At around half past six last night my mobile phone rang with “caller ID withheld” and there was silence, just as I was about to put the phone down the voice of Guardian columnist, John O’Farrell telling me “there’s nothing more annoying than a automated call”. He then proceeded to read out a script despite being interrupted, supposedly by Alistair Campbell who he told to “stop twisting my arm”.
The call was essentially a message from the Labour Party telling me to make sure that I get out and vote or I’ll go to bed next Thursday and wake up with Michael Howard. Whilst the thought of Michael Howard grinning next to me in bed (with the revolting memories of what may have happened), is frightfully terrifying, so is the Big Brother style intrusion on my life.
“6079 Cohen, B. Stop thoughtcrime about waking up with Michael Howard, Love Tony Blair!”
I was also pressed to help out my local Labour party, which presumably would be doubleplus good. Before hanging up, O’Farrell warned me of the pitfalls of buying Viagra from automated call merchants, “they just don’t work”, he said.
Initially, I wasn’t sure if the call was genuine, or whether it was actually put about by a different political party. Had the call have gone through to my voicemail, I would have been able to listen to it again and maybe call the number of my local Labour party which was quoted. However, I half expected to have been greeted with a “You’ve been spoofed, Vote Conservative” if I could have called it.
Intrigued, I called the Labour Party press office and asked whether they were making automated calls at the moment. No one knew. I was passed around a few people and when I asked what the connection to Viagra was, I was told to speak to Adrian (surname?), their Chief Press Officer. I wondered if perhaps, he was their chief Viagra spokesperson, or the guy in the office with the most expertise of using the drug.
When I called Adrian’s number, it got transferred to his mobile, “So are you making automated calls about Viagra?” I asked. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but hang on I’m eating my tea, I’ll call you back” he shouted in a typical working class New Labour accent.
“Sorry I was eating me Fish and Chips” he informed me. I was tempted to ask if he had chosen mushy peas or a Peter Mandelson inspired guacamole dish. I resisted the temptation.
“We’re making calls to Labour Party members, its supposed to be funny, maybe you didn’t get the joke, it wasn’t supposed to be complicated.”
I asked the press officer if I could have a transcript of the call, because I would be interested in checking if my notes were correct. He refused, telling me that “its not meant to be read or heard by members of the public, just our own members. It’s not suitable for in depth analysis.”
I asked him if he had run the list through the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) where consumers can request not to receive marketing calls from third parties. He responded that despite appearances, the calls were “not marketing efforts in any sense of the word.”
Now the problem with mobile numbers is that we have a tendency to move networks a lot. I know this is an issue because I moved recently and my grandma didn’t change her address book. She kept calling a West Indian man and asking to speak to me, in the end he told her to “piss off you git” and promptly put the phone down.
Therefore, the Labour Party should be careful when making automated calls to mobiles as you can never be quite sure who you are going to get through to, as the numbers do just change hands quite regularly, and as such the calls may not have the desired effect.