Wednesday, May 14, 2014

That campaign so far

Eight days to go to the European and local elections and I imagine that all readers of this blog have been overwhelmed by the glossy and meaningless literature that seems to be what election campaigns consist of these days. There is something to be said for abolishing that right to free postage so that parties start considering a little more carefully what they send out to stupefy the electorate. Of course, they can always hire cheap immigrant labour to deliver leaflets but they will not have that free post.

This year's crop has been outstandingly dire in both content and design. The first Labour leaflet I received had a big picture of Ed Miliband looking solemn and the message: "Only Labour will tackle the cost-of-living crisis". Reading this and glancing through the other items: NHS, "free" childcare, housing crisis and soaring energy bills, I could not help wondering whether the party in question had the first idea of which particular elections were coming up. For Mr Miliband's information, none of that can be solved in the European Parliament and very little at the local level.

Actually, tucked away in a corner there was a reference to MEPs who are fighting for jobs and growth (mostly their own jobs and the growth of their waistlines) because, forsooth, we would lose 3.5 million jobs if we left the EU. It seems quite extraordinary that anyone should come up with that particular chestnut still or to think that Britain's membership of the EU somehow depends on the MEPs.

Since then I have also received the Labour leaflet for the local election in which they promise to cut taxes (having clearly forgotten that when they controlled the council, our local tax rate was among the highest in London) and to protect the NHS or the local hospitals or something like that. Nobody, I may add, has been able to explain precisely what the plans are about local hospitals and what alternatives there might be to the projected rearrangements, known by some campaigners and the Labour party as cuts. Nevertheless, it is a bad sign for the Labour party that all they can campaign on is the NHS.

I was not altogether surprised to read that they are now behind the Conservatives in opinion polls, a most unusual situation at this stage of the electoral cycle. It made me recall the 1992 General Election, the first in which UKIP's predecessor, the Anti-Federalist League campaigned. (Yes, it has been around that long.) The day I realized that Labour would lose was when I was accosted by some supporter of theirs who solemnly argued that the real power in the land was the Monday Club. I put my money where my mouth was and eventually won £10 from a friend. Still, Labour can comfort themselves with the thought that opinion polls matter less than the actual election. At least, they might be able to comfort themselves with that thought until next Thursday.

Let's get the unimportant ones out of the way. I have not had any Lib-Dim literature but I gather that they are calling on all of us to re-elect the egregious Sarah Ludford, as ghastly a euro-weenie as I have ever come across and much given to hyperventilation. At one debate she became quite hysterical about people she described as climate deniers. I asked her whether these people actually denied that there was such a thing as a climate. She just gobbled.

The Greens are calling on me to re-elect Jean Lambert but for some reason all the policies are out and out socialist ones, thus proving that saying about watermelons.

Then there is something called the Communities United Party who desperately need a proof-reader to get rid of the inappropriate capitals in their leaflet though I hope they keep the fierce eagle. I am not altogether sure what they are campaigning about as they seem to think all sorts of issues can be solved in the European Parliament and I am not certain that their slogan, Strength in Unity, is entirely appropriate. Reminds me of all those fly-by-night parties that used to appear just before European elections with much fanfare, putting forward "real people" as candidates who invariably demonstrated their reality by knowing nothing about the European Parliament for which they were standing. Mind you, I think that the Communities United Party is against Britain's withdrawal from the European Union though I am not sure I can quite work out their argument.

So we come to the Conservatives, whose local election leaflet does not mention Charing Cross Hospital, possibly because that has more to do with the near-bankrupt Imperial College Healthcare than the local council or possibly because they have some guilty secrets there. They have a certain advantage over the Labour candidates in that they can actually point to a reduction in Council Tax and in debt plus a few achievements that are almost impossible to check. What does 25% reduction in crime mean? Are there really 44 extra police officers in the borough and what do they do? Still, I am reasonably pleased with the 6 new free schools, assuming they have actually opened and the 1,000 affordable homes to buy, assuming they do actually exist.

The more general communication that is aimed at the European Election proves without any doubt that the Conservatives are also using the campaign to fight next year's General Election. On the cover, a picture of their leader, our Prime Minister, the Boy-King himself, speaking rather than looking solemn. Well, looking solemn as he is speaking. What is he offering? A stronger economy at home, renewed respect abroad, real change in Europe. Two out of three are so vague as to be incomprehensible. How do you define renewed respect or real change. Experience with "Europe" tells us that the only real change we ever see is movement towards greater integration.

Moving on into the leaflet, I find out that these are the most important European Elections in a generation as for the "first time since the Eurozone crisis you get to have your say on Britain's relationship with Europe". I am not sure where to start in analyzing that particular piece of nonsense. We get our say on our relationship with Europe by voting for a certain party to send its members to the European Parliament, an institution of the European Union, of which we are a member? Just writing that sentence makes my head spin. Later on we are told that they are fighting to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU which makes about as much sense as people fighting to renegotiate Herefordshire's relationship with the United Kingdom.

Apparently, if we send in the Conservatives, fundamental changes will take place in the EU. Just to prove that we have a pretty picture of the London team with the Leader. Well, to be fair, the Conservatives are the only ones who have a picture of the whole team, regardless of whether they are likely to get in or not. (I doubt if numbers 6, Sheila Lawlor, or 7, Glyn Chambers, will.)

I left UKIP to last, partly because from the point of the view of this blog that could be said to be the most important party and the biggest missed opportunity and partly because it is still possible that they will come top. The great thing about the European Elections is that, because of the list system, nobody really wins but almost everybody does. So, UKIP coming top in the Euros will not produce a political revolution in this country any more than them coming second last time did. In fact, it will do very little unless they can parlay that into some seats in the General Election next year or one or two by-elections before that, of which there is no chance.

So, first things first, the news that Gerard Batten's home was attacked in the early hours of this morning is completely outrageous, regardless of what one thinks of the party. If, indeed, this is part of an organized campaign to intimidate UKIP (just as there was an organized campaign to intimidate the BNP) then it is also incredibly stupid. Do these people really not understand that this sort of violence merely gives their target group extra support? No, I don't suppose they do. At present, the police are investigating the attack so any other comments from me would be superfluous and quite probably factually wrong. (Here is another article that concentrates on Farage and his fears.)

Back to UKIP election literature of which there is more than from any other party. Either they have had another influx of money or what we are seeing is the well-known Farage strategy of throwing everything at one aim and to hell with the future.

To date, I have had two glossy and one newspaper-type leaflets. Mostly they say the same thing over and over again: there are people coming into this country to take away jobs, accommodation and the country in general. That is the main message with all other issues, including actual membership of the EU, becoming subordinate. That is something of a risky strategy: what if, despite being worried about mass immigration, the electorate of this country reacts badly to this kind of naked fear-mongering and hatred of the outsider?

One glossy leaflet had a big picture of the Great Leader on one side and a much smaller picture of Gerard Batten, the London MEP, on the other. It is, of course, important not to have a bigger picture of yourself than that of the Leader, not to have one above that of the Leader and not to look as if you were taller than the Leader.

On the Batten side (small photograph) we have a good deal about "4,000 people a week" coming to live in Britain from the EU and the cost in British jobs, pushed down wages and pressure on schools, health, welfare. I presume that means that people coming from outside the EU do not have that effect. What, I wonder, about the large number of French people who tend to get jobs in the higher ranks of the economy? Not all. Plenty of French work in catering as do plenty of Poles, Spanish (highly incompetent) and others. Also many Brits and Antipodeans. But, undoubtedly, there are pressures on school, health and welfare, all of which need root and branch reform, strongly opposed .... by .... yes, you guessed it, UKIP.

On the Farage side (big picture) we get a paragraph about immigration and then one that makes me think that UKIP could do with some editors:
We have no control over our borders, but we also have no control over who we trade with, how much we pay to heat our homes and feed our families or how we just get on with our lives. 
To think that Mr Farage attended Dulwich College, the alma mater of two of the best twentieth century stylists: P. G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler.

The other glossy leaflet concentrated on UKIP's image as the radical, non-political party (just as their Leader is a non-political politician who is really rather a good bloke). Another picture of Nigel Farage inviting us all to join his team and informing us that "we are all going UKIP this year" because of Labour failure on immigration, Tory failure on planning (not strict enough), Liberal (ahem!) sell out to the EU and Green energy price hikes. Note, please, that the EU as a whole comes in third and is attributed only to the Lib-Dims. At least, I assume they do not mean the Liberal Party that is still in existence and is furiously opposed to the European project.

Examples of the "all" are shown by 18 small photos on either side of the Leader, implying that these are people who have seen the light. A quick look through and I recognized about a third as members, activists, candidates and employees of UKIP of long standing, including Sanya-Jeet Thandi who has since left the party. Ah well. Can't win them all.

So, UKIP is not entirely honest in its election literature. So what? Is any party? No, of course not and I think I have made that reasonably clear above. The point is not that UKIP is no worse than anyone else, despite the prevalence of troglodytes among the members, but that their USP, apart from the fear of incomers, is that they are different: not political, not corrupt, not dishonest. Not like the other parties, in other words. That is why it is so damaging when they behave exactly like the other parties and politicians.

Similarly, it would not be a newsworthy item that UKIP employed Latvians at what one assumes were rock bottom wages to deliver their leaflets if their campaign had not concentrated on the subject of immigrant workers taking British jobs and depressing British wages.

Finally, there is the UKIP News, the newspaper-style leaflet, that covers a few issues, the biggest one of which, the one that has the huge main headline: Britain Faces Fresh Wave of Immigrants. Everything else, effect on the City, the European Arrest Warrant, scandalous waste of EU aid projects (as if foreign aid that we give directly was not scandalously wasted and misused), all pale into insignificance.

Do I think this is racist? No. Furthermore, the cries of racism help UKIP in that they can preen themselves as people who are unjustly attacked by demented lefties. As a consequence, they never really have to explain their policies or their statements or how has a party that is supposedly a free-market, vaguely libertarian entity become protectionist, big statist (just read what they say about planning) and backward looking to a rose-coloured view of that tiresome decade, the fifties.


  1. Helen, in regard to your post following this one, why should anyone attack you for your honesty?

    It is well known that party manifestos are not worth the paper on which they are written. As well as being in most cases literally incorrect, they also include subjects which as you say are not actually relevant.

    Luckily I have not had one election leaflet actually delivered through my letter box but have received two each from the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats via email - and there was I thinking that it was an offence to misrepresent facts until looking at the Electoral Commission website and not being able to find anything that said misrepresentation was illegal.

    As to my being the first to comment - and referencing your following post -
    I can only assume all your readers, like me, have been away for a couple of days.

    Keep up the pithy comments, do.

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