Fringe Box



Letter: We Should Be Wary of Media Professionals

Published on: 31 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 31 Mar, 2023

Robin Horsley’s “Battle for Guildford” campaign video

From: David Roberts

In response to: Dragon Interview – ‘Battle for Guildford’ Campaigner Robin Horsley

Heartfelt thanks to The Dragon for trying to get to the bottom of Robin Horsley’s bizarre campaign about the North Street development.

Mr Horsley is a professional film-maker and his latest video is slick and effective. But the interviewer’s questions runs ring around his curiously weak grasp of local politics and planning policy.

As Mr Horsley says, we need to know “what are people’s motivations; what are they doing it for?”

In his own case, this is none too clear. His video is a powerful political polemic, explicitly singling out our local parties, R4GV and GGG, for attack, using a range of classic propaganda techniques – appeals to emotion, nostalgia for a sepia-tinted past, subtle innuendo suggesting conflicts of interest, exaggeration and selective quotation.

To me, his claim to be a “non-party campaigner”, seems to smack of another well-known technique: plausible deniability.

The interview squeezes out the fact that he has been a Tory party member and canvasser. But doesn’t his own “mindset bias” go further than that?

His company website and social media pages suggest several links not only with the Tory party but to its far-right wing. Against this background, his refusal to say who people should (as opposed to shouldn’t) vote for seems disingenuous.

Then there is the puzzle of the campaign itself. Why this sudden fuss over a single town-centre development project that’s already been refused planning permission? Where did all this belated outrage suddenly spring from?

Where’s Mr Horsley been for the last ten years as the Tory Local Plan was formulated, foisted on an unwilling public and imposed across Guildford’s villages, with literally thousands of new houses planned or already being built – without a single significant planning refusal – across what used to be the green belt?

I see no videos about all that.

It’s hard to avoid observing that local elections are looming and that the only special thing about the North Street development is that the Tories, uniquely for them, opposed their developer friends and see this as a vote-winner.

Conveniently, Mr Horsley says he is “not an expert” on the Tory government’s National Planning Policy Framework, and nowhere mentions the baleful role of the Tories’ Local Plan in turbo-charging local over-development.

Regular Dragon readers will know that I’m biased to the extent that I’d prefer local parties to run Guildford rather than national ones. But let’s follow a local hero and apply Occam’s Razor.

If, hypothetically, “The Battle for Guildford” video were a party political broadcast on behalf of the Tory party, would it be any different from Mr Horsley’s polished product? If not, isn’t that what it really is?

This should be a matter for concern. National political parties are not above using third parties at arm’s length to evade limits on campaign finance – to outspend other parties and in effect buy votes.

The dark arts of media professionals, whether paid in cash or later in kind, can often come in highly useful.

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