2015 General Election Day 12: Ahead in the crucial constituency of Potemkin West

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.

Invitation to a blogging masterclass

The competition, apparently.
The competition, apparently.
Apparently, there’s a market – and someone at the Guardian reckons it’s at least 18 strong – for a ‘masterclass’ on live blogging at a cost of £99 for three hours.

I look at that and think ‘who is this Stuart Heritage?’ Does he have the extensive knowledge and experience of blogging that has made him the eighth most influential blogger on the subject of ‘other’? He clearly does not. Has he been nominated for a Blog of the Year award only when the field from which nominees are selected has shrunk dramatically? He hasn’t. Was he featured in print in The Blog Digest 2007? He wasn’t, but yet he still feels he can charge a quite large sum of money to those wanting to receive his blogging experience.

Well, if there’s money for old rope going around, never let it be said that I wasn’t willing to do a half-arsed job and throw something together in an attempt to get a little bit of that cash for myself. Here’s my full day seminar in the things you’ll need to know to be a political blogger as successful, influential and well-regarded as I am.

10am: Welcome, Introductions and Getting To Know You In which I spend at least ten minutes looking at a list of names, counting heads in the room and saying ‘we’ll just give the stragglers a couple of minutes’ before getting started on reading out this schedule to you, as though you’ve never seen it before. Following that, I’ll ask you all to introduce yourselves, figuring that as you’ve all come to an event about how to get other people to read your opinions, you’ll easily fill an hour between you bigging up your own self-importance and getting into pointless arguments.

11am: The basics of blogging In which I ignore the fact that all the attendees already have blogs and tell you how to start a blog, including a ridiculously detailed PowerPoint presentation on signing up for WordPress. (Note: This will be the only part of the course where I have anything resembling notes and a plan and am not desperately winging it)

11.45am: Developing your own complex and detailed political opinions: The amount of time we devote to this subject will reflect its importance in creating an interesting and well-read blog.

11.50am: Who needs opinions when columnists can have them for you? Includes important lessons on how to get newspaper pundits to tweet a link to the post in which you bravely agree with whatever they wrote that morning.

12.30: Lunch (not included in price). Attendees will be given the opportunity to learn more of the secrets of blogging if they buy me food and drink at a nearby pub.

2pm: The @loveandgarbage guide to live blogging: Special guest tutor Love And Garbage (invited, but not confirmed at time of going to press), author of many live blogs including ‘Is it snowing outside?’, ‘Is there snow outside?’ and ‘Snow’ will explain all the intricacies of this special form of blogging. As an acknowledged master of digital communication, Love And Garbage’s lessons are not to be missed (attendance still not confirmed at this time).

3pm: How to be a success at political blogging: This session will help turn you into a top class political blogger. Topics covered will include:

  • How to cherry pick polls to prove your point
  • The conventional wisdom: Isn’t the true bravery in standing up for it, not challenging it?
  • Telling people just what they want to hear – and getting them to share it
  • Building an audience through the use of partisan factoids
  • Speaking truth to power: How to tell the powerful they’re looking really good, are completely right about everything and do they have any jobs available?
  • (Some of these topics will be covered in greater depth on our full-day ‘How To Work For A Think Tank’ course – 10% discounts available to everyone who completes the blogging masterclass!)
    All topics will be covered by way of me improvising wildly based on half-completed PowerPoint presentations, and attempting to stoke arguments amongst attendees in the hopes that’ll fill some time.

    4.30pm: Close and Conclusions A chance for me to make many of the same points again, then fill more of your time by asking you all to tell us what you’ve learned on the course. Please feel free to tell us all in great detail how it’s proved you’re right about everything.

    Following the event, the tutor will retire to a nearby pub, where you will be invited to buy him drinks in the hope of learning more of my wisdom of blogging.

    The details: Attendance is just £5.50 per person, though Ryanair-style additional charges may be made for extras such as having a seat or being in the actual room where the masterclass is taking place. Location TBC, but likely to end up being whichever coffee shop has the comfiest seats and staff who are least likely to throw us out for hogging space and not buying anything. Attendees should expect to bring their own laptops, tablets, chargers, power sources and ideas to the course as none will be supplied. All guest tutors are unconfirmed at this time, and may be replaced by whoever responds to a desperate plea for help on Twitter on the morning of the event. All attendees will be given the right to design and print their own certificate of attendance. Tutors reserve the right to be more interested in browsing social media than teaching the course. All timings are subject to change, especially for the afternoon after the pub. No refunds.