Let us not be coy about this: the general election campaign, which concludes on Thursday, has been a carnival of nonsense and futility. Janan Ganesh, Financial Times, May 5
This is the 15th general election in my lifetime. But, political anorak/nerd that I am, even I can’t remember much about the first three (when I was, respectively, aged two, seven and nine). The first one that I followed with great interest was in 1970. I’d just become a teenager. Labour was expected to romp home and so I wasn’t too disappointed that my parents barred me from staying up to watch the results on TV, due to my having school the next day. So, my jaw dropped when my mum woke me up on Friday, June 19 (and, sadly, I didn’t have to look that up!) with the shock news that the Conservatives had won. I remember trying hard to think what that would be like. Would it make any difference? For as long as I could remember it was that Harold Wilson and yer Labour in power. This would be interesting!
By the time of the next general election – the ‘Who Governs Britian?” one – in the turmoil of a miners’ strike, the three-day working week and power black-outs – I was fully politicised and press ‘agent’ for the local Young Liberals. I even took part in a local radio phone-in with a member of the Tory government: “Sixteen, and he’s arguing with a Cabinet minister!”, remarked my dad, mock-smacking his forehead in an unspoken “what have I spawned?” thought.
The first time I could vote was the ’79 election that first brought Margaret Thatcher into office and I was reporting from Walsall Town Hall, via the station’s OB van, for Beacon Radio in the west midlands, for which I’d started to work just a few weeks before. In 1992 (another election where Labour snatched defeat from the jaws of victory), I was the BBC ‘minder’ at Sheffield Town Hall for David Blunkett – widely expected, within hours, to be appointed Secretary of State for Education in a Kinnock-led Labour government. Essentially, my job – as well as carrying out interviews and ‘scene-setting’ for the local BBC station – was to make sure he didn’t stray too far, and was ready whenever network radio and TV wanted him. I guided him and his guide-dog through the rafters of the building to our set-up, but failed to notice some obstruction on the floor, and the future Home Secretary stumbled and fell. I later pondered how he would have cursed me if his first picture with the rest of the Cabinet had seen him sporting a black eye! (Yes, I know, him being blind, HE couldn’t have seen it…BUT!). By the way, he was extremely nice about it all. I blame the dog!
So, anyway, since before my voice broke, you could say I’ve found campaigns exciting, fascinating and always with elements of high drama and unpredictability, both in the campaign and the outcome. And where there was a real debate on the future direction of the country.
But not this time.
I agree with everything Janan Ganesh writes in his column today, except for the swipe at the media, which I think overall – press and broadcasting – has done a superb job. Perhaps most impressive has been the quick turn-around in elegantly written pieces about the various TV debates. And the broadcast interviewers (Andrew Neil take a bow!) could not have tried harder to elicit proper answers from politico’s. The fact that they failed is no reflection on their skill and persistence.
Neil has demonstrated day after how to be absolutely on top of your brief, not be distracted or derailed or put on the back foot by attempts at chumminess, intimations of moral superiority, protests about not being given the chance to answer questions, answering a different question from the one asked, putting up men of straw, talking about what the other party is planning to do, or protesting about claims that haven't been made.
I do agree, though, about the voters being culpable in this lack of candour. Any honesty by one party, e.g. on cuts they plan to make or taxes that will have to rise, would doom them. The electorate, as Shirley Williams said a few weeks ago, needs to grow up. We cannot have Scandinavian levels of welfare and a world-class public health and social care system, education, and so on, AND try and pare down our deficit – let alone tackle the country’s gargantuan, and ever-increasing, accumulated debt – with US levels of taxation.
What worries me most now is the level of anger, disgust, and disillusionment that will set in, whichever government is eventually formed, and when it proceeds to do the really difficult stuff - and stuff their party's, or parties', pledges. It could make the present level of political cynicism and disengagement seem like a golden age. I sense there could be real trouble and I'm not entirely sure that our democracy is vigorous enough to withstand the battering.
We’ve been treated like spoilt, selfish children; but to a large extent – you, dear reader of my Blog, excepted, natch! – it’s no more than we deserve.