2015 General Election Day 35: Rock of pledges, cleft for me

milibandstoneAnd lo, it didst come to pass that someone in Labour HQ took the words ‘my pledges are carved in stone’ far too literally. I’ve been involved in enough election campaigns to know that at this point – five weeks in! – everyone’s starting to get quite frayed at the edges, and ideas that seemed poor a few weeks ago will suddenly look like utter genius because they’re new, fresh and different. You’ve been looking at the same leaflets in the same design for weeks, and so naturally the idea of carving your pledges into a massive block of stone will initially seem like the greatest idea in the history of political ideas. It’s just that at some point between the meeting that comes up with that and someone placing the order to the stonemason for it, there needs to be someone in the loop who says ‘hold on, has it not occurred to you that this is a really stupid idea?’

Indeed, there’s an idea for future Governments to implement. Just as ancient Rome tempered the ambition of the triumphant general with a slave telling them to remember they are mortal, so the Government could do with an Office of It’s A Bit Of A Shit Idea, Isn’t It? or an independent Institute of Mockery And Pointing Out The Obvious Flaws. During Parliaments, they could examine all proposed policy and then take on a wider role during elections, of informing parties just how silly their new idea would make them seem. I’ll happily take on the job of setting up one or both of them, especially as there’ll be no one yet in place to tell them how bad an idea that is.

Anyway, let’s pause for an election advert.

Lifestyle!

We’re into the all hands to the pump stage of campaigning now, where the priority is knocking on as many doors and delivering as many leaflets as you can before polling day and hoping no one makes a major error that messes everything up. It’s a chance to try and tactically squeeze as many voters as possible, and deliver enough messages to your supporters just in case they’ve forgotten it’s election day on Thursday. People who live in marginals and have gone away for the bank holiday weekend will likely come home to small mountains of leaflets delivered while they were gone.

So with just a few days to go, competition for the final places in my minor party of the day slot has reached fever pitch. Or no pitch at all, leaving it entirely up to me to choose the Young People’s Party and its two candidates as today’s party. The first thing I’m going to say is the obvious one: looking at the pictures of senior party figures, they don’t look that young. Young by the standards of most people involved in politics perhaps, but not young by the standards of society. Their manifesto is interesting and goes some way to explaining the name as they’re an explicitly Georgist party, strongly in favour of Land Value Tax because it supports the ambitions of the young more than the current system in their view. Indeed, the manifesto is interesting because it starts strongly with calls for LVT and Citizen’s Income, but slowly descends into oddness and down the pub ‘I reckon’ policies that moan about political correctness and sub-Clarksonian moaning about climate change science. It’s a party I can’t quite see the point of – though it’s always good to see Georgism being promoted – and one I doubt will be causing any great shocks on Thursday.

Today on election leaflets, we find that Dennis Skinner doesn’t even stick to the party line for leaflet design. The only concession to modernity appears to be that the photo is now in colour, but his style of campaigning has kept him in Parliament for 45 years, so why change it? Elsewhere, I know I’ve said I want leaflets to look different and use varied design principles, but this independent candidate in Bath appears to have gone a bit too far down the ‘leaflets that look like they’re from an estate agent’ path. Or for crazy leaflets, Mike Nattrass is still pushing his ‘An Independence From Europe’ party, complete with scary photo, and going back a few weeks to one of the earliest nutty leaflets I featured, Mike Walters has now discovered he can’t call himself an SDP candidate so is now an ‘independent troublemaker’, though I suspect the Poppy Appeal may be complaining about the picture on the back.

As I was writing this we went past the point where there were 100 hours left until the polling stations close on Thursday. The election’s getting very close, very fast…

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BBC_Question_TimeThat’s the end of the set piece events for this election, so the politicians will be relaxing and not expecting to be facing any more tough questions until around this time next week. Of course then they’ll actually have to come up with an answer to the question Cameron and Miliband ducked last night: just how will you govern if you don’t get a majority? I know I bang on about this, but if you want a picture of what’s wrong with our political system, it’s two leaders who won’t get 40% of the vote, let alone 50% of it, insisting that they’d have a right to govern entirely alone without any compromises. (It’s also a media who collude in those delusions and talk about winners and losers in a system where we all lose)

As for last night, I thought Cameron did the best job in ignoring the question he’d been asked and delivering the pre-prepared responses in the same subject area. It felt like there were a bunch of interns back at CCHQ playing Buzzword Bingo, and he’d insisted that none of them could win unless he unleashed every single one of them. Miliband was a bit rough at the first, especially when the audience were at their most aggressive, but improved as time went on and stayed calm throughout, which contrasted with the tetchiness that always seems to linger just below the surface when Cameron interacts with anyone. Clegg did well, though he looked quite tired at having to explain the tuition fees issue for the umpteenth time, but dealt well with the audience and didn’t pander to them, being willing to point out to the ‘eight countries are leaving the EU’ questioner that he was just wrong. (Like any Question Time, this would have been improved by Dimbleby telling some questioners the premise of their question was wrong)

Will it have changed minds and been a decisive moment in the campaign? Like all the other events in the election, probably not, but perhaps it’s interesting because it’s not been decisive. A lot of the Tory campaign strategy did seem to revolve around the idea that Miliband would fall apart under the strain of the election, but that hasn’t happened and perhaps the improving public opinion of him has been what’s stopped the Labour vote falling away through the campaign as previous experience might have suggested it would.

Perhaps that lack of reaction is what we need to give us the space to discuss how debates and other set piece events are part of future election campaigns. Discussion of the 2010 ones was overshadowed by the effects of Cleggmania and the worry that they’d unbalance the campaign, but that hasn’t happened this time, even if discussions about them did take up far too much time in the run-up to the election. I suspect some form of debates will be part of future campaigns, but I think we’ve seen that a range of formats might be the way to go in the future. As well as debates, more Question Time-type events would be good, but also more interviews where they’re put on the spot. However, I also think we need to cover a wider range of issues and people than we’ve seen this year – did we really need more questions about immigration last night? I know there have been debates with other party representatives on different issues, but these have been buried away in the middle of the day, or stuck on BBC News and maybe deserve a higher prominence. We complain about the presidentialisation of politics, but this could be a way to weaken that, and also to ensure all issues get some coverage and give exposure to other politicians.

Right, can we have the election itself now, please?

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2015 General Election Day 31: Not a filthy assistant

I’m beginning to wonder if our politics are the ones the people in The Thick Of It watch if they want a laugh at strange and incredible things that sensible politicians like Dan Miller, Peter Mannion or even Nicola Murray would never consider. The whole idea of a politician proposing a law to ban tax rises, for instance, is something so absurd that even the nuttier wings of the Tea Party hasn’t put forward. Even they can see that getting the people who pass laws to pass a law that would act only on them and could be ignored by them merely passing a law to get rid of the original law would be straying far too deeply into the realm of the absurd.

I’ve had a chance to see Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband and I’ll be very surprised if it does Miliband any harm and could maybe do him well. Not sure if it will move the polls, but I’m not sure if anything will move the polls as everything seems to be circling around the same points and varying within the margin of error.

But the real comedy of the absurd comes from The Sun which appears to believe Scotland is now so separate from the rest of the UK that no one can see the different cover it has there:


One reading of that is that Rupert Murdoch is just backing whichever party will do the most damage to Labour and rewarding those who’ve shown themselves most willing to prostrate themselves before him, but even then there are ways to endorse two different parties that aren’t completely contradictory. Vote SNP in Scotland to give Scotland a voice, while the people of England and Wales are being encouraged to vote Tory to keep that voice from having any influence. The next time the Sun accuses someone else of hypocrisy or inconsistency, we may well have a brand new definition of chutzpah.

For any freelance photographers reading this: a quick trip to Berwick, where both versions of the paper are usually on sale next to each other, might deliver a rewarding image other newspapers might want to buy.

I’ve been having a new type of involvement with the election campaign for the last couple of days (and some more tomorrow) as I’ve been doing some (very low level) assisting with the Qualitative Election Study of Britain which has been running a few focus groups at the University. Yes non-quantitative political research has been carried out at Essex and the sky hasn’t fallen in. (And that joke will have sailed right over the heads of 99% of you reading this) It’s been really interesting to watch and listen to the focus groups, but it’s not my research so I can’t really tell you of anything that was discussed there. However, for those of you interested I would recommend reading some of the publications from previous cycles and keeping an eye out for news as the work carries on.

Back in the numbers game of the lower reaches of the parties list, we find today’s featured party is The Peace Party which is standing four candidates. It’s an interesting party because it’s done something most minor parties never get close to doing: saving a deposit at a by-election. That was in Middlesbrough in 2012, when they got within three votes of the Tories, a handful of votes that could have had an interesting effect on political narrative at the time. Interestingly, Middlesbrough isn’t one of the constituencies they’re standing in this time, which may be connected to their candidate in that by-election being a former Labour councillor who quite Labour to join Peace. It seems likely that Middlesbrough was a one-off for them, but they’ve been around and standing in elections for over a decade now, so their perseverance and dedication to their cause should be admired.

spiderjerusalemElection Leaflets today brings us the shocking news that a candidate loves living in the constituency she wants to represent. Until someone puts out a leaflet headlined ‘I hate it here’, which likely won’t happen until the Transmetropolitan Party takes off, that’s not really news. Meanwhile, in Cardiff Central, an independent candidate is telling voters they have been hypnotized. Not by him in an attempt to get votes from mesmerising the electorate, but by the political parties and only an independent candidate can break the trance. Unfortunately, he loses all my sympathy by claiming that ‘an independent MP should not be a politician’, which triggers my reflex to defend the meanings of words and point out that by the very act of standing for election you’re a politician. It doesn’t depend on you being in a political party to be in that role.

Eight days to go – this time next week it’ll be all over bar the voting.

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2015 General Election Day 30: Engage with non-voters in the approved manner only

I just looked back at 2010, and discovered my post for day 30 then was called ‘all over bar the voting‘, because that was the last day of the campaign, with just polling day to come. Is there anyone happy we still have over a week to go this time? Campaign duration’s something else we likely need to add to the list of things to review in the operation of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Today’s excuse for the commentariat getting their knickers in a twist was the news that Ed Miliband had been photographed leaving Russell Brand’s house last night. Cue much mirth and then faux-outrage at the idea that he might have been having a conversation with him. All of the pointless bloviators were at it:


Even when it turned out that he was there to do an interview with Brand for his YouTube channel, people still appeared to think this was in some way a mistake by Miliband, which seems to be a point being made solely for partisan benefit, not because it makes any sense. We hear politicians regularly tell us how important it is to vote, and the commentariat love nothing more than telling politicians how they should be engaging with the non-voters (especially the young) to hear their concerns and address them. Well, when the nation’s most public and prominent non-voter asks you to come and do an interview on his million-subscriber YouTube channel which he’ll talk about to his ten million Twitter followers, why not engage? And to see some of my fellow Lib Dems mock Miliband when just a few days ago they were praising Nick Clegg for going on The Last Leg (which began as an engagement with Alex Brooker about his not voting) really isn’t a pretty sight.

This goes to the same issue as the Green Party video from a couple of weeks ago – the political class and the commentariat might mock something, but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just something different and an attempt to reach out to the sort of people their finely wrought columns, Sunday morning chats and carefully thought out blog posts will never reach. I don’t like Brand, as I think he misses out the whole ‘actually being funny’ part of comedy and he appears to have some rather odd and sexist attitudes that many ignore, but I don’t think that puts him somehow beyond the pale where no one should engage with him. Yes, he’s a preening self-obsessed fool who loves using ten big words where one small one would do and is nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is, but so are most politicians, commentators and political editors. I suspect Miliband might get a better conversation from him that he did from Boris Johnson the other day.

As we’re talking about non-voters, it seems apt that today’s minor party from the great big list of parties is the Above and Beyond Party, who are standing in five constituencies across England and Wales. They have one main aim at this election – a ‘none of the above’ option being added to the ballot paper at all future UK elections. Once that’s achieved, they’ll then go on to their main aim, which is to become ‘a movement for radical change, refocusing its energies on encouraging the electorate to vote none of the above in all subsequent general elections until the political establishment properly addresses the need for a new system of governance.’ Like yesterday’s Hoi Polloi, they think the current system is generally corrupt and needs to be replaced with something entirely different. Indeed, amongst all the various minor parties and independents on the ballot, there are plenty who want to change the system entirely (and not just through the various forms of Marxist revolution) and I do wonder if they should be looking to work together more to amplify their voices rather than all losing their deposits. (Though for what it’s worth, I would like to see a none of the above option in our elections)

And finally, today’s dive into the pile of Election Leaflets brings us one of those independent candidates wanting to change the system, but doing it in the sort of clothes you’d expect someone wanting to represent Shoreditch (and Hackney South) would wear. This is Russell Shaw Higgs, who does give off something of the air of an aging Nathan Barley in his pictures, but gains points for being the first candidate I’ve seen talk about sortition in an election leaflet.

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2015 General Election Day 28: Who’s ahead in Wabznasm North?

Election Sundays are notable for two things – a slight scaling down of the activity carried out on the ground by the parties, coupled with a ratcheting up of the ridiculousness of the rhetoric by the Sunday papers. Today, of course, we had the spectacle of the Mail telling us that an arrangement between Labour and the SNP would be the biggest crisis in British politics since the Abdication in 1936. It’s an odd point to use, even if you’re looking for purely constitutional crises, as the Abdication was something that was seen as completely unthinkable before it happened but then when it came, it was all handled with a minimum of fuss and the country did quite well out of it. You’ll certainly find few people who’ll argue that several decades of King Edward VIII would have been better for the country than George VI and Elizabeth II.

It’s all feeling very much like The Day Today reporting on a constitutional crisis:

But don’t worry Britain, everything will be all right:

In future election news, there was an interesting development in the next Tory leadership election battle as Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband found themselves sitting next to each other on Andrew Marr’s Sunday morning sofa. Unfortunately for Boris, his prospects of a coronation shrunk even more as Miliband showed he’s found the way to respond to Boris: stay calm, and don’t get drawn in. I suspect he might have been watching Eddie Mair’s interview with Johnson, where Mair’s refusal to get drawn into Johnson’s blustering tempo led to Boris getting progressively more flustered and open for a clever counterpunch.

Of course, Miliband impressing me on one hand had to be coupled with him annoying me on the other. During his solo interview with Andrew Marr, he casually announced that his government would find ‘back office savings’ in local government allowing him to make more cuts in its budget. There are two key points here: first, local government has been making cuts and finding savings for several years now, and if there were easy savings to be made without cuts to services, it’s be doing them already; second, it’s annoying that he’s taking the standard Westminster approach to local government of assuming it’s there to be commanded and bossed around, not free to find its own ways of doing things. He’s not being different from any government before him, but it’s just annoying when politicians of any party talk like that.

One point of interest that might explain that is that as far as I can tell there are only two Prime Ministers (and they’re the only two party leaders) of the last hundred years with any direct experience of local government. Attlee was Mayor of Stepney just after the First World War, and John Major was a Lambeth councillor in the 60s. It’s a pattern reflected across the senior leadership of all the parties – being a councillor might help in becoming an MP, but a hindrance to getting further than that.

Back to the list of minor parties in the election and we find that the Communities United Party is the next up. They’re not new for this election – though Mark Pack found them a bit of a mystery when they stood in the European Elections last year – and their website isn’t much of a help in deciphering their political stance, but it’s a bit worrying when the picture of the leader on the front has the caption ‘legend leader’ on it and a lot of the website is plastered with adverts for his legal services firm. Still, they have four other candidates standing across London as well as the ‘legend’ Kamran Malik in Brent Central, so it would be unfair to refer to them as solely a one-am band.

Today on Election Leaflets throws up a high-profile independent with a leaflet from Mike Hancock’s campaign to ensure he gets his full £30,000 resettlement allowance re-elected in Portsmouth South. His main call within the leaflet is for better pensions, which might reveal what he expects his situation to be after the election. Still, it makes for an interesting curio in this election, and the sort of thing it’s interesting for Eection Leaflets to have archived for the future.

And that’s how we leave it with eleven days to go. We’ve made it this far, surely we can do the rest?

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Labour annual conference 2014More of politics in action:

1) Say you want more young people to get more involved and interested in politics.
2) Young people get interested in politician and discuss him.
3) say ‘oh, not like that’.

As ever, people talking to the young have forgotten what it was like to be young. Imagine if Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and the rest had been around 20-30 years ago – what embarrassing sites created by journalists and politicians would now be in the archive for us to discover? How many current Tory MPs would have had Thatcher shrines, how many times would Neil Kinnock’s appearance in a Tracy Ullman video have been shared and how many arguments would there have been over what portmanteau name to give to the David Owen/David Steel fandom?

Sure, some future politicians act like they were born aged 50 and would never have done anything so embarrassing as squeeing over a speech, but why should politics be solely the realm of the serious? And aren’t teenagers in cheap suits just cosplaying as their favourite political characters, anyway?

Most political parties are just organised fandoms for a political ideology or slice of political history, it';s just that they’ve been around so long people treat them as something different and respectable. But just like science fiction fans, they gather in obscure places every year for conventions (sorry, ‘conferences’) where they can dress up like their heroes, hear them talk, discuss their favourite elements of the fandom at panel discussions, and occasionally get to meet and be photographed with their favourites.

You’re already in the politics fandom, you just like to pretend it’s not.

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2015 General Election Day 18: Cameron’s Gogglebox strategy fails

Two and a half weeks in, three weeks to go and it feels to me that we might have had the first big moment of the election tonight. There’d been a lot of pre-event discounting of tonight’s debate: Farage was guaranteed to win as the only right-wing voice, everyone would gang up on Miliband, Cameron would look good for staying out of the fray and much more. Instead, it felt like everyone had made a similar calculation: why go for Miliband when he’s there and can fight back when you could take as many free hits at David Cameron as you wanted?

Sure, Miliband had a few clashes with the others but note how many of those were based on ‘if you were Prime Minister’-style questions and except for the clash at the end with Nicola Sturgeon, how he responded pretty well to them all. He got to stand there, look calm, collected, human and Prime Ministerial while David Cameron sat at home, probably gritting his teeth more and more as the night went on. The polling bears it out too – Miliband seems not only to have ‘won’ the debate, but amongst people who watched the debate appears to have edged ahead of Cameron on the preferred Prime Minister question.

The Tory strategy, which seems to have imagined that Ed Miliband would do what he hasn’t done for the past four or more years and fall apart under pressure, is looking worse and worse every day. I mean, Ed Miliband might suddenly collapse into a gibbering wreck in an interview tomorrow, but it’s seeming increasingly unlikely, and probably less likely than the rage that seems to seethe under David Cameron whenever anyone criticises him finally bursting to the surface.

Of course, we now need to see what gets picked up and played on more over the next few days. So far, there seems to be a rather muted response to Miliband’s request to Cameron for a head-to-head debate, but Labour could keep the pressure up on that, as they likely know there’s no way it could actually happen, even if Cameron were to say yes. There’s also the question of how Farage blowing up and insulting the audience is going to be taken up, because it was a moment where he looked like he’d finally realised that he wasn’t speaking for the majority and instead looked like the pub bore challenging someone to a fight. Still, we now know what two hundred people simultaneously having a sharp intake of breath sounds like.

I’ll probably look back on this in three weeks time and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ but things seem to have become interesting at last. That probably means we’ll see everything derailed by ridiculous tabloid claims over the weekend, but for now things might just have taken flight.

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