johnmajorsoapboxAnother day, another series of set-piece speeches and photo opportunities. Marina Hyde in the Guardian does a very good job of catching the sterility of this election campaign, where the general public are being kept as far away from it as possible as battlebuses flit from one business park to another, hi-vis jackets are donned and removed, things are pointed at, activists wave signs and everyone leaves with the feeling that this wasn’t why they got involved in politics, journalism or even coach driving.

The Guardian also reports that many local campaigns are dreading the prospect of a visit from a party VIP, and I know exactly why. From my experience, there are two types of VIP visit during an election campaign. The best is when someone turns up with a few other people in tow, gives a quick speech at the election HQ, poses for a few photos with whatever national and local candidates are around, then asks ‘right, where are we going to canvass?’ You get the benefit of everyone feeling happy because they’ve been praised (elections rely on volunteers giving up lots of time to do very dull clerical tasks at the HQ), but you also get a bunch of people out knocking on doors, which means you get loads of data and people get to learn from watching an experienced campaigner at work on the doorstep.

The other kind are when you have to organise a media event like the ones Marina Hyde discusses in her piece. This normally involves getting lots of people to stand around waiting for the VIP to appear while you silently lament the number of leaflets that could be delivered or doors that could be knocked on in that time, before someone delivers a speech, takes a couple of questions from journalists, shakes a few hands and then disappears off to the next photo, normally surrounded by various people whose exact role is never clear except that ‘they’re from HQ’. Suggesting to these people that they might want to use some of their time helping out with the local campaign will be meant by a look of utter dread at the idea of knocking on a door, followed by them remembering an urgent phone call they have to make.

Offer a campaign a lot of the first type of visit and they’ll be happy. Offer them one of the latter and they’ll be fine with it because of the local headlines it’ll generate. Offer them a few and they’ll really start grumbling about how much of their time is being wasted on media stunts when they could be doing something much more important. The door knocking and leaflet delivery will rarely get much coverage on the news – and when it does, it’s usually just as a bit of filler imagery – but there are lots of constituencies (and hundreds of council wards) where that will decide who wins the seat, not who happened to stop by for a few minutes.

There’s a chance that someone will respond to the claims of lack of authenticity in the campaign and ‘spontaneously’ discover a soapbox to stand on and do some campaigning in a busy town centre, but I suspect even that will find itself sterilised of all meaning and contact with regular people.

I’ve spent most of today in the University library (but it’s the University of Essex, so you can only criticise me for looking at the election from high up in a concrete tower, not an ivory one) but a discussion elsewhere does prompt me to ask a question: what is Cameronism? Or in more basic terms, why does David Cameron want to be Prime Minister for another five years? What does he want to do in that time? He’s been in Downing Street for five years, and I’m still none the wiser as to what he stands for other than a Conservative-tinged brand of managerialism (‘a long term plan’, ‘living within our means’ and the like) but no great vision for what he wants the country to be. I know conservatism is generally resistant to ideology, but this is taking it to an extreme, and I think it’s why the Tory campaign in this election seems aimless. Last time he could get by (but still not actually win) by being not-Gordon Brown, but right now I feel I could make a better shot at defining Milibandism (and Robert Peston’s comparison of him with Thatcher’s pre-1979 election position is interesting) than I could at trying to justify the existence of any kind of Cameronism.

Or maybe I’ve missed something? Outraged Tories eager to tell me the finer details of Cameronist thought can feel free to use the comments box to begin educational process.

Leaflet of the day doesn’t come from this campaign, but this fine specimen of the 1950 Liberal campaign I discovered through Twitter:


Truly, a different era of campaigning, though anyone who’s ever edited leaflets for candidates will know that some of them still think a thousand-plus words treatise explaining the finer details of their dispute with someone is just what voters are waiting to see on their doorstep.