Tory MP Lee Anderson has been having quite a week. It began with his declaration in the Commons that there was no ‘massive use for food banks in this country’ and that the problem was ‘generation after generation who cannot cook properly’ and who ‘cannot budget’. This earned him a few front pages and a ministerial disavowal on Sky News, plus a scathing response from food writer and anti-poverty campaigner Jack Monroe.
Then, on Friday, Anderson popped up on Lozza’s Lock-in, a podcast co-hosted by Laurence Fox, the actor turned scourge of wokery who founded and leads the right-wing Reclaim party. Monroe’s criticisms were put to Anderson who responded with his assessment of the Guardian writer. I won’t quote it here because Monroe has already contended in a reply on Twitter that: ‘This is a very clear cut case of outright libel… You’d be wise to take it down and fully retract and apologise before you make this any worse for yourselves.’
In a piece for Coffee House earlier this week, I argued that Anderson’s original remarks about food banks were not only foolish and objectionable but philosophically unconservative. Which makes his podcast appearance even more awkward than it might at first seem. Fox’s podcast is not a personal endeavour. It is a podcast of the Reclaim party, with the party’s deputy leader Martin Daubney serving as Fox’s co-host (and the person who conducted the Anderson interview).
It was streamed on Facebook Live, where it is described as an ‘event by the Reclaim Party’. Underneath the video, there is a box encouraging viewers to ‘sign up’, clicking on which takes you to Reclaim’s website, where users are exhorted to ‘Join the Reclaim revolution!’ by providing their email address to be kept ‘up to date with our news and latest campaigns’.
Quite apart from his comments about Jack Monroe, Anderson’s appearance raises questions about Conservative party discipline. Why did a Conservative MP agree to appear in the communications output of another political party? And not just any output but a production fronted by the leader and deputy leader of that party? Are other Tory backbenchers at liberty to do the same if they wish to appear on, say, a Green party livestream about overdevelopment or a Ukip podcast about the Rwanda plan?
Now, you might say an MP who takes his party’s message onto another party’s platform is to be commended for his initiative. Belly of the beast, and all that. But that raises the question: are Lee Anderson’s views on food banks (or Jack Monroe) the views of the Tory party? Indeed, far from using Reclaim’s propaganda output to amplify the Conservative party, Anderson seems to have amplified Reclaim. A clip of his interview tweeted by Reclaim has been viewed 664,000 times at the time of writing. The full video has garnered 6,600 views on Facebook in less than 24 hours, an impressive start given the median viewership for a Reclaim video posted on that site in 2022 is 18,000.
Lee Anderson thinks food bank users need to brush up on their cookery and budgeting skills. He might want to put himself down for a refresher course on political communication.