At long last, my area received a dose of politics. Yesterday, there was a parade celebrating St. George’s Day; groups of Boy Scouts and Girl Guides lined up beside the cathedral and then proceeded to march, flags unfurled, through the pedestrian centre of town. Such an event should have been on the radar of every good politician. Our local Conservative MP, however, did not bother to show up: given that Conservatives have represented the area for 86 years, I guess he felt that he could catch up on his beauty sleep instead. In contrast, his Liberal Democrat and Labour rivals did make an effort.
The Labour candidate decided it would be a good idea to set up a card table in front of a derelict store with two half-deflated red balloons sellotaped to the table’s edge. This was perhaps not the best message to send to the electorate about the state of his party or the economy. Furthermore, the candidate looked distinctly uncomfortable, as if he wanted to be anywhere except where he was. It would not be surprising if this was the case; my constituency has traditionally been one in which Labour candidates gain experience and then shift over to more winnable seats. This was likely just another rung on the ladder for him, an unpleasant but necessary rite of passage before he ascends to the elite. He may think he has a poker face, but his obvious disdain indicated that he was hoping to go for drinks with Harriet Harman at a wine bar in Mayfair, not verbally slugging it out with these semi-rural unsophisticates.
His Liberal Democrat opponent stood beside the medieval monument marking the town’s centre; he wore a bright yellow tie and a dark suit with a yellow rosette pinned to his lapel. He carried around a folder filled to bursting with leaflets. A light multi-coloured scarf draped over his shoulders gave him the appearance of being a Lib Dem Doctor Who. He shook hands, talked to voters and unlike his Labour counterpart, he seemed happy to be there. I chatted with him and told him about Labour’s rather dire leaflet which had been stuffed through my mailbox the previous week. Among other things, it took credit for a local hospital which the government had tried to close.
The candidate got visibly riled: “You know,” he told me, “both the Tories and we fought to keep it open. Labour wasn’t there because they agreed with the closure.” After a bit more discussion, we parted; given that there was no Green candidate in the area (I wanted to stand but lacked the funds), I felt more satisfied with my decision to vote Liberal Democrat than I had been previously. Politics should be about this: being able to look the candidates in the eye, talk to them, find out what they’ve done and intend to do. I don’t agree with everything that the Liberal Democrats propose: in many respects, they fall short, and I really don’t want David Cameron to be Prime Minister by any means, even if he is restrained by a coalition. But this election is not an easy matter for Green voters in areas such as mine; it won’t be until the Green Party can reach into every constituency.
Having made my choice, it was mildly disappointing to go online and find that there are a substantial number of people who believe that voting Liberal Democrat is akin to voting Conservative. On a macro-level, that’s an understandable point of view. From the viewpoint of my locality, the question that inevitably arises is “Well, what else would you like me to do?” Beyond the Labour candidate’s obvious deficiencies, I have difficulty stomaching the fact that they took us to war in Iraq on the basis of unforgivable lies, and that they feel they’ve been sufficiently punished for this. It would be interesting to see the reaction from an Iraqi crowd to this proposition; I suggest David Miliband goes to Baghdad and does precisely that.
Furthermore, I work in Higher Education. To me, the Labour manifesto is more than offensive, it’s a declaration of war. There is a specific passage in which they state they wish Higher Education to become a “global export business”. It is also clear that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths will continue to receive higher priority over social sciences and humanities (while the Liberal Democrat manifesto says this too, it is less blatant); indeed, the Higher Education section of Labour’s plan reeks of Mandelson’s penchant for supporting big business, discouraging “blue sky” and strategic thinking, and his disdain for anything that doesn’t have an immediately quantifiable economic benefit. What is not said, specifically about Lord Browne’s review of tuition fees, is worse; it is highly likely a Labour government will raise the cap to £5000 per annum at least.
I am also a trade union activist; from this perspective, the Labour manifesto is also deeply insulting. The unions barely get a look in; yet this is the political party that supposedly has trade unionism indelibly written into its DNA. I cannot get over the idea that Gordon Brown smirked at the judicial shenanigans which prevented British Airways staff and the RMT from going on strike. Indeed, after thirteen years of a Labour government, it’s clear the unions have definitely not gotten “value for money”.
And so I ask again, “What am I supposed to do?” Should I choose a duff Labour candidate with a duff manifesto representing a duff government, or should I vote for a Liberal Democrat candidate who seems to be decent, regardless of the faults in his party and leadership? The other options, an absent Conservative MP and a lunatic UKIP candidate, are not choices at all. The only rule of thumb that I’ve been able to discern is to make whatever selection that would annoy the Daily Mail the most; given their frothing at the mouth hatred of the Liberal Democrats, and how they would profit from a Labour victory with more spurious “Broken Britain” articles, it becomes a relatively simple matter.
However, I shouldn’t have to make my choices in such a negative way. I am picking from among less than optimal, bad, worse and terrible; I don’t feel compelled to put up a Liberal Democrat poster in my window, nor do I advise anyone in constituencies which have a Green choice to do what I’m doing. That said, I sincerely hope that the Liberal Democrat wins in my constituency and that May 7 heralds the arrival of Green MPs from more enlightened regions. I also hope that proportional representation will soon replace our sad, tired electoral system. If so, at long last, a choice which inspires my true and total enthusiasm may finally ride over the hill.