...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Day 2092: Luntz and Future King


Good news! My fluffy friend Mr Frank Luntz has NOT been sacked from the Newsnight Show after all! He's back and cuddlier than ever.

Who would have thought that the DEADLY JAPANESE BLOWFISH could be made into a CUDDLY TOY! But back to Mr Luntz…

Many of you will remember how CLEVER Mr Frank got all the Conservatories to admit they were having THOUGHTS about Mr Balloon. This time around, he has set out to show the Labour that what they really want is FLUFFITY BUNNY Dr John "nice" Reid.

If Mr Frank was a MAGICIAN and not a RESPECTABLE POLLSTER this trick would be one done by DAVID BLAINE.

No, not the sitting in a glass box while the public throw post-sell-by-date FRUITS at you. (Although, that is a THOUGHT – perhaps Lord Blairimort could squeeze that into his farewell tour!)

What I mean is the sort of CLOSE UP street magic that looks impossible to fake!

So, first the GOOD NEWS: Mr Paxo introduced Mr Frank as "respected REPUBLICAN" which is GOOD as you will remember that I thought that people would be better informed if they knew Mr Frank's political leanings.

The segment was then directed to – it would appear – show as much of the process as possible by using SPEEDED UP film to whiz through the boring bits of handing out bits of paper and stuff.

Having said that, there is still some BAD NEWS. Mr Frank got to pick the list of candidates to be the leader after Lord Blairimort; Mr Frank got to pick the audience panel; and Mr Frank got to pick the clips of speeches and interviews that the panel were shown, of which as before we were only shown clips to illustrate Mr Frank's points.

Poor Mr Frank, he will think that there is not a lot that he can do to convince me.

The Candidates

Mr Frank had chosen six candidates to represent a possible contest to be the Labour's leader. They were Mr Frown (obviously) and Mr Dr Reid along with Mr MacDonald the left winger who has said that he will run (assuming he can get 44 of the Labour MPs to sign his nomination). The other three were Mr Alan Johnson, Mr Alan Milburn and Mr Alan David Millipede (though he will change his name to Alan if you want).

There is a certain amount of GUESSWORK and SELECTION involved in this list because – unlike the Conservatories last year – the Labour contest has not started yet. (Because Lord Blairimort is unwilling to fire the starting pistol unless he can point it at Mr Frown's head, it would seem.)

This means that possible candidates like Mr Hilary (remember who his daddy is?) Benn and Mr John (remember who he is at all?) Hutton were not on the list while on it were Mr "I've quit twice" Milburn who is a little past his sell by date, and Mr Millipede and Mr Dr Reid who have both said that they do not want the job. Honest. Cross their hearts and hope to die. Well, maybe not actually die… Okay, if you ask us nicely we will do the job…

For that matter why were there no WOMEN? Or genuine LEFT-WINGERS? Or genuine WOMEN LEFT-WINGERS even? Ms Diane Abbott or Ms Glenda Jackson or Ms Claire Snort all would have strong NAME RECOGNITION and might have impressed the panel. Of course you might say that it is not credible that they could gather the support within the Labour in parliament to mount a campaign – but then the question is what was the POINT of Mr Frank's panel? To choose between ACTUAL candidates (of whom there are NONE yet, see above for Lord Blairimort in the Labour headquarters with the starting pistol) or to examine the sort of leader that the Labour people really want?

Still, I am not going to blame Mr Frank for this. NOBODY believes Mr Dr Reid's declarations of non-interest (even if they are TRUE!) and Mr Alan Johnson is quite BORING enough to represent Mr Benn or Mr Hutton or indeed any number of other totally FORGETTABLE middle rank ministers.

I am not going to blame Mr Frank because it is simply not his FAULT – the years of the Labour rule, and Lord Blairimort appointing either his own yes-men or Mr Frown's yes-men, and the sacking of people with some independence because they might be a threat have all eroded the pool of talent available (and just the same thing happened to the Conservatories under Lady Thatcher – how else did Mr Minor rise to the top?).

So if you sit down and ask yourself the PRACTICAL QUESTION "if the next Prime Minister wasn't going to be Mr Frown who could it be?" you will quickly realise that (as of RIGHT NOW) Mr Dr Reid is actually the ONLY person on the list: he is the only politician from the Labour who has had any GOOD NEWS this year even if good news for Mr Dr Reid was horrible news for everybody else.

Also in political terms he is an ULTRA-LOYAL Blairite without the catastrophic disadvantage of LOOKING like an ultra-loyal Blairite (I am sorry Mr Hutton and Mr Milburn – you might as well have "hand built by robots" stamped onto your plastic bottoms).

To be quite honest, Mr Dr Reid looks like TAGGART. You know how it was: there would be dead bodies all over the floor, and bound to be lots more before the hour was up, but at least there was the STONY VISAGE of a thoroughly MISERABLE Mr Mark McMannus to REASSURE you that life would go on, probably in the same killingly depressing fashion.

Actually, Mr Dr Reid's not PROPER Taggart; he's more like that dough-faced cloud of glum they've got in at the moment to keep the franchise alive. Appropriately enough.

So anyway, the point is that Mr Frank has got to have a list that is Mr Frown and Mr Dr Reid and all the others are in there to make up numbers so that people think that they have a big field to choose from without actually being exciting enough for them to be chosen.

The Panel

Quite early on we were told that Mr Frank's panel were made up of ten Labour loyalists, ten Labour leaning voters and ten floating voters, who might have voted for the Conservatories or the Liberal Democrats in the past.

That means that straight off we know that Mr Frank has had to do some sort of SELECTION on the people who appear.

As always, I do hope no one thinks that this means DISHONESTY!

Picking a DEMOGRAPHIC sample is VERY TRICKY and usually you have to have a good thousand people to be considered representative, so Mr Frank was always going to be VERY LUCKY to get anything statistically meaningful out of a room of thirty people.

And the people on the panel can all HONESTLY hold their own opinions – they do not have to be patsies of Mr Frank.

Just remember that they were chosen to fit a demographic so that will affect the outcome.

If the people picked all had to be "readers of THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES" you would not be surprised if the answer to "what is your favourite colour?" turned out to be BLACK, would you?

I do wonder what this sort of mix was supposed to represent though. If you were asking "who would be best leader among the whole country?" you would surely want Liberal and Conservatory voters too; if you were asking "who will the Labour pick as their leader?" then you would only want the Labour members. Mixing up "Labour loyalists" and "floating voters" (how do you pick the number of Conservatories to Liberal Democrats?) seems strange. I am sure that there is a good explanation for this though.

Other things that we learned about this panel were that they were all from London and – in answer to one of Mr Frank's questions – that quite a lot of them, maybe about a third, were against Mr Frown for being SCOTTISH.

But Mr Dr Reid is Scottish too, you might very well say, but the point about the Scottish question is what it tells us about the SORT of Londoners who were on Mr Frank's panel.

London may be ten percent of the population of Britain, but it is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole and Mr Frank's choice of panel seems calculated likely to EXCLUDE one sort of voter. Let me just say that I do not think that there were very many LIBERALS in that room.

(Not NONE – you can trust Mr Frank to have made sure that there were AT LEAST one or two, it just seems that there might not have been many more.)

If you exclude small "L" liberals, then you are giving a big lift to the Home Secretary, WHOEVER he happens to be, just because he is Mr Law and Order.

And yet, across much of the North of England and in Scotland, the choice at elections is now between the Labour and the Liberal, and the big questions in politics at the moment are all about liberty versus authoritarianism. Has Mr Frank been UNLUCKY and missed something IMPORTANT?

Might Mr Frank have ACCIDENTALLY gotten his panel skewed towards working working class voters who vote for the Labour or are straight switchers between the Labour and the Conservatories (or the BNP if they are from the Dagenham area)?

And on that Scottish question, Mr Dr Reid is a DIFFERENT SORT of Scottish from Mr Frown. It is the difference between coming from Edinburgh and Glasgow; it is the difference between being a bank manager and a bouncer; it is the difference between, basically, being – or appearing – middle class and working class. Could there have been a "one of us" factor at work in Mr Frank's chosen audience?

Wouldn't it be a shame if Mr Frank's EXCITING result were only a result of the people that he picked rather than because of some wider truth?

The Presentation

Do you remember how I REMARKED on the fact that last year Mr Balloon's picture had the TOP LEFT position on Mr Frank's pin board? It is not a BIG thing, but it might help just a little bit to put that person in people's minds when they are later asked who do they think of first.

Well Mr Frown's was in that position this year, so he ought to have had the same advantage, do you not think. And last year, the Conservatories on the LOWER level did not do so well; but this year Mr Dr Reid was placed at the BOTTOM RIGHT, and yet he was very successful.

Does this mean that I was WRONG?

Well, maybe, because you should ALWAYS consider the possibility that I am talking out of my TRUNK!

On the other fluffy foot, this year we saw Mr Frank take the photographs out of their envelopes in front of the audience and ask them if they knew who they were before pinning them up on the board in order.

I THINK that they came out in ALPHABETICAL order this time, so it is just COINCIDENTAL that Mr Frown was first to appear and Mr Dr Reid was the last to appear.

(Entirely as an aside, have you noticed how in MOVIE TITLES, if you are not going to appear first then next best place to appear is LAST, because that way you are the one who is REMEMBERED by the people watching the film. "And Martin Sheen" or "And Max Von Sydow". You always remember those guys, don't you. Not that that has ANYTHING to do with THIS, of course!)

It would be interesting to know if Mr Frank did this last year. I seem to recall that the pin board was already set up with pictures last year, but that might just be because the Newsnight show edited the taking-them-out-of-envelopes bit out.

Asking the "do you know who they are" question is a BIT unfortunate because it is going to fix in people's heads who are the SOMEBODIES and who are the NOBODIES right from the get go.

Mr Frank then led a discussion about each candidate in turn. (By "led" I mean "facilitated", of course, because actually LEADING the panel would be BAD!) This was followed by written homework biographies of the six, as provided by DOWNING STREET to make sure it was IMPARTIAL. (Do not roll your eyes!) And finally onto Mr Frank's signature piece: the video clips with the popularity dials.

Here is a thought: perhaps those clips could all be put up on the Newsnight Show's website so that we could all see what the panel saw. (Although Daddy would probably have to go back to Brighton to use the wi-fi in order to watch them!)

As it was, we WERE able to tell that Mr Frown's clips included a bit of one of his droney speeches and his recent interview with Mr Andy Marr about how he had really, really, really, really, really not orchestrated the campaign to have Lord Blairimort assassinated. Really.

Funnily enough, the panel thought that he was the teensiest bit SHIFTY after that.

Mr Dr Reid got a clip of him telling the public how he had PERSONALLY wrestled Osama Bin Laden to the ground and BEATEN a confession out him, thus saving everyone IN THE WORLD from being exploded by BABY MILK on aeroplanes from Heathrow, Stanstead and Biggins Hill.

This went down quite well. Or rather, it was so popular that several of Mr Frank's dial machines EXPLODED themselves, so high was the approval rating.

For the interview bit, Mr Frank showed them the famous episode of the Newsnight Show when Mr Paxo VERY RUDELY called Mr Dr Reid an "attack dog" and Mr Dr Reid gently pointed out his error by biting his leg off and hitting him with the wet end. Until he cried.

To be honest, we were as surprised as Mr Frank that this didn't prove even more popular than Mr Dr Reid's "Mr Dr Reid is a JAMES BOND hero" speech.

Still, given the choice of those two, who do YOU think is the more exciting?

(Is it REALLY necessary to point out that all of the BORING people tested out as BORING?)

The Questions

So, as Dr Who says on "The Pirate Planet" what's it all for?

"Well, the simplest answer is the entertainment factor. "Front runner Mr Frown most popular to take over" – you could hardly get more "Dog Bites Man" in a headline, could you?

So OBVIOUSLY you want the story to be "Mr Frown suffers rejection BLOW" or "Mr Frown HUMILIATED" or "Lady McBlairimort STICKS KNIFE in Mr Frown". (Er, that's someone ELSE'S headline, actually.)

Politically, though, what's in it for Mr Frank? The respected Republican.

Well, it is ALMOST CERTAIN that Mr Frown is going to be the next leader of the Labour. If he ISN'T then Mr Dr Reid is really the only other possibility and if he should happen to get the job, Mr Frank looks like a GENIUS.

But assuming that Mr Frown DOES get to be leader, it is ALSO almost certain that he will get a drubbing from the electorate at the next general election. And then Mr Frank will be able to say "ah ha, but I told you they should have picked Mr Dr Reid".

(Mr Frown's best hope, incidentally, is to go for an election QUICKLY – that ol' HONEYMOON thang – but he is far too CAUTIOUS, and the Labour is far too BROKE to do that, so the election will still be two or three years away and people will hate him again by then.)

Then there is also the damage to Mr Frown's reputation that this result does. The media are building a myth that Mr Frown isn't really very popular. Mr Frown helps them out in this a LOT. This result will help to reinforce that myth, and that UNDERMINES Mr Frown's credibility even if he DOES get to be PM.

Who does this help?

(Clue: It’s Mr Balloon.)

Equally, talking up the more right-wing and authoritarian Mr Dr Reid furthers the Conservatory cause in two ways: it moves the centre of public debate further to the right without Mr Balloon having to edge further to the left; and it makes the Labour leadership be about being more authoritarian at a time when Mr Balloon is holding up shocked mittens and posing as a liberal conservatory.

So Mr Frank has several reasons to be VERY HAPPY with the outcome of his COMPLETELY IMPARTIAL experiment.

Mr Frown will NOT be so happy. Just think: someone on Mr Frank's panel called him "MACHIAVELLIAN"!

Ooh, my IRONY dial has exploded!

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