Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another. Magicians use distraction techniques to draw the audience’s attention away from whichever hand is engaged in sleight of hand.
“Look over here”, the Greens say, “the budget is about cuts to social care services, not about making a political point to the Tory government.” “Look at that bold referendum proposal, the Budget shows how different we are from the Labour Party!”
What Brighton and Hove councillors will vote on at the end of February is a fine example of political conjuring, of deception and distraction to divert attention from what has really happened under the Green administration.
More divided than a magician’s assistant sawn in two, the Green councillors have avoided any major reviews or restructuring in the city council, busy chasing grants for transport schemes whilst being all too aware of the financial catastrophe heading towards them. Pledged to “resist all cuts” in their manifesto, they have become increasingly uncomfortable with year after year of salami-slicing departments, jobs and budgets, until faced with another they have finally said no. The illusion of not actually being sawn in half almost became real.
To accommodate their division and to try to make some political capital, their very own Dynamo Jason Kitcat has tried to ensure that the Greens look bold, fearless and original, whilst putting the opposition parties on the defensive.
A responsible administration, faced with no overall control and a tough budget, would have gone to one of the other Groups and said, “there are tough choices ahead, we need to find some agreement, lets work together to protect services.” It didn’t happen. Never ones to reveal their cards, the Greens chose to keep opposition parties in the dark whilst setting out their plans to the national and local media. Minimum political co-operation, maximum political benefit.
Except like all good tricks, this has a second act. Having published an initial budget, with a series of carefully constructed cuts contained within it, they now offer a means by which they appear to be the ones preventing those cuts by adding more to their council tax increase. Not only does this mean that the cuts focus on an area like social care (and who would support cuts to those services?) it distracts from protected Green priority spending elsewhere. The final Budget will be kept under wraps, like a Magic Circle secret, until just six days before it goes to committee.
Not only does it make them appear to be the saviours of those social care services, it means they can get the opposition parties to vote through the same mean spirited cuts that they themselves proposed, taking the blame that the Green councillors so desperately want to avoid, whilst hiding their own favoured projects up their sleeve. Cuts to playground and park cleaning? Unavoidable. Cuts to tree planting? Don’t even think about it.
Like a card trick where implausibly you are presented with the six of clubs you first picked out, after Budget Council they will almost certainly end up with the 2% council tax increase they planned all along, while the other parties take the blame for their cuts. It’s an illusion David Blaine would be proud of.
Except Jason Kitcat is now more like the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. The curtain has been pulled back and the illusion has been exposed. The public have had enough of being told one thing, whilst something else entirely is happening. The suspension of disbelief in the magic powers of the Green Party has gone. No more conjuring tricks, say Brighton and Hove residents, we just want the basics. It may not be exciting, but we are no longer entertained by your tricks. We just want to trust our council again and we want the city to win back some respect for real achievements, not spectacular illusions.
Come May 7th 2015, there will be just one more bit of Green magic to perform. A disappearing trick.