This is a longer blog post than usual. Please stick with it – I think you’ll find it interesting.
The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted the following story on The Mail’s website during the election campaign: Gordon Brown tripped up by ‘celeb’ would-be MP (here is a screengrab in case the page is taken down).
Now lets’ get one thing straight from the start. The Mail are quite right: I am a rubbish ‘Celebrity’. Trying to be famous is a full-time job, and it has just never seemed worth it to me. I’m not interested in night clubs, I don’t drink, and while I have nothing against soaps, I’ve no particular desire to spend my evenings with the cast of Eastenders, so it seems to me that ‘Celebrity’ has little to offer. I’m not famous, but I’m in a famous band. I think it’s the best of both worlds, because I can go about my days largely unmolested, but I still get to headline Glastonbury.
That said, what about the rest of the article?
Apparently Gordon Brown had planned a ‘series of high-profile photoshoots’ with me. When I saw this, I called Dan, my campaign organiser. He said no one had contacted him, but if true, a request would have had to come through the London Region office. Dan gave them a call, but it was the first they had heard of it. Region called Number 10, but they were baffled as well.
So had The Mail just made this up? Thinking on it over breakfast, it had to be rubbish. What are ‘high-profile photoshoots?’ High-profile for who? Gordon Brown is genuinely famous. What good would it do him to be photographed with me? So the implication was that this was for my benefit. But if any election candidate wants a picture with their Party leader, it can easily be arranged. If I’d wanted a picture of the pair of us grinning together, I would already have had one.
And how could these photoshoots be high-profile? What newspaper would print a photo of me standing next to Gordon Brown? Let alone a whole series of them. What would be the story?
The rest of the article didn’t seem to hang together either. Apparently, ‘Labour chiefs’ were ‘galled’ by the fact that I called for a return of the 20p starter rate of income tax. Well it’s true that I have talked about it, but the article says this was particularly galling because Gordon Brown had recently admitted that abolishing the 20p rate was a mistake. So Gordon and I agree on the issue. So why would this be particularly galling for the Labour chiefs?
The article says that it is ‘Leftwingers’ who have complained that abolition of the starter rate disproportionately hit the poor, but then it quotes former Tory Chairman Eric Pickles as saying exactly the same thing. Is The Mail saying that Pickles is a leftwinger?
Then there are the quotes from me. A nice woman from The Mail did write some time ago and ask if I wanted to do an interview, but I never replied. To read the article, you’d think I had spoken to the journalist. Apparently, I ‘warm to my theme’ and say
“I’ve had a successful musical career as the drummer in Blur. Thanks to that, I am in a position where I can make myself heard in ways that others might not be able to do. My top priority: to lead a campaign to reinstate the lower 10p tax rate.“
And in response to criticism (presumably from Number 10), I’m supposed to have said
“I am a new kind of politician.”
But I didn’t. So where have all these quotes come from?
Well let me explain a bit about how I ran my campaign.
There are around 70,000 electors in the constituency I was fighting – the Cities of London and Westminster. We didn’t have the resources to knock on every door or print 70,000 copies of every leaflet, so we tended to targeted certain areas where we thought the Labour vote would be the strongest. Election law allows candidates to post one letter to everyone in their constituency free of charge, provided the candidates supply the letters. So I used this service to try and plug the gaps, and make sure that everyone in the constituency got at least one leaflet from me.
The Post Office have quite complicated regulations for how the letters have to be sorted and bagged when given to them for delivery, so the Labour Party have a central computer system that takes care of this. It is web-based, and you basically pick a leaflet template, slot in your own words and pictures, and the program creates the leaflet, forwards you a proof for checking, and then sends it on to the printers, where it is automatically printed, sorted and bagged in the correct way.
Here is the proof of one of the leaflets I sent out using this system (pdf). Notice anything? All the quotes have been lifted from here.
The headline of the leaflet is
“I am a new kind of politician.”
Fourth on my list of ‘Top Priorities’ is
“To lead a campaign to reinstate the lower 10p tax rate.”
Under ‘Making Myself Heard’ I say
“I’ve had a successful musical career as the drummer in Blur. Thanks to that I am in a position where I can make myself heard in ways that others might not be able to. I think I have a duty to use my fortunate position responsibly.“
Maybe the journalist lives in the constituency? Certainly he has taken some quotes from an election leaflet of mine, and strung them together to make it look like I’d had a falling-out with the Party. It’s my first experience of the press simply making a story up, and I have to admit that until then I was a bit cynical when people suggested that they actually did things like that.
The really ridiculous thing about this whole affair is this. As part of the leaflet service, you can have the Labour Party check over your material for you, and suggest out any corrections or improvements. I had taken them up on the offer with this very leaflet, and had indeed made some sensible changes as a result. So I already knew the Party were fine with my 20p campaign.
And just for the record, I’m not married – I divorced many years ago, and I’ve no idea if I ever described myself as a “little g*t”.
But if I did, I stand by that description.