Sixty-four-year-old mother Jo Smith had never been involved in politics, but by last April she was on the cusp of running a Conservative Party campaign to challenge former Transport Minister Andrew Adonis to be the party’s candidate for the just-concluded Oasis/Press Club Parliamentary elections.
At first glance, the short, comic video she posted on YouTube in February 2016 – now in the Commons library with a “gatefold sleeve” – looks like another slice of tabloid-fuelled invective from Mr Adonis. Mr Adonis, formerly the Lord Mayor of London, has been a fixture of Left-wingers’ ire for the last three decades. In 2011 he claimed people who spend more than £100 a week on alcohol were having it “sweetened”, a comment that was repeated by Labour’s Hilary Benn and replayed by the BBC.
To the casual observer it looks like Ms Smith’s video, one of the early attack adverts, which depicted Mr Adonis shaking his fist, is making the defence minister look like an absolute beast of a man, surrounded by the horns of a berserk Minotaur. The same old-style attack ad has been used effectively so many times you’d think it was a bone in the liberal bone marrow.
But Ms Smith’s video started to raise hackles after one viewer pointed out that parts of it referenced sex before marriage, adultery and murder, a fair few of which she also mentioned, which is what underlines why this video was almost immediately declared ‘inappropriate’.
Meanwhile, anonymous campaigners announced they would target men and women around the age of 50 because they were ‘mothers’ of young children’. Others began calling for parents who spend the week entertaining their six-year-old to be arrested.
‘Oasis, Press Club/Mrs Thatcher’ Or ‘Defund the Police’
Oasis/Press Club for their part made clear they were not targeting Mr Adonis but rather others who represented people of the same age group or below, and had been profiled in a random sample of the press and police. Predictably, no one took them seriously. There was uproar at how this single video could end up being used in a legal case brought by the Police Federation and the Association of Chief Police Officers against the government over the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) bill.
Eventually, the pair’s careers were put on hold. The bill was widely unpopular and was dead. A millionaire right-wing comedian was fined a modest £3,000.
But it was the media response that illuminated the two plays that emerged from this fall-out. Three broadcast news broadcasts devoted almost identical shows to a campaign in which dozens of people called on Parliament to ‘defund the police’.
M4 TV’s show Catchy Catchphrase, broadcast opposite ITV News at Nine, was one of three front-runners for ‘You Can’t Say It On TV’ that night – the other two being ITV’s This Morning and Channel 4’s Tonight.
Tracey Dorey’s ‘Oasis/Press Club’ Like the ‘Defund’ campaign, the storyline in Catchy Catchphrase was clear: the rich and powerful were trying to hamstring the impoverished police from being allowed to stop and search in public.
The three news broadcasts, all based in the inner-city, all ended on a similar theme:
“A group of high-flying Police Forces up and down the country have revealed a secret plan for political revenge against the people of the nation,” the BBC’s John Humphrys said. “It would see the police being cut back by tens of thousands of jobs…”
“The BBC Tonight show” was branded a “spoof”. Other shows chose to champion other themes: ‘You Can’t Say It On TV’ was then played about 11 minutes later, when a leggy blonde presenter struck a sex kitten pose after talking about one individual’s motorbike stunt – a passionate documentary-style piece narrated by the former ITV Breakfast presenter Paul Michael. The dramatised documentary-style feature had to be broken up with other material, led by The Archers star Helen Worth.
“’Catchy Catchphrase’ used comedy to lampoon the police… which we are clearly not taking seriously,” Ms Dorey said. “Paul Michael is not a joke act and Helen Worth is a fabulous and accomplished broadcaster. Anyone who pretends otherwise is a shame.”
“Catchy Catchphrase” was enormously popular in the past two decades. The programme is still shown to this day.