On a recent appearance on The Andrew Marr Show, the head of Labour's 2015 election campaign, Douglas Alexander, claimed that the Labour Party would not engage in negative advertisements against David Cameron. This announcement came after fresh attacks from the Tories - buttressed by the ever-charming right-wing press - about Labour leader Ed Miliband's ostensible inability to govern our country. The Conservative attack was tactlessly deployed through an official tweet with the text 'your worst nightmare' - shown above a picture of Ed Miliband - followed by 'just got even worse' - shown above a photoshopped image of Miliband hugging previous SNP leader Alex Salmond and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams. This delightful smear was completed with the tagline: 'The SNP and Sinn Fein propping up Ed Miliband? Chaos for Britain.' Charming stuff, guys.
This sort of presidential-style campaigning has increasingly become a staple of modern British politics. It was, for example, an integral fixture of Gordon Brown's last campaign. In the months leading up to the 2010 general election, the Labour Party ran a classless attack on Cameron, portraying him as Life on Mars character Gene Hunt in a terribly photoshopped image - honestly, I could do a better version on Paint - with the tagline: 'Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s'. Cameron also ran an admittedly more respectable - at least aesthetically - poster campaign displaying a smiling Brown next to taglines such as: 'I let 80,000 criminals out early. Vote for me'.
These negative campaigns engage in the sort of dirty politics that we expect from the tabloid press, not from purportedly respectable political parties. Labour's decision to disengage with this form of politics, therefore, is a welcome move. And yet while I'd like to believe that Labour has taken the high road - in the sense of being actually respectable - it seems rather obvious that this was a tactical decision. Labour, with Miliband at the helm, cannot possibly win in a battle of negative ad campaigns. Cameron may be an Eton-educated, upper-class toff who can be ridiculed with relative ease, but compared to Miliband he is as beguiling as Daniel Craig in a tailor-made suit, sipping on a perfectly poured glass of whisky against the backdrop of the Scottish highlands. Labour are well aware of this, of course. Miliband recently called himself, among other things, a Wallace lookalike in what was essentially the political version of the final battle in 8 Mile. Much like Marshall Mathers, Miliband's act of abnegation verily silenced his critics. The Tories temporarily choked, if you like.
Labour's decision to withdraw from the battle of negative advertisements is another form of political abnegation. They are once again admitting their flaws. This time, however, they are not directly criticizing themselves, but rather attempting to shift political discourse towards the issues - a terrain where they feel more comfortable. Now, if the Tories attempt to belittle or attack Miliband on a personal level, they will inexorably invite criticism on several fronts. Firstly, it will seem that when invited to talk about the issues, the Conservatives have cowered behind petty personal attacks, raising instantaneous questions about their policies. Secondly, if they attack Miliband, it will be construed as aggressive bullying as opposed to a good old fashioned one-on-one. People aren't too fussed when two people are calling each other names, but when one person perpetually attacks another with no response, it's not nice to watch.
Labour know that if the upcoming general election is a battle between Cameron and Miliband, there will be only one winner. If, however, this becomes a battle between Labour and the Conservatives - based on policies as opposed to people - the results are verily unpredictable. We should ultimately welcome Labour's decision - regardless of their obviously self-serving motives - as the negative ad campaigns are deleterious for political discourse. A debate - which, lest we forget, Cameron isn't too enthusiastic about - is obviously a healthier way to attract voters. Campaigning on the streets or displaying advertisements that highlight a party's qualities as opposed to the opposition's flaws are also a far healthier way to engage with the population. We should be voting for the party that best represents our needs, not voting against the person who looks more foolish on a billboard above a random street corner.