Peter Smith


Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

The reaction to Donald Trump’s election has been trenchant and rapid; this is either the end of the great American empire or the renaissance of a lost nation.

It has, unquestionably, delivered a seismic shock to political establishments and to the pundits and pollsters that watch and report on governments of every hue.

On one level the result is being hailed in much the same way as the UK’s verdict on the EU referendum – a collective aberration to thwart theorists and perplex experts.

Somehow, runs this narrative, people chose to defy the established order out of some perverse delight in not doing what was expected of them; rather like Marlon Brando’s character from The Wild One who when asked, “what are you rebelling against?”, sneers “what have you got?”…only on a pan-national scale.

That can be, to the professional political classes, pretty scary but also, in some ways, manageable – the people have been duped this time around but will, in quieter moments, realise that and change their minds.

Since 24 June, the politico-watchers have been confidently predicting that a referendum now would reverse the result and keep Britain in the EU…pretty much with the same confidence, incidentally, that they predicted a hung parliament in 2015 and a Remain vote in June.

Suppose, though, that they are wrong, that people vote against the establishment not in a fit of communal pique but deliberately to tip the established order on its head. What if the US electorate knew that Trump was all bravado, bigotry and bullying, if they accepted every slur that the media and his opponents threw at him and then voted for him not despite those slurs but because of them?

How much scarier is that voters preferred to take a chance on the outsider, the apparently unpopular option, not because they choose to disbelieve the accusations but because they just don’t care if they are true or not?

It is what is being called ‘Post-Truth Politics’, the idea that the old tenets of policy making and policy promotion no longer work and truth is merely one weapon in the political PR armoury.

Back in April, even before the ‘shock’ of the exit vote, the director of communications for the Vote Leave campaign was, according to one national newspaper, unrepentant about the cavalier use of figures and statistics and heard to mutter that “Accuracy is for snake-oil pussies”, when every tyro reporter on every journalism course in the UK (as our neighbours across the Brayford will testify) has the need for accuracy and balance drummed into them in just about every lecture.

BBC Radio’s The Now Show, characterised Post-Truth politics as when “nobody cares – you can tell blatant lies …it’s post-truth politics where everything you want to be true, is true…”

So Trump, like the Brexiteers, may not be a temporary blip on the political pathway but a permanent (or semi-permanent when his four years are up) detour into a new world in which the people prove to be not just unbiddable but to revel in their post-truth rebelliousness.

— Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

— This week’s Reader’s Review comes from Peter Smith. He checked out the Bellowhead performance at the Engine Shed on November 18.

Just what you need on a chilly Lincoln night when the world is in crisis: an evening of songs about dead lovers, alcohol addiction, American harlots and doomed sailors*.

Well it is if the band is Bellowhead, back in Lincoln and this time getting up a head of steam at the Engine Shed.

Britain’s most successful folk act – five times winners of the BBC’s Folk Award for Best Live Act and nominated again this year and only last week the recipients of a silver disc for their latest album, Hedonism – wowed a loyal following with traditional songs delivered with far from traditional verve, style and zest.

If your idea of a folk group is three blokes in shapeless sweaters singing shapeless songs then you need to check out this 11-piece outfit. Their musicianship is of the highest order and they seem to play just about anything and everything – including bagpipes, Chinese Bells and even a frying pan.

Lead singer Jon Boden is a great front man with a voice that can deliver haunting songs such as The Cold Wind Blows (complete with eerie sound effect made with something that looked like an old ice bucket) and then punch life into a folk club hardy oldie like Yarmouth Town.

But Bellowhead earned their reputation for their ensemble work, switching instruments mid-song as well as between numbers and managing to bounce and bop whilst keeping immaculate time and driving rhythms. Each group member gets the chance to shine as solos are swapped and they share the spotlights. Indeed, the lighting is an important part of the group’s stage act, being more like a rock band light show than a folk club scene.

They know how to work their audience too, building a 90-minute set towards a terrific climax and a well managed encore (or two). By the time they left the stage for the first time the crowd was bouncing and clapping and singing along with almost as much gusto as the group themselves.

Bellowhead came back on to deliver the big number from Hedonism, New York Girls which was quickly followed by another fan’s favourite, London Town – both with good sing-a-long choruses and they ended the night with a stomping jig that gave full rein to the many and varied talents on stage.

A great night and a more than welcome respite from the bland fare that was on offer on Children in Need!

The unenviable task of opening for Bellowhead on this tour falls to UK Americana foursome Ahab, and they pleased the early evening Lincoln audience with an engaging set that showed why music buffs like Simon Mayo and Bob Harris rate them so highly.

*The Cold Wind Blows; Whisky-O; New York Girls; the Port of Amsterdam.

Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

In the red corner (L) Ric Metcalfe, the Lincoln Labour leader, and in the blue corner (R) Lincoln MP Karl McCartney

Peter Smith is a retired Government PR professional now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

In terms of the politics of the county, Labour’s takeover of the City of Lincoln Council may not mean very much — it puts Lincoln where it was four years ago, as almost a lone red beacon in a sea of Tory blue — but it could foreshadow problems for sitting MP Karl McCartney.

When McCartney took the Parliamentary seat last May, ousting the former Labour MP and Minister Gillian Merron, it was something of a surprise, but very much mirrored the political mood of the country.

If present trends continue, especially if the coalition Government does not survive, then Labour’s re-emergence as a political force in the urban seats of England’s Northern and Midlands regions could mean that voters in the next Westminster election revert to their Labour ways again.

The Conservatives’ best hope of keeping Lincoln in the next election lie, curiously, in them repairing the fractures that have arisen in the coalition during the heated and occasionally downright unpleasant alternative vote (AV) referendum debate.

If the Liberal Democrats were to throw out Nick Clegg (very unlikely despite his present poor ratings), or otherwise bring the coalition to an early end, then a general election would follow and (on Vote 2011 performances) the Lib Dem vote would disappear with their disaffected supporters mopped up by Labour.

The Tories can, rightly, be very pleased with the results on Thursday as they did very much better than the pollsters predicted. They seem to have pulled off the very sophisticated political sleight of hand that has seen them introduce a raft of unpopular measures, with the blame apparently falling not on the instigators of those measures but on the junior partners in Government, the Liberal-Democrats.

But from now on, the Lib Dems will do their best to talk up their differences with their Government partners and this, coupled with their dwindling role in local politics, may mean that the Conservatives will start to bear the brunt of public anger and resentment.

With electoral reform off the agenda, the Liberal Democrats have nothing to lose now by forging a more disengaged stance within the coalition and trying to prove to voters enticed just a year ago by the ‘third way’ in English politics that this route is still open to them.

The Tories will feel instinctively that they need offer no more sweeteners to the Lib Dems. Indeed, many on the right of their party have been saying just that over the weekend, but a coalition that survives long enough to see an upturn in Britain’s economic fortunes is what they need if MPs like Lincoln’s McCartney are to be more than one-hit wonders.

Peter Smith is a retired government PR professional, now lecturing in journalism, communications and politics at the University of Lincoln.

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