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Is Zac Goldsmith Trolling Us With This Weird Multi-Lingual Campaign Video?

It's so bad it's almost as if they wanted it to be bad.

The weird video from Conservative Connect

Zac Goldsmith wants to be the next mayor of London, and incredibly, some 37 percent of the city's electorate wants the same thing. Incredible because the man is such a non-entity, just another piece of limp political jetsam that's bobbed down the gutter running from Eton to the media to the House of Commons. (That said, his old magazine, The Ecologist, while being edited by his father, once ran an article that appeared to praise the Khmer Rouge for their environmental policy, which is objectionable but at least interesting.) Half of my job consists of thinking of various household objects or mythological creatures that frontline politicians resemble, but with Zac Goldsmith it's almost impossible. He's just A Guy, handsome but generic, like an illustration in a children's picture book or the mute faceless figure in an airline safety card, an abstract quantity as blank and fungible as the enormous pile of cash he inherited off his dad. (Between £200million and £300million, since you ask.) In a way he's a perfect fit: a bland, shiny, over-affluent mayor for an increasingly bland, shiny, and over-affluent London.


But as alarming as the number is, 37 percent is still not enough to win. What Zac Goldsmith needs is a makeover; something that might turn him from the standard-issue posho that he is into a hero for contemporary London. And yesterday, whether or not he wanted it, that's what he got, in "Jeete Ga!/He Will Win!" This is a glossy, jaunty, polyglot campaign song produced by Conservative Connect, a group co-founded by Conservative councillor Raza Anjum trying to reach out to ethnic and religious communities less likely to support the Tories (and which, at the time of writing, has all of five YouTube subscribers). Conservative Connect proudly announced that it's the first multilingual British campaign song, featuring verses in English, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali and Mandarin. What they didn't mention is that it's really fucking weird.

There are some pretty strange lyrics – we'll get to those in a moment – but the whole look of the thing is not just bizarre but almost threatening: shot after shot of Goldsmith's big spongy head, zooming, rotating, flickering, desaturating, as he stares desperately into the camera. Zac Goldsmith on TV; Zac Goldsmith walking down washed-out and deserted London streets; Zac Goldsmith giving speeches in slow motion, his emphatic hand gestures made so ponderous you can almost hear their groan and creak, while he mouths words that don't really matter. It's the kind of visual technique you'd expect if Zac Goldsmith had committed a string of brutal murders or been accused of operating an illegal porn ring: you thought you knew him – but did he have a darker side? There's Goldsmith embracing London's multiculturalism, utterly ridiculous in a khanda-emblazoned pagri, Goldsmith looking weirdly tiny next to a foregrounded David Cameron, generic shots of commuters swarming out a Tube train like flies off a dead horse. It's all a bit creepy: after the tenth or twentieth photo of one man's ordinary face you start to feel like you're watching the introductory PowerPoint presentation for an obsessive religious cult, one that will probably be committing ritual suicide on the 6th of May.


But what most people have fixated on are the words, which are, as the Evening Standard put it, "rather questionable". The verses in English are unusual enough – "London needs you, Zac Goldsmith, we all love you, Zac Goldsmith." But what are we supposed to make of the stuff in the subtitles, lines like "he is worthy of appreciation, he is patient and brave"? Or "may he receive more honour and dignity compared to others"? Or "all the Bengalis will only vote for you?" Or the fully totalitarian "let's all fill our hearts with happiness"?

Of course, translation is a subtle craft; phrases that are perfectly normal in one language might emerge sounding incredibly bizarre in another. I spoke to a few people who actually know the languages featured in the video; a Bengali-speaking source confirmed that in the original "despite being factually inaccurate, it sounds pretty natural – a line like 'Zac Goldsmith will be a pride for all of us' sounds weird in English, but it's a pretty typical Bengali sentence". It's the same with the sections in Punjabi, such as the "more honour and dignity compared to others" bit: according to Twitter user @junkicide, it "would better be translated as 'Zac Goldsmith is the most glorious'; such phrasing is not weird at all in Punjabi". Which raises an interesting question: why does the video – whose creative producer isn't some earnest if fallible student of English, but a Tory councillor born in Lincoln – appear to be mistranslating its own lyrics to make them sound weirder than they actually are?


As a campaign song it's pretty terrible, doing very little to actually convince people in ethnic minority communities to vote for Goldsmith, and preferring instead to repetitively insist that he's absolutely going to win the election and defeat all his less honourable and less dignified opponents, when in fact he probably won't. But all this weirdness has been pretty good at attracting media attention. It's almost – almost – as if that were the point.

The campaign song might look embarrassing, but it's also a decent distraction from what's been an uncomfortably racially charged election. Sadiq Khan, the Labour frontrunner, is in line to be the first Muslim mayor of London, and the Tory response has been a very ugly attempt to rile up intercommunal tensions. Previously, the Goldsmith campaign had attempted to link Khan to Islamic extremism, a smear against one of Labour's most utterly dull middle-of-the-road liberals that succeeded only in making him look slightly more racy. The accusations included hints that there was something untoward about Khan representing various unpleasant people in court – which was, as a human rights lawyer, his actual job.

Meanwhile, a leaflet sent out to British Hindu voters showed Goldsmith next to the far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India's answer to Donald Trump, a man who not so long ago was banned from the UK over his alleged role in the 2002 massacres of Muslims in Gujarat, and who is fiercely opposed by progressive Indians at home and in the diaspora. That same flyer, along with one directed towards Tamil voters, warned that a Labour wealth tax would imperil family heirlooms and jewellery. (Because if there's one thing we know about Indians, it's that they love their trinkets!) These tactics have mostly backfired; for some reason, people seem to find them condescending. So the solution might be to backfire deliberately, in a way that makes you look lovably inept rather than like a 1970s racist. And while it may be cynical, the song is pretty catchy. London needs you, Zac Goldsmith. We all love you, Zac Goldsmith.



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