Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
When cornered, the coiled viper strikes. Negative campaigning in political elections is when, instead of candidates professing why voters should back them or their party, they highlight supposed personal deficiencies in an opposing candidate or party. Whilst negative campaigning is described as “American as Mississippi mud”, the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. The 2015 election for Chippenham provides bountiful examples of negative campaigning.
The glossy leaflet, pushed through doors by the team of Liberal Democrat Duncan Hames, compares “hard-working” Mr Hames to his Conservative opponent Michelle Donelan. A picture of Ms Donelan has been supplanted by a sinister silhouette.
Mr Hames says he is “a local champion”, having “lived in Wiltshire for over 12 years”. This is contrasted against “a newcomer who only moved here after she was selected by the Conservatives as their candidate”.
Ms Donelan was selected in 2013. Living in Wiltshire “for over 12 years” would imply Mr Hames moved into the county — not the constituency — in 2003. Mr Hames stood in the Tottenham by-election in 2000, and in Watford in 2001 General Election, before standing for the Wiltshire seat of Westbury in the 2005 General Election. Therefore, Mr Hames moved into Wiltshire the same length of time prior to standing here as Ms Donelan did, and has only become “local” by default.
Moving around for seats and work is common for younger candidates, as Mr Hames knows.
The next line compares the man who “works for Wiltshire” with the woman who “stood in Yorkshire”, highlighting Ms Donelan stood in Wentworth & Dearne in the 2010 General Election. Only an insular polity, sneering at those not even from around here, would deny the benefits of internal migration within Britain. It should be noted that Ms Donelan has already achieved much, supporting with the TransWilts Rail Partnership, securing further investment in Chippenham’s Reel Cinema and helping the campaign for Corsham rail station to re-open.
Next, the insinuation is made that Ms Donelan’s campaign is “funded by developers”, striking against the “impartial voice” of Duncan Hames. Two article snippets are then displayed, but despite the appearance, these two extracts are actually from the same article. Whilst it went ignored by the leaflet, Ms Donelan rebutted the insinuation being made by Mr Hames’ campaign:
Just because he’s donating to the party, doesn’t mean I agree with what he wants to do, or does it mean that I want to dig up the whole of Wiltshire and build houses everywhere.
In fact, I think the housing targets for Chippenham are too high and I’ve not heard Duncan Hames say that. This is them implying I’m somehow immoral and would do what he wants, which is categorically not true, and it’s quite disheartening they have stooped to this level.
On the other side, the insinuation about property development is made for the third time in the same leaflet.
It is suggested that the “Lib Dems have stopped nasty and damaging Conservative plans”: ‘schools for profit’, ‘fire at will’ and ‘regional pay’.
The proposal to ‘fire at will’ was within the report on employment law, written by venture capitalist and Conservative donor Adrian Beecroft, as one of many recommendations. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, led by Business Secretary Vince Cable, decided to reject this particular recommendation.
In 2011, Chancellor George Osborne ordered an investigation by the Pay Review Bodies into the idea of varying pay levels of public sector workers, reflective of private pay levels within the locality. Whether this differential, caused by national pay bargaining, has unintended consequences is the entire point of the discussion.
It is not “nasty and damaging” to consider such an idea. Also, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Liberal Democrat, Danny Alexander wrote he was “keen to see local, market-facing pay introduced across the UK”.
In the Skaperdas-Grofman model of electioneering, negative campaigning is rational when the candidates are electorally close, as the attacker seeks to make their opponent’s supporters question their choice. Undecided voters are then converted through a healthy diet of positive messaging.
The contest for Chippenham continues.