Election 2015: Are We Bovvered?

Driving around England just days before this week’s poll what has struck me forcibly is the absence of party political posters in ordinary people’s homes. Years ago when it was a simple two horse race with a rogue mare in a few Liberal strongholds the country would be a sea of red and blue with a spattering of orange.

Twice I have driven between Hertfordshire and Nottinghamshire ( half of it not on the M1  but sticking a lot to the A5 and cutting across towns and villages Like Leighton Buzzard and Towcester) and I could count the number of party political posters on two hands. Now it may be that the old party poster is out of fashion or political support is now emblazoned on Twitter rather than the front window, but I suspect it may reflect a deeper malaise reflected in the polls.

Given that we have had a ferocious election campaign the extraordinary fact – barring a last minute switch in the next 48 hours -is that the English polls have remained roughly the same ( given a point or two ) throughout the campaign.The earth has not moved.

The exception is Scotland where the SNP looks heading for a landslide on the back of the referendum campaign – and has if anything strengthened its lead if the polls are to be believed. It could achieve a virtual wipe out of the opposition. Gordon Brown , Alastair Darling and Sir Menzies Campbell must be very relieved they stood down this election rather than face defeat at the hands of the voter.

What I suspect – beyond the hard core of supporters – is a general disillusionment with politicians, a lack of trust, and a sad view that politics can’t change things. This was shown by one Tory supporter who told me she had decided to support the party ” because things were just about all right”. This is hardly a ringing endorsement for a party which claims to have saved the country from Labour fiscal disaster, created full employment in the South and destroyed inflation. I know the Tory top guard -minimum income £67,000 a year – just can’t understand why voters aren’t flocking to them in droves to give them like the SNP either a  Thatcherite landslide or a decent working majority.They must be desperate now.

Labour seems also to have failed yet to achieve a convincing swing – though Miliband who is being portrayed as a weird wonk by the right-wing media- has actually increased his poor ratings once people saw him perform on TV. How Murdoch must regret he hasn’t got Fox News over here where he could run stories which  Sun Nation and Zelo Street highlighted – like Miliband’s plans to evict the Downing Street cat – to garner landslide Tory support from the Cats Protection League and RSPCA.

And Nick Clegg has the student tuition fees lying promise like an albatross around his party’s neck – people do not trust what he says. Individual Liberal Democrats may do better in individual seats than national polls suggest – and they could even have a freak win in Watford  over the Tories where the  Liberal Democrat mayor is fighting a ferocious campaign against strong  opposition from Labour and Tory.

As for UKIP – their highlighting of immigration and quitting the European Union – has meant they have not faded away – and still attract a significant minority of disillusioned voters but their poster count is not high either.In my view they have a nostalgic and nasty view of the modern world that won’t work in the 21st century.

And the Greens have made some inroads though not enough to gain seats – though they have a fighting chance in Bristol and Norwich.

But the general impression is a public still interested in political issues but disillusioned with politicians. The expenses scandal, and broken promises still resonate. The lack of trust can be shown by Cameron’s desperation in promising to frame in law his uncosted plans to promise no tax rises and Miliband’s promise to erect a stone monument in the Downing Street’s garden  featuring his election pledges.

My serious worry about this election is what happens next if politicians and political parties can’t garner the trust of the people.Siren voices are already suggesting getting rid of them and leaving the country-like much of society -to be run by business. The latest is Ministry of Sound man James Palumbo. His article in the Evening Standard is dangerous stuff. It suggests  simplistic solutions that would deny a proper debate about the issues. And there are real issues – but politicians have to level with the British people to regain their respect.

12 thoughts on “Election 2015: Are We Bovvered?

  1. You’re right, Palumbo’s piece is dangerous nonsense, a new model of ‘democracy’, with no democracy – but perhaps your cross country drive across the Tory heartlands was misleading, and the apathy due to disillusionment with traditional Tory politics, rather than politics itself. Certainly in Barnet, and particularly here in Finchley & Golders Green, it is striking that in contrast to the previous general election, there are a good number of posters & signs up – most of them Labour.

    This enthusiasm is largely down to the volatile nature of our local political scene, and the unpopularity of the local Tory council, but also a very well organised Labour campaign, for an excellent candidate, winning over what should have been a safe Tory seat with a candidate with reportedly the largest war chest, but pretty hopeless election strategy. The result has been that Tory leaflets have now arrived through the letter boxes telling us we live in a marginal constituency – almost unthinkable in Thatcher’s home territory.

    The British electorate, historically, has always had a healthy cynicism for politicians, with good reason, but I think that where a clear and positive alternative is promoted, and as in Finchley, the opposition candidate makes the effort to engage honestly in debate with residents and become involved in local issues, voters do respond.

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  2. Whilst I would agree with you about the widespread air of malaise nationally in England (I can’t speak for other countries in The Isles), reflected in the disillusionment and lack of trust with politicians and their parties that you refer to, I would disagree with “a sad view that politics can’t change things”.

    On the contrary, there are increasing examples all over the country of people acting to do something about *political* matters that they are concerned about – and in organised, collaborative, ways which are overtly *political*. These are not the pressure group, single-interest, self-promoting, activist-led organisations so beloved of the national media but more, frankly (and literally), radical movements of citizens, acting from bottom-up (to use that clumsy phrase) and starting at a level so low its almost universally ignored by political commentators

    For example: there is increasing realisation amongst English citizens that the forms of local government imposed on them by the 1972 Local Government Act can be challenged, not to return to some mythical better days but to get much more democratic *control* of their communities (that a phrase so abused in the last half-century) now. This is happening by citizens co-operating to take advantage of both established rights they had neglected to use and new ones recently given that they have become much more aware of.

    Whilst this movement, such as it is, is gathering pace, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) doesn’t seem to realise what it is doing, to give but one example, by encouraging the creation of *new councils* at parish level – especially the radical innovation of allowing *city wards* to create parish councils (something the national media has missed completely, as far as I know). Then add DCLG’s surprising support for citizens’ rights report and audio/video record of as much council business as possible and that Freedom of Information (FOI) can get.

    To speak from my own experience: It has become clear that the current District Council (DC) I live in is finished as a political entity; put together from four smaller DCs in 1974, there is now the beginning of serious organising in two of the former Districts to force whatever kind of secession from the 1974 DC the local citizens can attempt to do, (the remaining two DC areas are expected to follow – as they’ll have no choice). This undermining of one DC from *below* in the county is being mirrored in other parts of it.

    Simultaneously, at Town and Parish level in the county, there are similar movements to force out the old guards that have been left in place for so long – principally, because of mass, inexcusable apathy and selfishness by the majority of citizens, it has to be said. Again, “they, the people” are making use of the opportunities presented to them – by an unwitting DCLG, unknowing national media – and, very importantly, “new” communications media (which is really the same communications media as ever, evolved for 2015). Nobody active at this base level of democracy is going to stop what they are doing because of what happens nationally this Thursday.

    So, then, what’s happening with the Berkhamsted Liberation Front?

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    • Hi west of England
      Sorry for the delay in replying. There was an experiment in Berkhamsted a decade or so ago. The parish council was totally dominated by the Conservatives and one year they were all thrown out by a community uprising. A Berkhamsted First group consisting of ,local people from all walks of life took over the council in one local election including the Mayor.
      Very sadly after a short term in office they all fell out with each other and started going back to their old political labels which in Berkhamsted is either Tory or Liberal Democrat and it is now back to a two party race to run the parish. So Liberation came but later died.
      Nevertheless there is still a sense of community in Berkhamsted even though the parish council does not have a lot of power. Members of the parish council tend to be local activists or small business people who are interested in what happens to this town of 27,000 people. There is also a small but growing Green group wanting to turn Berkhamsted into a more ecologically sound transition town though they have not stood for the parish council and a small but perfectly formed local Labour group!

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  3. Watching the Tories, Labour and LibDems hierarchies still sustaining the CSA cover-up, why should anyone want to publicise the fact that we have to trust the future of the children of this country to their hands?

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  4. Following the departure of South Shields Member of Parliament David Miliband I was one of the 200 members of the South Shields Labour Party participating in the selection of South Shields born but living in the Jarrow constituency Party area Emma Lewell Buck.

    I spent several weeks delivering leaflets and a little canvassing all over the Shields constituency and only counted four window posters all paid up Members of the party and which included two Councillors. I have been otherwise occupied and too unfit to do similar this time but have driven around by car and so far had only seen a home made UKIP poster put up long before the election started to get underway. Since elected Emma has organised canvassing almost every weekend in addition to her weekly surgeries which compares to Sir S Bell where it was discovered he had not held a surgery for 4 years let alone gone on walk about to meet the voters.

    Back when I was Director of Social Services for the double constituency local authority of South Tyneside, the Social Services Committee with the support of all political parties knocked on the door of the then 60000 households twice within a ten year period with an over 95% response rate evening and weekend visiting, to find out two things: Had anyone in the household needed a service from the department and if so were they satisfied or otherwise with our response and secondly after going through what the department did the household was asked what we should give priority to. The conclusion of the first survey was the need for more visiting street wardens for the elderly and infirm and where I was instructed to report the number and cost required for 100% for those living either on their own or if the household consisted of those elderly infirm.

    I was able to persuade my colleagues in other departments for a three plan over four financial years including the rest of the current financial year which increased the number of wardens by over 100. As I rose to introduce the plan, the group leader also stood up motioning me to sit down and shut up. He moved the immediate recruitment of the 100 plus and for the money to come from contingencies and although there was some anguish expressed by the opposition parties the vote for the measure at Council was unanimous. While some colleagues never forgave this development opposition members made a point of saying that was the best thing the department had ever done.

    Sadly the impact of the Brown/Darling chancellorship followed by Osborn and Pickles (Ministers for the destruction of communities and local government) led one former Councillor to comment to me recently about the non existence of adult services.

    South Shields has always been a conservative, armed services, seafaring and military, freemasonry town which has never elected a Tory Member of Parliament with Whigs before 1868 and Liberal and Labour since with interestingly in 1918 a Coalition Liberal and Trade Unionist

    It is no coincidence that David Miliband’s (whose first Cabinet job was Minister for Communities and Local Government in 2005) younger brother concentrated on holding door step conversations with an aim of 4 million before election day and has left national polls to the national media. Having said that the political policy of playing on fear and the natural conservatism of people which successfully led to the no vote in the Scottish referendum is still likely to lead to David C gaining more seats than Labour but unable to get a confidence vote on any Queen speech.

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  5. Now politicians are rated below estate agents and bankers on trust levels, there does seem something to worry about. The way the UK leaders, particularly Cameron, dealt with the Scottish referendum, had the reverse effect of providing massive support for the SNP. Very unimpressive. It is interesting that this massive campaign has left us less clear as to what will really take place after the elections, as the truth has been well protected and, as you say, the polls have changed very little throughout.
    .

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  6. Not much calibre then…..
    In my opinion the only person who stands out in this motley lot is a woman who has ethics….
    Caroline Lucas
    It is a start.

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