The Tories abandoned the usual Party Political broadcast format this evening, in favour of an appeal from a range of Ministers and others on behalf of the East African famine crisis. Twitter’s response so far has been mixed – from Jon Gaunt castigating them for “using dying kids to get votes” to others describing it as “decidedly different” and “random” – there will no doubt be a more varied response if it’s repeated after the news at 10, when the politicos settle down with their cocoa and get ready to luxuriate in Newsnight. I’ll look out for the debate.
With much relief I can reveal that I disagree with Gaunty.
Personally I think it might be the most interesting piece of political PR the Tories have done in a long time, as well as a pragmatic response to a difficult content issue.
What would have been the point of a standard pitch for votes when the nearest election where those votes might be useful is far over the horizon? And what could they say about policy and politics which doesn’t raise the spectres of the many, many problems the electorate are currently facing and drag down the public mood? So why not try something to position the Tories as caring and generous and concerned with bigger issues than petty politics? Why not use it as an opportunity to humanise the party a bit – getting away from the notion that they’re just posh, white men in suits - and let them send themselves up a bit? Why not stress the party’s commitment to international aid – a rare example of policy that appeals to people from beyond the traditional Tory vote? Oh, and in the process, why not try to raise some money for an extremely good cause?
They’ve obviously decided that the risks - that people will see it as exploiting human tragedy or a way of ducking out of a conversation about domestic politics – are worth taking. It’s not been a great week for the Tories’ PR machine what with the cat flap, and the hasty re-write of the Leader’s speech - but this is an intriguing note to end on. Smart PR, cynical stunt, generous gesture or all three?