There has been a u-turn in the Conservatives’ social care programme on their proposed “dementia tax”, where wealthy patients would have to cover some of the cost of their at-home care. This was widely criticised for penalising those living with dementia requiring a revision of the policy.

Nevertheless, as the BBC  reported, “The prime minister insisted that ‘nothing had changed’ and ‘the basic principles’ set out in the manifesto remained in place.” Nothing happened and, even if it did, then May’s firm commitment to discriminating against those in care remains intact, all adding to this culture of dissonant confusion where nobody understands anything.

The only thing that seems certain in this election is the demise of UKIP, though this doesn’t seem much of a death at all. While their current,  and most likely final, leader, Paul Nuttall, is a slapdash demagogue who readily forgets female politicians’ names, his party is not so much discredited as disbanded.

Having achieved its sole purpose the United Kingdom Independence Party can no longer be a credible means for its members’ views and accordingly they seem to have returned to Labour or the Conservatives. Though Ukip was something of a blot on the political landscape, its passing is disquieting: Britain’s allergy to European cosmopolitanism has become invisible in its ubiquity, the bright rash of discontent now hidden under the skin of mainstream politics.

The political system has developed for all manner of reasons but it’s now apparent that  parties’ spin leaves people trying to piece together messages and soundbites that were never meant to be understood coherently.

In selling cut-rate spin and slogans, parties have encouraged the wholesale cheapening of the body politic, leaving democracy little more than white foam atop the browning tide of popular opinion.