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Two weeks to go and bailing out …

We’ve now reached the ‘a fortnight to go’ point in the 2015 General Election and I have come to certain key conclusions about the campaign which I suspect may well also apply to all General Elections in history.

The first is that – broadly speaking – most voters have already made up their mind as to which box in the booth they are going to put their cross.

If I am correct, the inevitable and no doubt frenetic efforts of the politicians as they ‘come up the home straight’, including their final ‘leaning forward’ motions in their attempts to be first to breast the tape, are effectively going to be pointless as well as increasingly annoying.

Secondly, and I haven’t yet decided whether this is just a recent development and/or the product of 21st Century broadcasting and social media technology, it seems to me that ‘US presidential-style’ politics has finally come of age in the United Kingdom and is here to stay.

What counts these days is primarily ‘television-appeal’ and charisma. I suppose this is not a ‘new’ idea, it’s been around since history began. Whatever their political persuasion, given the opportunity or indeed obligation, people would prefer be exposed to the likes of Tony Benn or Kenneth Clarke than some wishy-washy bank manager type; to Aneurin Bevan rather than Clem Atlee; to Jeremy Thorpe rather than David Steel; even to Tony Blair rather than Gordon Brown, or David Cameron rather than Iain Duncan-Smith.

The irony is – and readers will be aware that I write as an observer, not a participant in politics – that, of all the leaders and ignoring their political persuasions for this purpose, Ed Miliband seems to be winning.

There is no doubt, whether or not you agree with his views, that Miliband is intelligent and sincere in his beliefs about UK society. He’s performing better than Cameron on the stump. I’ve even spotted an article on an ‘Ed Miliband is hot’ phenomenon growing amongst those of the female gender. Against all media expectations, his stock has definitely risen during this campaign.

In comparison, his only competitor for the post of Prime Minister, incumbent David Cameron, has gone backwards, probably because – for all his smoothness in front of the camera – he presents more as a professional politician than a normal human being that you’d be prepared to join in the pub for a drink. Voters are aware that there’s a substantial rump of his own party that doesn’t want him as Tory leader, never mind the fact he’s announced he’s giving up after the next Parliament, which tends to get them thinking “If his own lot even have doubts about him, why should I vote for him?”

Here’s an article by Suzanne Moore that appears on the website of The Guardian today – CAMERON

Overall, the best leader – simply in terms of performance and impressiveness – has been Nicola Sturgeon. If fifteen years ago she had joined the Scottish Labour Party and since become Labour leader, she’d be romping home as Premier by fifteen lengths and counting with one furlong still to go.

farage2I watched Nigel Farage’s jaded appearance upon Evan Davis’ The Leader Interviews last night at 7.30pm on BBC1.

Now there is a man diminished. He admitted he’d begun the campaign in poor form (possibly unwell, though he tried to put it down to a chaotic and overcrowded engagement diary) but his performance under pressure from Davis, parrying attacks upon both principles and details of UKIP policy, was weak.

He came across as evasive, flustered, even floundering, as though his heart was no longer in it. In terms of the current ‘presidential’ beauty parade, he was sinking beneath the waves.

I’m clutching estimates from the air here, but probably about 85% of the UK electorate who are going to vote will do so according to type, by which I mean either by tradition in terms of their socio-economic origins and/or where they have reached in terms of career achievement; 15% are floaters, prepared to be swayed by how the parties (and their leaders) perform during the campaign; and the last 5% are ‘floating but beyond persuasion’ in the sense that even they haven’t a clue who they are going to vote for, but then make their minds up as they collect their slips and go into the voting booth.

It’s plainly the 15% group at which the political parties are directing their campaigns.

One programme item on the morning (0600 to 0900 hours) Radio Five Live show yesterday troubled me somewhat.

It was an interview with the articulate (certainly talkative) mother of a 19 year old daughter who had some form of ‘special needs’ – I wasn’t quite clear as to what form these took.

She told of how she and her husband had been required to fight every step of the way to get her daughter the support and schooling that she deserved. It was clear she was absolutely devoted to her daughter who – although she was never going to operate in life like a ‘fully-functioning’ person, enjoyed her existence and was interested in what was going on around her.

That said, when it came to voting, her daughter – like many people with special needs – would need assistance. She certainly understood what voting meant, and was enthusiastically looking forward to taking part in the Election process, but she was incapable of going into a booth and actually marking her cross on a ballot paper without help.

[I should point out that the purpose of the interview was to illustrate the concern of mental health charities than those with such issues might be disenfranchised if those operating the polling stations weren’t sensitive to their problems].

Then came the aspect that caused me to raise an eyebrow. The interviewee mother stated that mentally her daughter was incapable of choosing which party or leader to vote for. Therefore she (the mother) and her husband would decide which candidate/party would best advance the cause of her daughter and then tell her (i.e. the daughter) to vote for them.

Now – I am all for respecting the basic rights of all human beings, including any disabled ones, but if someone – disabled or not – is incapable of deciding for themselves who to vote for … but at some point will get told whom to vote for by someone they trust, and then act accordingly … that leaves me a little uneasy.

I can understand why those who deal in mental health and/or disability issues would defend to the death the right of all to vote and participate in society to the fullest extent they can, simply because it’s ‘morally right’ and probably also boosts the individual’s  self-esteem and sense of belonging and being accepted by society.

However, the thought that a significant number of those who are apparently entitled to vote will not choose whom they vote for – but instead only vote for people that someone else, however well-meaning, has told them to does seem a problem.

I suppose the situation is no different to a wife (or husband) voting for whom their spouse has told them to … or indeed children voting for whom their parents have told them to … [add your own equivalent relationship here – employer/employee … charismatic university lecturer/student??]. It’s just that the concept that a section of the voting public simply amount to no more than ‘voting sheep who go with the herd’, i.e. rather than make their own minds up, somehow sticks in the gullet.

At face value, it seems to undermine the democratic process. On the other hand, delving too deep into issues such as what degree of mental feebleness should disqualify someone from his or her ‘entitlement to vote’ is not an easy thing.

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