The 2014 Budget was predictable enough: savage attacks on environmentalism, treats for corporate Tory donors, pensioners abandoned to the mercies of the market, and bribes for core Tory voters: very much a standard election-year model.
What made it stand out was Tory chairman Grant Shapps' idea of appealing to the electorate in the form of this poster:
Presumably this was the work of some bright young thing in Tory HQ, but a number of senior people must have approved it for release. What's wrong with it? The use of 'they' distances the Conservatives and their government from 'hardworking people' which either seems arrogant or honest depending on whether you think our political leaders are hardworking or not. Then there's the assumption that the electorate are so simple as to be concerned only with 1p off beer tax and the implication that bingo is cheap.
It's almost as if the Conservative leadership still relates to the working classes like this:
So the tone's wrong, the positioning's wrong and on top of that, it's dishonest: the Bingo operators' association says that the tax break won't make a difference to their customers' charges at all. So it's just a gift to the gambling industry to encourage further Tory donations.
But there's another angle. We read all the time about parties' sophisticated electoral strategies, databanks, imported advisors etc. And yet it seems there's nobody with any understanding of the electorate and certainly nobody who has ever used the internet before. Could Grant Shapps – no stranger to online shenanigans – not foresee the mocking Twitterstorm that followed his encouragement to 'Please RT'. First came the horrified scorn. Then came the witty Tory Bingo calls with the hashtag #Torybingo, and finally along came Torybingo.com, which allows the likes of us to adapt the original template. Here are a couple of mine:
I assume that the Tories (and other parties) have heard of the phrase 'going viral' and want a chunk of it. What they haven't understood is that social media users have finely-attuned antennae for corporate propaganda, and a level playing field on which to fight it. This is, of course, why corporate interests are trying (and winning) the fight to turn the internet from an public square into a tightly-controlled pseudo-public space. Try as they might, institutions are too cumbersome and culturally-deaf to compete with the wit of some kid with Photoshop and no paymaster. Politicians and corporate executives get offended when we parody their products because they genuinely believe that the social hierarchies of meatspace are a) natural and b) should be reproduced online. Torybingo is just the latest in a pretty much infinite line of embarrassments.
The only down side is that while ridicule is a key weapon of postmodern resistance, it's not entirely clear whether it actually helps. For all this, the key Tory voter (rich white bitter older people) will vote in droves while the young and hip won't bother. Is this anything more than a passing amusement? I'm not sure.