(original artwork by Matthew Harding)
Follow Gary Raymond as he casts an alternative (and unabashed) eye on the build-up to the the 2015 General Election.
To establish the tone of this diary, I’ll let Hunter S. Thompson, here writing about Richard Nixon, do it on my behalf…
Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.
Friday, April 10th
16/40 – Ready for the swing
The campaigning calendar continues to unravel into the public orifices. First thing you learn looking at these things every day, is that the punches often come early. This is why breakfast news shows on television and radio are so important; it is all about setting the agenda for the rest of the day. This is why Michael Fallon did a pretty good job of moving the narrative away from Nom Doms yesterday and instead shifted the story on to what an awful shit he had been to Miliband on the Today Programme on Radio 4. I remember reading that JFK liked a lie in, but ol’ talkin’ Ed is no JFK, even if the right wing press have been trying to portray him as a bit of a shagger.
The story here was in fact that Miliband has had some girlfriends, and it is more than likely that he slept with them during the time of their relationships. It’s difficult to understand exactly where the outrage comes from, or at least where a writer can summon it. The right have every intention of chipping away at Ed by the looks of things, with volume being more important than content.
And so with this mind George Osborne announces that should the Tories be elected in May they will put £8bn into the NHS in the next five years. Osborne says it loudly. And repeats ‘long-term economic plan’ until one of his aids slaps him on the back to jerk the record along. It is an unfunded pledge, and every time this is pointed out to him, that there is no real content to this announcement, he just turns the volume up.
You have to wonder about the impact on the voting populace. Politicians are not popular, and there’s little any of them can do about it in time for the election. The polls will not budge, no matter how much free candy floss for pensioners Cameron promises, or how many heads on sticks outside HSBC Miliband says he’s going to erect. Next week is the week the parties publish their manifestos, and we can see if that has much of an effect on the polls – but I doubt it will. It looks already as though the only scenarios for a swing is either a late one, based upon a gradual solidifying of public opinion that has hitherto been waiting until the last moment; or there will be one of those election-defining cringe moments such as Brown and that ‘bigoted woman’: Miliband kicking a pensioner to death live on camera phone, or Cameron helping one off the floor – y’know, the sort of thing their parties’ core vote would recoil at seeing.
Saturday, April 11th
17/40 – Preaching to the converted?
George Eaton published an interesting article in The New Statesman yesterday, believe it or not, that suggested the reason why the Tories believe they can get away with unfunded pledges of massive cuts is because they seem to think they have such a solid reputation with the economy that people will simply give them the benefit of the doubt and wave them in to power. Seeing as the Tories view everyone who didn’t go to Eton as a kind of doorman/butler anyway, I have to sympathise with their view, like sympathising with a dog for seeing in black and white.
But if this is true it means a few things; firstly, either the Tories are totally out of touch with the average person on the street, or I am. Or both. And they definitely are. And I probably am. So it’s both.
There is a theory that, in general, the right – across the world and throughout history – does not like people to vote, and you wonder if this has a place here. The smaller the voting populace the easier it is to control that populace, and the easier it is to control the narrative they engage with. The larger the vote the more people disagree with you, and, traditionally, seeing as when a voting percentage goes up it is almost certainly due to an increase in the votes of poor people and ethnic minorities, the more people disagree with the Tories. There is a canny theory that the Tories have purposely not built new houses during their time in power, in order to keep the prices up. If they keep the voting percentage down, the chances are that those voting will be made in significant proportion of those who have not been bushwhacked by coalition policy. They are also likely to be, in proportion, right-leaning anyway.
Quite a number of commentators (echoing Andrew Neil last week on This Week) have been making the point today that both main parties are only really interested in their core vote; the Tories are not interested in reaching the working classes, and Labour are turning inwards trying to regain the favour of their traditional supporters rather than reaching to middle England, the tactic that gave Blair his landslide in ’97. Eaton’s theory would certainly support this. But whereas Labour appears to spot a winning-strategy in their naval-gazing, you have to wonder if the Tories simply have an incapability when it comes to talking to those who don’t already believe them.
Sunday, April 12th
18/40 – The Only Way is Westminster
There is a lingering spectre around this election, a ghost haunting the feast, a creature so wretched it has become difficult to ignore its wails. At first it popped up and created a slight ripple, but a slight ripple in a far off, and largely insignificant, corner of the political ocean (the Lib Dem campaign). But it seems oxygen has alerted something deep within it. It is known as ‘The Joey Essex’, although I am led to believe by people better informed than I, that ‘Essex’ is simply a moniker adapted from the television programme where it was first caught on camera. Nobody really knows its name.
I wonder if this ‘Essex’ will become significant to the electorate. The media seem to be coming more and more convinced that he represents a slice of the public that they do not understand. Remember that the Westminster journalists are no more ‘in touch’ with the man on the street than the politicians they are constantly ridiculing for being ‘out of touch’ with the man on the street. And whereas the ‘Essex’ provided a little bit of light relief when he was hanging out with Nick Clegg (or Nick Smegg or whatever Essex had hitherto thought the Deputy PM’s name was), he has since been interviewed by several news outlets, appeared on This Week where Andrew Neil prodded him with a wet sponge on a stick for ten minutes, and then as a guest of John Pienaar, Radio 5 Live’s political supremo (kind of like being a translator of Cervantes in a GCSE Spanish class). As it turns out, Essex is popping up all over the place because he is the main character in an ITV programme entitled ‘Educating Joey Essex’, which seems like the ultimate mash up of shit TV programmes. I expect an ITV camera crew to follow a turd through a chat show host’s u-bend any day now: ‘Made in Jeremy Kyle’ anyone?
But the serious point here is exactly how ‘Essex’ is getting into these studios. Yes, being followed by an ITV camera crew will certainly help, and he is a celebrity; but is there a niggling feeling in the backs of the minds of Andrew Neil and Jon Pienaar, never mind Nick Smegg and Nigel Farage, that they might get a moment’s insight into the voting intentions of the great unwashed?
Monday, April 13th
19/40 – Too Close to Care
I’ve seen and heard a few comments in the last few days – and the tone seems to be growing – that this General Election is ‘the dullest election ever!’ (to quote a vicar from the comments thread of an article in The Spectator). To critique this frame of mind, first you need to try and understand where a person might find excitement in the meat of an election – any election. Many would say a close election is in itself exciting, as the public will be kept guessing until they have had their ultimate collective say. But there is another thread that suggests an exciting election must be littered with incident. By that second ruling, this is a dull election, no matter how many times Dimbleby tells you otherwise. And perhaps therein lies a fascinating tell.
A ‘too close to call’ election is one where the excitement occurs in inches, where every murmur and groan must be analysed within an inch of its life. Even though polls work within a 4 point margin of error, the fact that a day on Sky News can be spent extrapolating over a fart in a hurricane when both main parties have been stuck side by side for two years means the election is of course interminably dull. But the political media love it – because they can exercise their windbag glands, and when it comes to rolling around in the mud, it seems, for political commentators, counter-intuitively, the shallower the better. In these circles, it is absolutely a sincere and firm belief that ‘too close to call’ = ‘nail-biting’.
But for the average person on the street, this is less trying to explain cricket to an American, more trying to explain jumping off a bridge to a guy just idly driving over a bridge. It’s quite an important point, and one worth bringing up again and again and applying to different instances, that the political media and the politicians are made of the same stuff. They may be our translators, but if you go walking the Himalayas it’s a Nepalese you want, but they won’t understand anything about you, either.
Much more importantly, today marked the publication of the Labour Party Manifesto. Ol’ Talkin’ Ed, whose approval ratings are in danger of touching the underside of the floor so unexpectedly good his performance has been so far in this election, gave firm indication of Labour’s direction. It is to be gritty modesty, decidedly far removed from New Labour (but we knew that with his attack on the Nom Doms). Almost everything, including the tone, we already knew. He will ingratiate a few – some students, perhaps, with the cut in tuition fees, but that will be offset by the terrified Vice Chancellors and their bean counters who have just been told their subsidy will be cut by a third – (expect a letter from them before long). But the manifesto is all about being sensible. Take money from the wealthy and try to help out the poor and vulnerable in society. Very little to win over the mid-to-right voter that catapulted Blair into office in ’97. New Labour is now officially consigned to history. At least for today.
Tuesday, April 14th
20/40 – the Halfway House
Tory manifesto launch today. And also the halfway mark of this diary. 20 days gone, 20 to go. The Tory party, it seems, in keeping with the regard they’ve always had for me, don’t intend to make the next 20 days easy.
The most interesting part of the manifesto was their double-up on the Labour pledge in regards to childcare. Labour said they would double free childcare, and the Tories have said they will quadruple it, and give free ice creams, delivered by koala bears, to every single mother having a tough day. They also decided to dust off Right-to-Buy. Whether Right-to-Buy, since Thatcher brought it in in the eighties, has been a good thing or a bad thing is up for debate, but that the Tories have not built enough houses while in power is not. (Interestingly Big Business is dead set against Right-to-Buy, but nobody seems quite as interested in their opinion this time).
And it seems the policy is largely badly thought through, but is the Tory shot at talking to poor people. As Michael Gove wrote in the second instalment of his autobiography, Life After Pob: ‘Council houses is where the poor people live, whereas as the rest of us inherit our houses.’ (The Inheritance Tax is not popular at the Gove house).
Talking of Gove, he wheeled his massive balls into the Newsnight studio once again, where they have a camp bed folded up behind a filing cabinet for him now. Presenter Emily Maitliss gave him a good grilling (‘the unfairness of [your Right-to-Buy proposal] is obvious and striking, isn’t it?’) on his party’s manifesto pledges, but, sans spectacles, (which is kind of like Elton John without the weave), he batted away most of her well-made points with his usual mixture of posture, condescension and fingerless pointing like what they do teach ‘em in Tory school. Maitliss continued to press Gove on the billions in cuts and he had no answers. The darkest moment came when, camera uncomfortably close to his face, he said that ‘anybody who thinks a government led by David Cameron would do anything to make the lives of disabled people or families more difficult is being ridiculous.’ The coalition’s treatment of people with disabilities has been nothing short of abhorrent. Anyone who thinks otherwise is being either dishonest, or misunderstanding the word abhorrent.
But all-in-all the manifesto launch day went well for the Tories, mainly because the media decided it did. Not least good news for the Tory Party was the site of seeing BBC’s Nick Robinson dragging himself from the sickbed to carry on his campaigning for them. Still no-one at the Conservative HQ can give details on any of the proposed cuts, most significantly the £12bn to the welfare budget. The question is repeatedly asked and repeatedly not answered. Still, Newsnight’s Allegra Goodman declares Cameron had a great day, and there has been a gear change, and because of the bunny rabbit in Cameron’s breast pocket there is no way anybody in their right mind could still think of the Tories as the ‘nasty party’. No way. They are nice now. David Orr, spokesman for the National Housing Federation, said the Tories figures on Right-to-Buy ‘do not add up.’ Nothing about the Tories seems to add up. But it may not matter come May 7th.
Wednesday, April 15th
21/40 – Dystopia on My Mind
I have a dark side. A self-destructive side. Nothing apocalyptic, and nothing out of the ordinary, really; but there is a part of me that moves my hand toward the flame. And by that token, part of me is curious to see what this country would look like after another 5 years of Cameron, Osborne, Duncan Smith, Gove, May and the rest of the brood. How twisted and choleric can this country become? Part of me is curious.
The IMF has already undermined Osborne’s economic rhetoric – the same IMF that Osborne champions when they whisper something in his favour, and blithely ignores when they bellow in disagreement. They say Osborne’s plans cannot work.
But today was not about dark thoughts, it was the light relief, the comedy sandwiched between the tragedy. The Lib Dems and UKIP presented their manifestos. News outlets gave them roughly the same amount of coverage, which is a little disrespectful to a party who have been in government for five years, it has to be said. Opposed to UKIP whose support seems made up of ‘closest racists and fruit cakes’ (Cameron’s words, remember! Not mine).
You have to be honest, The Lib Dems are espousing fairly admirable philosophies, but the history books will have them down as a party undone by their unwillingness to stick to them when called upon to put words into deeds. And this is not a matter of ‘tough decisions’ or of being blindsided by the ‘mess left by the last Labour government’. Tuition fees is one thing, but being the hod carriers for Lansley’s NHS reforms, the ‘adorable’ Shirley Williams and the oh-so-wise Vincent Cable tooting bugles at the coronation of that travesty of a bill. It may very well be the case that Clegg is the only party leader really talking about social mobility, but he is just talking and he is wearing the concrete boots of a man who has proved he and his party at best can only talk. Regardless of the situation the Lib Dems found themselves in on finally getting allowed entrance to the club, they are not to be trusted. Everybody knows it, and that is why nobody is listening.
Trust, I hear you say! Everybody knows the Tories are not to be trusted – the people who vote for them think they’re part of the deceit – that’s the allure – or they are just dumb, which is also quite likely. Labour – I don’t think it’s a matter of trust, and even the Tories are quite clear that they want to paint their main rivals as incompetent rather than duplicitous. Regardless, the message from all parties is quite clear and unified on one thing: DO NOT expect to get the things you vote for.
Thursday, April 16th
22/40 – Debating for debating’s sake
Interesting poll published first thing this morning by ITV suggesting ‘Welsh voters have made up there minds’. First thing this made me think of is just how much the Welsh news media enjoying dictating to the public what the public’s state of mind is. A very similar thing happened during the Scottish independence referendum, where the news media continually reported the ‘appetite’ for Welsh independence was minuscule, when in fact they were misrepresenting the premise of the poll. And the very use of the word ‘appetite’ is entirely condescending of course, as if the response of the Welsh people was to grimace, belch and say, ‘No, ta; I had a large bowl of emancipation for breakfast.’
But beside that… ahem… the polling reported by ITV does seem to suggest a ‘levelling’ of voter patterns in Wales, a return to traditional stables. The truth is, when it comes to a General Election, very sadly, there isn’t an awful lot of choice in Wales. Labour and all their ills, or Plaid Cymru the whipper-snapper nationalists. If nationalism is not your thing you are left with Labour. Obviously voting Tory in Wales is the equivalent of a Turkey voting for ritual humiliation, torture and prison bitch style abuse to while away the time in the run up to Christmas. To be Welsh and to vote for Cameron, who spits into a bucket Grant Schapps follows him around with every time he has to mention Wales in the House of Commons, is a very special kind of self-loathing that perhaps only the Welsh are capable of.
So, perhaps the voting patterns of Wales in the GE are quite traditional and so, quite predictable. But in 2016 comes the Assembly elections and that will be a different kettle of fish altogether.
But anyway, with Wales all sorted… calm down, I’m just kidding…
Tonight saw the ‘challengers’ debate, a format of television political combat designed specifically to do more good for the Tory campaign than they could have ever done by actually doing something. And that was the general view in the lead-up, and a view which I also held. But, dear me, it didn’t quite turn out that way for Cameron, did it? As one commentator put it perfectly, tonight the electorate were allowed to see what British politics looked like without Cameron in it. If the Tories had hoped this would be a good thing, it almost certainly was not, as what it amounted to was 90 minutes of the nation moving on. Whatever your view of the display up on the stage – be it robust political debate or chaotic pantomime – it was decidedly post-Cameron. Apart from Farage, isolated in his racist wickedness on… well… on the far right of the stage… he cut a rather pathetic figure, his oscillating jowls unable to truly comprehend the sight of the crest of the wave suddenly appearing to be above and behind him. I almost felt a bit sorry for him – genuinely. But apart from Farage, Miliband looked vaguely statesmanlike, relaxed and confident – and present! Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon and Natalie Bennett looked to suggest what Westminster might look like with more women taking point, and the days of the male domination might actually see it’s own crest begin to deteriorate (although I wouldn’t hold your breath on that one).
Afterwards, the BBC decamped to the ‘spin-room’ – a meagre and slightly mawkish attempt to copy the American model – don’t they all just wish they were in American politics anyway? – where a conservative/UKIP voting woman spoke of her extreme dislike of Nicola Sturgeon – ‘too aggressive’, she said; exactly the type of voter the Daily Mail laps up. You have to doubt whether she would have thought the same thing about a man. Elsewhere the BBC treated the camera lens like a latrine.
This was all part of the BBC’s political telethon, which stretched from about 7.30pm and went on until they reached the bowels of a black hole just off the shoulder of Orion.
Debate result? Winner of the night: definitely not Cameron.
You can read Weeks One and Two of the Election Diary here.