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Getting into the swing of it now …

Simon Campion-Brown is unsure whether he's lost his marbles or seen the light

Last time I looked out from behind the sofa there were about fifty days to go to the General Election and we’re already approaching the political equivalent of Fleet Street’s traditional annual (August) silly season for stories.

During the past week we’ve had the Pub Landlord making the news with a story of how his latest campaigning day attempting to upset UKIP’s Nigel Farage in South Thanet was thwarted by him being too heavy to fly in the classic aircraft in which he had been intending to arrive; thousands of viewers accusing BBC1 of being insensitive in allowing an apparently-worse-for-wear former Lib-Dem leader Charles Kennedy to appear on Question Time; a succession of Labour politicians twisting themselves in knots to find different ways to avoid interviewers’ questions about whether they’d rule out a post-Election pact with the SNP; David Cameron ‘coming out’ as a Jeremy Clarkson supporter in the Top Gear presenter’s bizarre ‘meal fracas/hitting a BBC producer’ incident; the Lib-Dems being accused of breaking the supposedly-strict rules on donations in a Daily Telegraph expose; and a feeding-frenzy of speculation regarding what is rumoured to be a George Osborne ‘Election giveaway’ Budget coming up this Wednesday.

Only yesterday morning I forced myself to watch BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, on which Osborne and his Shadow Chancellor opponent Ed Balls took things to a whole new level. First, both submitted themselves to ‘serious’ interviews with Marr in which (to be fair) he tried his best and failed – thanks to their interview tactics – to probe them on some of the Election’s difficult economic and financial issues before moving on to more general topics. Both deployed all sorts of ruses, even when repeatedly taken down to the water, to avoid saying anything that sniffed of a policy or principle commitment.

BallsThey each accused the other of being fundamental wrong and misguided to the point of self-delusion on economic policy and – in response to questions about how they’d pay for their party’s electoral ‘big ideas’ (or indeed, unpicking their opponents’ equivalent if they should win in May) – filibustered and produced mountains of dry ice mist in equal measure in order to appear as though they were answering the direct question when in reality they were simply repeating again and again with the two minutes’ worth of verbiage that their policy wonks and PR strategists had coached them them to spew out during their Saturday afternoon rehearsals. [I guess that, in one sense, at least Osborne could deploy a genuine fig leaf – as Chancellor, he could hardly give the nation a Sunday morning preview of what he would be announcing in his Budget on Wednesday].

To top everything, in their end-of-programme sofa session, they appeared to confirm Marr’s suggestion that in private they actually got on rather well. Shortly afterwards, out of the blue, Ed Balls then challenged Osborne to have a one-to-one television debate and the latter suddenly found himself grasping Balls’s hand in an ‘accepting’ shake.

In my view, since 1997 the British electorate has been progressively ‘disengaging’ from the political process – or rather, losing its respect for politicians generally. They’ve seen the Westminster ‘bubble’ for what it is (the British way of wielding power and manipulating the voters) and have been turned off by the hypocrisy and self-interest that define all those who are attracted to, or enter, politics. It doesn’t matter whether your country operates under capitalism or communism, social democracy or dictatorship … the truth is, those that crave the holding and exercise of political power will find and learn the system or game that provides it in their particular circumstances … and then play it for all it’s worth.

This is the reason that we’ve experienced the recent growth of minority and new political parties – it’s almost the equivalent of the voters saying “None of the above!”

In the good old, bad old, days of my youth the refuge for ‘protest’ votes was the Monster Raving Loony Party. Now we’ve got a whole range of them to choose from.

Furthermore, the two main parties – the Tories and Labour – have lost touch with the voters, primarily because they are so controlling in their campaigns to gain and retain power. They don’t talk (or is it listen?) to their potential supporters, who they treat simply as groups of voting fodder which they feed on slogans developed in focus groups and in the plush offices of very expensive corporate election consultants.

The backlash against this has been signalled by the the rise of the SNP and similar regional party interests. The voters feel that the main parties neither speak for them, nor what matters to them.

In contrast, the SNP – to give one example – reflect nothing but the voters’ (perceived) self-interest.

Ditto with UKIP and possibly (I’m not quite sure on this!) the Greens.

Now, based on these developments, more and more voters are taking the attitude “What’s in it for me? To hell with what’s best for the country – i.e. the UK – nobody else is thinking of that, so why should I?”

In which context, here are links to two recent media pieces that caught my eye over the weekend:

Firstly, the former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality – Trevor Phillips – on the damage done by the Establishment’s obsession with political correctness – as reported on the website of the DAILY MAIL

Secondly – and this one really did make me laugh out loud – here’s Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of The Sun, coming out with a proposal for a ‘Southern England’ party, as reported on the website of THE GUARDIAN

I think I’m getting my second wind …

About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts