Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Better Late...

Got home last night to see a lady wearing a red rosette leaving the house. Aha, I thought, it's the Labour canvasser dropping off their candidate's leaflet. But I was wrong, she was from Save the Children.
A few hours later a rustle at the letterbox and the long awaited flyer was on the mat. Only 4 pictures of the candidate - what's going on here? I've been deluged with pictures of the Tory and LibDem guys. I mean, if I don't have the image of the bloke imprinted deep within my brain how can I be expected to vote for him?
This morning Brian Sedgemore, a retiring Labour MP, announced his defection to the LibDems citing disillusion with Tony over Iraq. Now we can expect a barrage of comments from the Party explaining how marginal and unrepresentative he is, and generally rubbishing everything he has done in 27 years in Parliament.
Funniest story of the Election so far - John Prescott (You loved him as "Rocky" in 2001) badmouthing a local journalist in Wales who dared to ask him about yet another defection. "I'm a national politician, I don't care about Wales" said the Deputy Prime Minister. Yes, that should get the hearts of the solid Labour voters in the valleys beating a little quicker. Read the whole wonderful story. You couldn't make it up.

Friday, April 22, 2005

It's Hotting Up

Arrived home last night to find no less than 3 election flyers - Conservative, LibDem and Green. Mike Cox of the LibDems is clearly trying for a Simon Hoggart award for the candidate with the most photos of themselves in a single leaflet - I counted 12. Nothing from Labour.
And then, great excitement, a knock on the door and a polite gentleman introducing himself as the local Conservative councillor and asking if his party had my support. Now I always plan to tell all canvassers that of course I will support their party, so that they go away quickly and if this gives them a false impression about voting trends, then well and good, keep the buggers in suspense I say. But he was so polite and unaggressive I didn't have the heart to lie, so I just told him I was unlikely to be on his side. Mrs. Commuter cheered him up when she said she had voted Tory in the past but she didn't give him any encouragement about what she may do this time. He took it manfully, gave me a photo of Nick Hurd and departed, sadder but wiser.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

To the Hustings

Last night, Mrs. Commuter and I joined a gathering of about 130 at a local church to hear the candidates for the Ruislip-Northwood seat. There were sharp contrasts and many surprising points of agreement. We know the winner of course, R-N being one of the safest Tory seats in the country. He is Nick Hurd. He came across fairly well, a typical Tory candidate with a public school/Oxbridge/banking background and extremely well connected thanks to his famous father. The young Labour candidate, a child nurse, impressed with his enthusiasm. I hope he is selected for a more promising seat next time. I was somewhat less taken by the LibDem, although he is a well known local councillor and will get my support anyway as the only way I can register a protest against a Labour Government that in many ways I would like to see continue in office. The Green bloke came across like a quirky teacher, which we learned in the course of the evening he was, well intentioned but so never explained how insulating a few homes in the UK and taxing aviation fuel is going to cut global warming and save the rainforests. And a very odd UKIP person who rattled through a list of policies without putting any in context and relied on the mantra of taking Britain out of Europe and cutting bureaucracy. To be fair he only agreed to stand for election a couple of days ago. To be even fairer, he only strengthened my belief that UKIP are a bunch of weirdos and loonies who haven't the faintest idea what their policies would really mean for the country.

It was very heartening that all candidates spoke positively about their parties, rather than attacking the others, and listened politely to the questions and to the answers that the others gave. They all paid lip service to the latest bandwagon, "Matron" as the answer to dirty hospitals. I always assume that when everyone thinks something is a good idea that it probably isn't. When everyone goes on about cutting red tape and layers of management, and simultaneously claim to believe in better administration, shorter waiting lists and cleaner hospitals you just have to wonder if they have any idea how large institutions work. Actually the GMB union has got it dead right. In an advert in today's Guardian they make the simple point that if you want cleaner hospitals you need to pay for people to clean them.

This being largely a Christian audience there was no particular support for anti-immigration policies and Hurd made very little of his own party's views. Abortion was discussed and all the candidates seemed to think that this was a matter of conscience but that the present arrangements were the best we could get. The LibDem, Mike Cox, asserted that as a Catholic he was against abortion but also that he would not change the current law.

There was little passion in the air (good, clouds the judgement), a lot of understated support for the Labour Government's investment in health and tax credits, some boos for Metronet for not putting a lift into the rebuilt Ruislip Manor tube station, and no women on the platform. With 5 candidates and 1 chairman, this seemed wrong.

My heart went out to one questioner, who asked why two druggies who burgled him got a lower sentence than he had when doing 46mph on a 40mph road. The panel argued that stiffer sentences were needed but that prison didn't work, so no very clear result. They weren't very sympathetic to him about the speeding. As one who frequently finds that the only safe speed on the A40 is at least 10mph over the limit, in order to keep up with the traffic and prevent being endlessly boxed in by big trucks, he had my total sympathy.

Full marks to the chairman for ending exactly on time (the wife was finding the wooden seats hard going).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Head vs. Heart

Yesterday I wrote about the unspoken theme behind the Tories "not racist" slogan,and hoped this would backfire. Pleasing to see that the headline in the Guardian today suggesting that it is, and that leading Tories are becoming worried by the tactic.

All parties have their written policies and their instincts. What they put in a manifesto, debate at conferences and put across to the electorate is one thing. What they will actually do when in power and confronted by the pressure of events is something else. Often, trying to make a quick decision in awkward circumstances, with civil servants telling them that their ideas don't or won't work in practice and with newspapers kneejerk headlines pulling them in directions they may not have planned to go, they fall back on their instincts. "Is he one of us?" Mrs. Thatcher used to ask about her colleagues. Everyone knew what she meant. Labour used to have its test of whether someone was a true socialist.

My fear is of Tory instincts. The instincts that led to the introduction of the Poll tax and the privatisation of the railways. The anti-Europe, little-Britain what ever happened to the Empire mindset. The "all foreigners are scroungers and lazy layabouts who only come here to claim social security and when you chuck them out they complain about human rights violations" attitudes that underly the "you know its really quite reasonable to discuss immigration" approach. Howard Flight spoke truly when he told what he thought was a private audience that the Tories had a real agenda about tax cuts but they couldn't talk about it until they were in power. His audience understood perfectly. Michael Howard understood perfectly as well - such things must not be discussed in public full stop. So he sacked the hapless Flight as vice-chairman and then barred him from standing as an MP. But this only illustrates my point. The roots of Toryism run very deep and will keep on springing up no matter what the leadership says. There are plenty of decent people in the Conservative party - can they steer the party on a course fitting its higher ideals?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Poll watching

Ten days into the election campaign (and I don't mean the conclave under way in the Sistine Chapel). For this blogger it's become rather quiet. Not one communication from a political party through the letter box since last Monday. Not a single poster to be seen in Ruislip. Somehow I have failed to see a single party political broadcast, not through conscious avoidance, just because none have been scheduled at any time I have been watching TV (which has not been a lot recently, apart from the snooker, because I have been playing Rome: Total War again, having discovered how to play as any faction available, instead of just one of the three Roman factions - I've been playing Egypt for several days and am finding it tough going, especially now that Rome has declared an utterly unprovoked war on me, the bastards, and is clearing my ships out of the Eastern Med...but I digress).

The opinion polls are pleasingly diverse, some showing the Tories just ahead and others showing a 3 - 6 point gap in favour of Labour. It's much more fun when public opinion is volatile and politicians are forced to listen more closely. Hopefully the Tory campaign based on "we are not racists but are you thinking what we are thinking, wink wink nudge nudge, foreigners out" is failing to galvanise floating voters, although it may be bolstering the will of die-hard supporters to turn out on the day. Amazingly, the disaster at MG Rover has seemingly been accepted as just one those things, instead of it being used to show incompetent the Government is, or provoking a massive kneejerk reaction - in the past quasi-Nationalisation would be the outcome from a Labour Government desperate to sway the many marginal seats in the West Midlands.

I think the strangest theme has been the Matron/Cleaner hospitals idea from the Tories. It is hard to understand how this can possibly be a party political issue anyway - is there a party in favour of dirty hospitals? I don't think so - but to have this coming from the party who on ideological grounds privatised cleaning and created the internal market is galling. The internal market where,every service within a hospital was charged for, creating a useless layer of administration and paper-processing, whilst almost certainly reducing efficiency and health-management (because the lowest cost providers of any service are not normally the best and the short term economies invariably increase longer term running costs, as is clearly shown by the grip that the MRSA bug now has in many hospitals) is a disaster. It is based on a thorough misunderstanding of the theory of markets, a ludicrous belief in the idea that "pure competition" is the best state for an economy and a value judgement that all non-financial transactions are inherently sub-optimal. (This is one subject I feel I know something about, having read economics at Cambridge.)

And the missing theme of this election? Massive improvements in the ghastly signalling and information systems used by the London Underground. This commuter would pay keen attention to any party sticking their neck out on this one.

So onward into the second full week of the campaign.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Brilliant timing

Congratulations to Sarah and Charles Kennedy on the arrival of their new baby.

Now let's be honest. Would we rather drool over a snap of happy parents and bundle of joy, or another boring election manifesto (the launch of which was postponed due to said arrival)? I know I would (drool that is).

Was it a wonderful coincidence or did some brutal political scheming take place during early September?

Monday, April 11, 2005

When is a lie not a lie?

I quite like the LibDems. I hope they strengthen their representation in the next Parliament to bring it closer to 20% or so votes that they will be receive. But I am not impressed by a stupid lie in the Ruislip candidate's latest flyer. He writes that the election is a straight choice between Conservative and LibDem and that Labour are out of the race, quoting the result in the local elections in 2004.

Now this is mendacious. At the 2001 General Election in Ruislip-Northwood, the Tories got 48%, Labour 28% and the LibDems 18%. Yup, the LibDems go into this election from a weak third position. All electoral history shows that voting at General Elections follows the pattern of previous General Elections and that local and bye-elections count for little. The LibDems have a ghostly chance, but to claim that Labour are out of it is a lie. Or at least to state this as though it is an established fact is a lie since it is acceptable as a statement of opinion.

So the answer to my question is that a lie is not a lie when uttered by a politician. I'm not sure how to categorise it. "Vapourware" has long been used in IT circles to characterise publicity claims about non-existent products "just" about to be released. Perhaps "Politspeak" should designate the utterly risible and untrue claims made by politicians who extrapolate wildly from relatively trivial figures and ignore the basic reality.

Other examples of Politspeak in recent days
Alex Salmond of the SNP on the radio at the weekend "We are the only party with the policies to make Scotland succeed"
The Labour party's stupid statements about Tory spending "cuts" based on forecasts for public spending in five years time.
"It's not racist to talk about immigration"
"UKIP could win 20 seats"

The monitoring continues...

Saturday, April 09, 2005

After the race

Quite an exciting Grand National. I picked Strong Resolve and the wife chose Just in Debt. 40 started, 20 finished and our two were amongst them, though not in the top 5. So we didn't win. Actually, as we placed no bets, we did not stand to win very much anyway but it's the thought that counts.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Election Apathy

To the Comedybunker, Ruislip's comedy club. 3 young stand-ups did short sets then Jim Tavare plus double bass headlined with an excellent mixture of visual, verbal and musical gags. But none of these guys so much as mentioned the election, nor aimed any cracks at our political leaders, nor tried to sway the votes of the audience. Is satire dead? Seems like it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Election Fever

The General Election campaign is upon us and from now until Polling Day, this commuter will blog the impact of it all as it affects him, personally. Future historians of social and political trends may find this invaluable material in analysing the nature of British democracy and public life. Or not. Time will tell but until then, here is today's digest.

The election should have been announced on Monday 4th but a long awaited event in Rome took precedence. Several commentators picked up on the relative importance given to the Pope's death and funeral arrangements compared to British domestic politics and the wedding of the heir to to the throne, postponed from Friday to Saturday (and in turn forcing a hasty rearrangement of the timing of the Grand National, which reminds me, I really must get a horse and put my shirt on it one fine day. I don't mean acquire a financial interest in a nag; what I am after is a hot tip straight from the stable, an unfailing winner totally unknown to the betting public returning huge odds. Trouble is, the only horses I have ever heard of are Red Rum, Arkle and Shergar and I understand from my sources that none of them is available to participate in this year's race. Or a race in any year come to that. But I digress).
Yes, the first theme of this election is the subordination of the Protestant Kingdom of Great Britain to the Church of Rome. Poor old Thomas Cromwell. He got his head chopped off anyway by an ungrateful Henry VIII but not before pushing through the most important social and economic changes in England since the Norman Conquest, and now the very Monarchy, of whose supremacy in religous matters he was the architect, is once more in thrall to an organisation that denies the very legitimacy of their coronation (given that Anglican priests are not recognised so the crowning by the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be seen as authentic from a Catholic perspective).
Now I don't really care about this much, not espousing any variant of Christian belief, but it is amusing the extent to which the most carefully laid plans go astray through chance events. Tony Blair has had 5th May pencilled in as election day for at least a year but his chosen day to kick-off the campaign is ruled off-side (nice sporting metaphor there, hope you're enjoying this at home). And as for the Royal Wedding, the cock-ups deserve far more space than I intend to give them.

So the dissolution of Parliament was announced on Tuesday. Not in Parliament but to the press gathered in Downing Street. That struck me as odd. One might have thought that Parliament was the right place and that for TB to go on to give a speech to the hacks was an abuse of power.

That night I encountered my first campaigners. A noisy group of young men stood outside Baron's Court station with leaflets. One of them chanted "Conservative, Conservative" a few times. I've no idea if he thought that this was more likely to make me vote for them or if he was reminding his colleagues of the party they wish to support. They appeared to be clean, well-dressed and sober but I don't know which policies they sought to bring to my attention.

That night the LibDems dropped a newsletter off at home. Local councillor photographed with a policeman. Local councillor looks sternly at some thing in the street. Local councillor unhappy about development of Ruislip Manor station (now that one does strike a chord with this writer).
On Wednesday the Conservatives dropped in an offering. This tells us that one Nick Hurd is their candidate. Having recently read Douglas Hurd's autobiography, I fancy this must be his son. Ruislip-Northwood has traditionally returned very right wing Tories in what is one of their safest seats. Does he follow his father's more liberal views? Hurd the elder certainly came across in his book as being an essentially decent and well-meaning cove, not saddled with the obsession with ideology that screwed up many of his colleagues and I hope he has passed this on.

Apart from this no signs of any untoward going on. No election posters in any homes or shop windows, no loudspeaker vans, no canvassers at the stations with their brightly coloured button-holes. Perhaps everyone is waiting to see off the Pope and then when Charles has done the right thing by his mistress and a few kilos of prime catfood has clattered past the winning post at Aintree, the serious business can begin.