Caroline Righton

What on Earth is happening to British politics?

It used to be said that politics was “show business for ugly people”, but if reports of Simon Cowell’s latest wheeze are true, then maybe we aren’t too far away from the point at which politics simply becomes “show business”.

Cowell indulged in a brainstorming session during an interview with BBC Newsnight in which he basically came up with a format which involves an X-Factor-style TV show where ‘issues’ are discussed and viewers can cast their votes (presumably via a premium rate number). There would even be a red telephone on stage for Downing Street to phone through the government’s reaction to the show. As politics itself is unlikely to be a big enough draw to keep the advertising revenue up (and therefore maintain Cowell’s interest) you can expect a sprinkling of ITV Saturday night stardust to act as the glue to keep the millions stuck to their sofas.

Am I alone in wondering where it all went wrong? What caused politics in this country to go so badly awry that Simon Cowell is seriously considering serving up a dose of celebrity magic to put things right? We already have the grim spectacle (spectre?) of Esther Rantzen’s candidacy in Luton to look forward to next year, not to mention ‘chick-lit’ novelist Louise Bagshawe’s worrying descent on Corby & East Northants and, closer to home, former TV-AM sofa-warmer Caroline Righton’s accident-prone campaign for St Austell & Newquay. Do we really need a political X-Factor to add further celebrity glow to what ought to be a serious business?

I recently did an interview with a journalism student, Lydia Smears, about growing voter apathy and what politicians and political parties should do about it. At the risk of sounding considerably older than I actually am, I found myself harking back to the post-Second World War General Elections as evidence that all the TV shows, text voting, supermarket polling stations and all the other ideas to invigorate democratic participation won’t make the blindest bit of difference. What’s missing from UK politics at the moment is a genuine debate about real policy differences. There was no such vacuum in 1950, for example, and (with a clear dividing line between the Atlee government’s nationalisation and welfare state agenda, and Churchill’s Tories’ almost total resistance to the post-war Labour government’s radical programme) voter turnout in that year’s election was 83.9% as opposed to a mere 59.4% in 2001.

What do we have today? Bandwagon jumping, appearances on ‘This Morning’, media management, party leaders’ indulgence in celebrity culture – the list goes on. Modern politics is all about whose manager is least likely to ‘frighten the horses’, whose image chimes with the voters, who looks best on TV. This is what tempts politicians to pretend they’re interested in the X-Factor, or I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here or any of the other beacons of popular television culture, instead of trying to communicate with voters about such apparent fripperies as policy debates and the like. Sadly this becomes self-perpetuating for the politicians. The more they steer into the celebrity agenda the more they will have to, and what happens to policy then?

I can’t pretend I have the answer. Maybe it’s too late for the genie to be stuffed back into the bottle but it is my desperate hope that politics doesn’t go down this route. Perhaps if our representatives were prepared to take a risk and talk to real voters about what it is they actually plan to do we might see a shift in this culture. The thought of Dermot O’Leary announcing the result of an ITV viewers’ vote on capital punishment is almost too much to bear.

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Caroline Righton – I hate to go on about it but…

Tory LogoI’m really hoping this is the last time I have to write anything about Cornish Tory Smear Queen, Caroline Righton. I absolutely have far better things to do on a Sunday than spend my time penning another rant about the struggling Tory PPC for St Austell and Newquay, but her steadfast refusal to apologise for her election team’s unedifying smear campaign against Stephen Gilbert means I can’t let it lie.
It started off ten days ago as (probably) a simple mistake, but Righton’s arrogance has compounded things to the point where an apology at this late stage is still going to leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Had it been the other way round, the (Daily Mail owned) local press would have been baying for blood. As it is, because Ms Righton has refused to comment, they haven’t run the story (laughably for fear of ‘lack of balance’).
What this leaves hanging in the air is the question of what a normal fair-minded human being would do if they’d wrongly smeared someone else (accidentally or otherwise). The answer is that most of us would be horrified and would want to put things right at the earliest opportunity. Ms Righton, however, only responds with silence.
So please Caroline, I know you’re a Tory and you probably can’t help it, but do the decent thing, apologise, and let everybody move on.

What others have written:
Alex Wilcock: Love and Liberty
‘A Lanson Boy’ – The Curious Case of Candidate D**kh**d
Mark Pack: Caroline Righton: Will David Cameron Reply?
Andrew Reeves’ Running Blog
Matt Davies: Conservative Smear Campaign Or Just Stupidity
Norfolk Blogger: Caroline Righton – Hypocrite, Liar or Fool?
Chris Lovell: Caroline Righton Still Refuses To Apologise

Caroline Righton – ‘Sorry’ Seems To Be The Hardest Word

caroline righton

Righton in happier days?

Caroline Righton is not having a great week. Seven days after the former tv-am presenter and (at the time of writing) Tory PPC for St Austell & Newquay was invited to apologise for what still looks very much like a smear campaign, her silence on the subject remains defiantly unbroken. In between, Twitter and ‘the blogosphere’ have been feeding freely on the Tories’ ‘talk to the hand’ strategy.

What may well have been a basic mistake by Ms Righton and her election team has resulted in something of an awkward dilemma for David Cameron. He has received an official approach inviting him to tease out a simple apology, thereby leaving him with a choice of either backing his candidate – despite her campaign’s highly dubious smear tactics – or hanging her out to dry seven months away from a General Election. And all of this from an incident which could have been put to bed a week ago, but has instead snowballed into a serious fly in the Cornish Tory ointment.

This is somewhat surprising considering her media background and her presumably strong instincts for managing a story. Indeed, a glance at her Wikipedia entry demonstrates that, very recently, ‘her people’ have shown a very keen interest in trying to control what is written about her. “Caroline Righton does not want to have a Wikipedia page,” asserts an anonymous minion on the discussion page, only to be told (hilariously): “It’s not up to her”.

So, given the obvious control-freak element within the campaign team, why are they so reluctant to deal with this? What is so difficult for them? A simple apology might just undo some of the self-inflicted damage – but no one should hold their breath.

What others have written:
‘A Lanson Boy’ – The Curious Case of Candidate D**kh**d
Mark Pack: Caroline Righton: Will David Cameron Reply?
Andrew Reeves’ Running Blog
Matt Davies: Conservative Smear Campaign Or Just Stupidity
Norfolk Blogger: Caroline Righton – Hypocrite, Liar or Fool?
Chris Lovell: Caroline Righton Still Refuses To Apologise

‘D**kh**d-gate’ – The Return Of Tory Dirty Tricks

They’re not even back in power yet but already the Tories are starting to look like the sleazy, discredited political thugs we turfed out in 1997.

There’s an air of arrogance about them at the moment (even more than usual) which suggests that they feel the country’s twelve year aberration is over and soon they will once again be in possession of the thing that is rightfully theirs by birth: power. It’s not pretty to watch.

And here in Cornwall it seems the old-fashioned dirty tricks machine has been wheeled out in an attempt to help out Caroline Righton, former tv-am presenter and struggling Tory PPC, in her attempt to win the St Austell and Newquay seat at next year’s General Election. So far Ms Righton has done a blinding job of being completely invisible to the electorate (in stark contrast to her opponent, Stephen Gilbert) so, presumably on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity, ‘her people’ have embroiled her in that most modern of trends – ‘the Twitter Row’.
Righton recently emailed a number of target voters to express her shock at one of Steve Gilbert’s ‘tweets’. Steve’s update is (not so faithfully) reproduced in her email as: “[Steve Gilbert] was at meeting about regeneration of major town (declined by Tory PPC); Tory PPC at a publicity stunt (declined by me) – D**kh**d”.

Well, if that was true and Mr Gilbert had actually called her a ‘d**kh**d’ then I can understand why she might be so vexed that she’d want to email a whole load of people. The trouble is, he didn’t. The word was inserted at Righton’s end of things, as can clearly be seen by looking at Steve Gilbert’s Twitter feed.

Righton: Silent but...

Righton: Silent but...

All of this leaves two possibilities. Either an over-zealous member of Ms Righton’s campaign team added the word (for whatever reason) before it reached her, or she approved its inclusion in her email as a deliberate attempt to mislead voters in St Austell & Newquay. There’s a good chance it’s the former (I don’t think the Tories are stupid enough to think they can make things like this up and get away with it) but what is surprising is that, five days on, Righton has made no attempt to put this right. She could very easily have sent out another email apologising for the (hopefully honest) mistake and everyone could have had a laugh and moved on.

Instead she’s done nothing, and left the recipients of that original email under the false impression that Steve Gilbert has been going around calling her unpleasant names. Voters aren’t stupid, and the truth will come out in the end, but if Ms Righton’s people are going to put words into other people’s mouths, surely they can do better than ‘D**kh**d’.