Last night I attended a public hustings event organised by the churches in Loughborough for the first time as an observer and not as a candidate since 1992! It was hard work not shouting out the answers but I managed to bite my lip just long enough to hang around and listen to what people who had attended had to say.
It would be all too easy to say it wasn’t as good as the old days! There was however a sense that apart from Mathew O’callahan and Matt Sisson the Green candidate the others had tried to say as little as possible- giving no opinions and minimising any ‘dangers’. I heard this evening from a few Heads I spent time with. There is a feeling that politics has become dull because it is safe and error free. I have had to agree. I do feel that by now I could probably stand in for any of the 3 main party leaders and do their interviews. I have heard and learned most of their scripts off by heart. So when we had some specific and tough questions yesterday eve the UKIP guy pretended to be all sweetness on questions of immigration to please the crowd. As for the Tory – she continued her style of sounding articulate by joining up sentences but then you wonder what was actually conveyed? No wonder people are becoming increasingly disengaged. We do have to learn in politics to talk as though we mean it – and we have to have a press that doesn’t blow up every minor deviation from these rehearsed lines as ‘chaos in the X, Y Z campaign’. Otherwise I am not sure I can take another 18 days of this safe neutral scripted campaign.
You see it everywhere. For fear of somebody shouting at the leaders of the parties for the TV cameras Campaign visits usually consist of a photo op wit a pre-picked family, apprentice, school (delete as appropriate) and a hand picked audience of party members holding posters/ placards given to them by the party minders. This is particularly true of Cameron who is well known for losing his rag if anybody dare question him.
It is a shame – because even in 2010 after the Gillian Duffy moment we went ahead with a planned visit to Loughborough University with Gordon Brown with an fairly open invite to sports students. We had no idea how those invited (2-300) would vote or how they would behave but we took the risk. For me it worked. Talking to students all day afterwards many were genuine undecided but had been won over simply by being given the chance to meet the PM. I am sure more risks need to be taken. The story would become boring if every day leaders took on a dealt with hecklers. It would show they were real and able to talk to voters!
Today also saw another group of polls. I don’t recall there ever being so many in an election campaign. basically put the Tories ahead and 2 put Labour ahead. I think what these confirm is the campaigns are generally basically still tied with quite a bit still to play for. What was interesting in the Ashcroft polling is where people are moving from and to and where they might move. Momentum in elections is key and UKIP are losing people and Labour are gaining. Its small margins but there is certainly some firming up going on. But there is still 18 days to go and people are expecting ‘something’ to happen.
Finally we got the SNP Manifesto published which gave the Tories another day of questioning the post election ‘deals’. Whatever people think of the SNP, the one thing we need to respect about our democracy is the results it creates. If Scotland returns 45 SNP MPs to Westminster in a national election in May we must respect their conclusion that this is what they have voted for. SNP MPs will have as much legitimacy as every other MP in the Commons, even if we don’t share their views. The people have Scotland have had to put up with English Tories for a generation – now the tables are being turned. We need to stop name calling and deal with the issues that have given rise to this Scottish nationalism. It won’t go away by just being rude about the SNP.