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COMMENT: Election fever is here and we all need a lie down

By Toby Neal | Opinions | Published:

Ready, steady... splat!

File photo dated 26/09/18 of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) and Tom Watson, as the party have announced Mr Watson will be stepping down as both the deputy leader and as an MP. PA Photo. Issue date: Wednesday November 6, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Election Watson. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The general election race is under way and there have already been slips and gaffes to savour.

And it hasn't even needed Boris Johnson to get going for us to have a bumper crop. He'll catch up as soon as he's climbed out of that ditch.

Here are some of the key points from the first few days as the battle lines are drawn.

The Tories have promised to splash out lots.

Labour has promised to splash out lots, and lots, and lots.

Oh, and the Liberal Democrats say they will have lots to spend as well – a £50 billion "Remain bonus" if Brexit is ditched.

On the subject of Brexit, the Tories will get Brexit "done", Labour will get Brexit "sorted", and the Lib Dems will say "*******s" to Brexit.

Soon we'll be getting to see their manifestos which will be full of promises which the commentators will take seriously, although experience should tell them that whatever is in them is prone to be quickly forgotten or even reversed after the election result is in. They are just discussion documents, not a binding contract with voters.

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Saying they will be full of promises allows me to go off on a bit of a hobby horse of mine about how you and me, the electorate, can be subconsciously brainwashed by the use of language.

Politicians love to say these days that language has consequences. They are talking about the crude, broad brushstroke stuff, whereas it is the stuff which nobody notices which is really insidious.

Consider, for instance, this sentence. The unions have threatened to go on strike, and the management has promised to resolved things.

This is not a neutral statement. A threat conjures up images of peril and danger. It is a bad thing. A promise is a reassurance, a good thing.

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You are left with the impression that the unions are the problem, and the management is the solution. Brainwashed, see?

Listen out for commentators saying that the manifestos are full of promises on this and that, and remember when it happens that your brain is being softened up with soft soap and soft sell.

You'll never hear them saying manifestos are full of threats or, for that matter, non-binding aspirations.

The subject of fake news brings us on to Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader who is not standing for re-election.

That is not fake news, by the way, he really is standing down. He says it is a personal rather than a political decision, but come on, it was ridiculous to have a deputy leader of a party advocating completely different policy to that of the party leader.

Anyone would have thought there was more than one faction in Labour.

Before we learned he was standing down, he wrote to broadcasters to say that Boris Johnson wilfully ignores standards of decency observed by previous leaders and calling them to challenge him if he gets up to his "fake news" tricks.

This is a case of one politician calling another politician a liar – "trust me, not him." So his letter will be put on file in the usual place.

But yes, let's have some rigorous but polite journalistic questioning during this campaign in which the politicians are actually asked things, rather than given verbal cues to go off on their scripted soundbites.

By asked things, I mean ask them for the facts on which they are basing their soundbites.

These are often the most telling questions because you learn if they know what they are talking about, have a grasp of their brief, and have a political point built intellectually on a firm foundation, rather than based on prejudice and lazy sloganising.

So if they are complaining about, say, the price of milk, ask them the price of milk.

Incidentally, in his resignation letter, Mr Watson says he's got a book on "downsizing" coming out in the New Year.

Wonder what the dimensions will be.

...........................

In the wake of my confident forecast last week that England would win the rugby world cup because the South African team were limited kick merchants, I admit I should have made a couple of things clear.

There were one or two variables that I accept I did not take into account in my calculations.

Who could have predicted that the South African team would have had a breakaway try or two? Then there were those scandalous penalties given against a clearly dominant England scrum by an unsighted referee.

So I apologise to all South African readers, although as it happened not a single one got in touch to yah boo hiss.

And all credit to your team on their splendid win.

But just wait until we get you at Twickenham.

........................

Poppy, pin. Pin, poppy. Should be easy, shouldn't it?

What they don't provide you with is any instructions. Over the years I have tried a variety of different methods. The most obvious is to put the pin through your jacket or top and then push the poppy behind so it's held in place.

But based on experience, as it always fell out, I resorted to different approaches including actually pushing the pin through the plastic stalk of the poppy, and as it's quite difficult and sometimes bends, even heating the pin to red hot and then pushing it through.

None of the above has proven satisfactory and I lost my poppy this time round (impaling technique tried) within minutes. I've now got a small metal one with a clasp to hold it in place.

"The green leaf needs to be pointing at 11 o'clock," the RBL sellers told me.

Easier said than done, as it tends to revolve. But at least it hasn't fallen off.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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