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More heat than light

Lavinia Thompson on the weekend's events in the General Election campaign.

Yesterday morning – in the course of reading the newspapers, pleased that, due largely to the combined efforts of my other half’s superbly-professional lawyers and accountants, our names had not appeared in The Sunday Time Rich List for the ninth year running – I watched the second half of The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1.

It was actually quite entertaining.

Boris appeared for interview first, allegedly having been ‘weaponised’ by the Tory Party as their latest desperate attempt to revive their lacklustre fortunes. He almost parodied himself, as if on a light-entertainment show – ebullient, dishevelled, unkempt, hair all over the place, legs splayed apart in his chair like some bleached-blond gorilla holding court in its enclosure at London Zoo.

Marr did his best but went down, guns blazing, in the face of the Boris tour de force comedic turn (including two or three Classist allusions), smarting at the latter’s tongue-in-cheek barb that he was a typical leftie-BBC journalist.

Boris was then followed by Ed Miliband – in the final slot as principal interviewee of the morning – continuing his campaign performance as the Leader of the Opposition who has been more impressive than the Prime Minister and his advisers had assumed and hoped.

The one aspect of Miliband’s outing that grated with me was his point-blank and repeated refusal to discuss the various permutations that might occur following a ‘hung parliament’ result on 7th May.

Ed has not been alone in this. All three main parties (Tory, Labour and Lib-Dems) have been doing it, well save commenting in the most opaque terms about whether and how they might consider being cogs in a future coalition – formal or otherwise – 2015-2020 Government.

In a general sense, one can understand why they do this. Any public speculation about who they would (or wouldn’t) talk to post a ‘hung parliament’ result would by definition potentially undermine the perception that they are confidently expecting a ‘majority’ victory for their respective parties – this despite the fact everyone knows that the Lib-Dems are not going to emerge as the outfit with the greatest number of seats.

Even David Laws, the Lib-Dem spokesman wheeled on the day out for the purpose, when effectively asked by Marr to admit and comment upon the Lib-Dems’ weak prospects on 7th May, stonewalled along the theme “I’m not going to get involved in speculation, we are concentrating upon getting our message out there and will wait for the result of the election outcome …”.

The problem, of course, is that – if the polls, which have been pretty consistent, are correct and the result does turn out to be a ‘hung parliament’ – a period of frenzied political horse-trading will follow at Westminster against the background of a potential constitutional mini-crisis (including the prospect of a governmental interregnum) while this is all going on.

In which context – both for voters whose minds might already be made up, but especially for those whose aren’t – shedding light on exactly which ‘alliances’ each of the main parties might be prepared to do deals with in what circumstances would assist generally.

For example, as regards those who are already committed to voting for a particular party, if they were to discover that it would be prepared to deal with party A but under no circumstances with party B … and if all the polling indications were that the cards were stacked against their first choice in their own constituency … this might induce them to consider voting tactically in order (in terms of what they regard as the long-term interests of the country) to keep party A out of government at all costs.

Yesterday Ed Miliband blocked Andrew Marr asking about post-7th May speculation as to Labour’s attitudes to working with specific other parties almost before he’d raised the subject.

In doing so he appeared to indicate that he wouldn’t consider a pact with the SNP of any description. He wouldn’t even respond when Marr suggested that his best way forward might be simply to put up a Labour Queen’s Speech and dare the SNP to vote it down.

Thus, in terms of considering what the likely outcomes might be after 7th May, Ed effectively gave a non-interview. As rehearsed above, this was despite the fact that having these options clarified might help some – maybe a significant proportion of – voters decide whom they are going to put their X against on Election Day.

I find this all very unsatisfactory. It’s just the latest example of the way that the political parties are not being open and honest with the electorate – as with the budgets for their increasingly extravagant spending promises and/or the details of where their (or at least those parties that are contemplating any) spending cuts will fall.

And then we come to the end of yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show – the two or three-minute section in which the interviewees of the day appear on the sofa together to chat with Marr before he throws the camera across to the singer or band that is going to play the programme out to the credits.

There they were, Boris and Ed – perhaps a yard apart. Almost immediately a scarcely-civil, schoolboy-like, spat broke out between them. I cannot at this juncture even recall the topic of their clash, but Ed was forceful and insistent (seemingly meaning it), clearly intent on not backing down.

Meanwhile Boris listened to Ed’s onslaughts with the bemused disinterest of an indulgent elder brother forced to listen to a misguided but indignant sibling before then firing back with similar venom, doing this (I felt) in the style of someone who was only generating heat for the sake of it, not because he was prepared to die for the views he was expounding.

For those Rust readers who may have missed it, here is an extract of said episode, courtesy of YouTube – BORIS v ED

[Simon Campion-Brown is unwell.]

About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts