Many years ago, a tabloid newspaper played an unkind prank on the author of a very long and much talked-about literary novel. They sent a reporter to various bookshops to place a slip of paper into copies of the book 50 pages or so from the end. The slip said that if you phoned a particular phone number, the newspaper would pay you a fiver. Gleefully, some weeks later, they reported that nobody had telephoned to collect their prize — from which they deduced that despite its sales figures, practically nobody was actually reading the book to the end.
About halfway through reading [Britian’s opposition leader and Labor leader] Keir Starmer’s new pamphlet for the Fabian Society – The Road Ahead – I wondered idly whether a similar prank had been played. Somewhere in italic type, halfway through a paragraph on the penultimate page, perhaps there was a message: ‘The first person to call 1-800-KEIR gets to be Shadow Home Secretary.’ It’s the only explanation — that the document is a loyalty test aimed at a very small handful of close advisers — that I could see for such a thing to be published.
He said more in this infamous photo than in his 12,000 word manifesto
Brevity is the essence:
The essence of political communication is getting your message across to voters. Who on earth does Mr Starmer expect to read 12,000 words on his political vision? We live, as he will recognise, in an attention economy — where the hour or two he asks of his readers is in competition with, among other things, catching up with Vigil on iPlayer, going for a healthful country walk, or watching the old Farrow and Ball mouse-grey mellow in colour as it dries on your living-room wall.
The only people liable to read this pamphlet are people who obsessively love Keir Starmer, who won’t be persuaded by it, or people who obsessively hate Keir Starmer, who also won’t be persuaded by it. Or people who are being paid to read and write about it, like me, who will very much resent the time spent and probably do it in a slightly half-assed way, what with the whole eyes-glazing thing. …
That is what philosophers might call a category error and political communications experts would call flat incompetence. Say what you like about Dominic Cummings (everybody does, and he doesn’t mind a bit); he recognised that the attention-span of the average British voter will run to about three words. Those words don’t need to make much sense — indeed, emotive abstractions work best — but if you repeat them often enough, they’ll have some sort of effect.
Maybe he doesn’t actually want to say anything? The left’s support mainly comes from virtue signalers going along with the dominant political ideology, and from those who profit by bigger government. Neither of these can be mentioned out loud by any leftist politician, so why say anything? He’s just pretending to be serious:
The only thing striking about Starmer’s pamphlet is how ridden with cliches, how boring, how badly written it is. It is a groaning tumbril of dead metaphors trundling along the slow road to nowhere. I imagine that his retreat into mind-numbing rote phrases is, politically speaking, an effort to avoid saying anything very much at all. …
Whole paragraphs sail by …, saying as far as I can tell literally nothing at all. …
The supposed nub of this pamphlet – promised on the very first page and only delivered on the last one as bullet-points – is Sir Keir’s ‘Ten simple key principles to form a new agreement between Labour and the British people’. …
See if you can find one among those that adds up to a specific promise; one among those that contains an original thought or an original turn of phrase; indeed, see if you can find one among those that is not so vague that any politician or voter could agree with it.
Generic politicians want to be able to promise each voter whatever it is they want, but they don’t want other voters to know about the promises — both because they make incompatible promises to different groups, and because some groups get much sweeter deals than others.
So, in a communication that can be read by everyone, if their real pitch is granting money and privileges from government then they cannot say anything, really.