Hurrah for the off-switch!

Many moons ago, our political leaders would bleat;

Don’t trust the BNP! They’re horrible, the BNP! They manipulate figures on immigration and misrepresent the truth and whip up fear! BOO THE BNP! BOO THEM!

This was necessary leading upto the 2009 European Parliament elections, because this was the time of the BNP actually looking organised for once, with the Labour government dancing around an orchestra of innuendo and the Conservatives still elbowing each other with hints about ‘thinking what we’re thinking.” It all came to naught, in a way, as Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons became elected parliamentarians, a result which led to the inevitable demise of the BNP, but that’s perhaps a story for another entry…

The aftermath of 2009 and all that was shown for all its glory with the fall of Phil Woolas. Using the Labour Party’s innate ability to speak the language of race and immigration with all the subtle undertones of a firework being thrown through a takeaway. It was the style at the time.

We wouldn’t be in the position where all three party leaders have to play some kind of Navy-based wang measuring contest were it not for two factors; the Census and UKIP.

Let’s start with the Census. We’re less Christian and less white than at any time in modern history, and nobody outside Fox News thinks that’s one of those bad things we keep hearing about. Oh no, hang on, they’ve just copied a Daily Mail article in full. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?

I’ve not considered the reduction of a white, Christian population on these islands anything of a bad thing for as long as I can remember. But I was young when an Ugandan Asian family moved into a considerably white part of council-estate Preston, so my first experience of ‘immigration’ was a family where a woman whose name was difficult to pronounce made a living cutting hair in their conservatory, and that’s not the “coming over here, claiming our benefits” truth right from the start.

The growth of UKIP is not directly linked to the demise of the BNP, though the coincidence of the timing might as well have been written by a soap opera script consultant. “Let’s pair up the end of one career with the start of another,” they say, pushing a doting father under a bus and dragging an attractive and available doctor through the door. And so here comes Farage, all dressed up, tanned and nowhere to go.

Using the same tricks as the BNP, the sound of drums coming out of the election leaflets pushed through the doors of Eastleigh suggested that 38 million Bulgarians and Romanians were about to leap in a single bound over the English Channel. Wholly inappropriate, wholly scare-mongering and misleading. Such is the immigration debate, though, and the level to which all parties feel it’s necessary to plunge whenever it’s mentioned.

Armed with spades and helmets, off the main party leaders go to ape Farage and his immigrant mouth-frothing. Does a bell go off in their heads, I wonder? Do blood-stained words flash in front of their eyes? MUST SOUND TOUGH ON IMMIGRATION.

It’s counter-productive because the sound  of all British political leaders saying exactly the same sort of misleading, misrepresenting anti-everything is EXACTLY the things which keep Indian University students heading to the USA. And that’s saying something when the US has a more attractive attitude towards immigrants than Britain. It’s the opposite of “better the devil you know”, to an almost perverted degree. But when you’ve gone from “Don’t listen to the BNP, they mislead you on immigration” to “Frankly, this country has become a soft touch.” then you’ve made the leap into exactly the territory you wanted to avoid only a few years ago. It would be like football fans happily sitting down amongst away fans, whilst still chanting their own songs.

Parading in front of us within a fortnight has been Nick Clegg talking about “cash bonds” for immigrants, Ed Miliband pledging to dissuade people from taking low-paid jobs, and Cameron making a speech on the horrors of letting people in which has been effectively ripped apart by his own side. Yawn-a-rama, guys, you’re not convincing anyone.

This country would grind to a halt without the work of people born outside the UK. Indeed foreign workers are over-represented in both the very highest and very lowest professional sectors. It’s not any foreign person’s problem that the native population have chosen to focus on employment opportunities in the middle. If the opinion is, “they come over here taking our jobs”, I can only respond with “they’re taking the jobs nobody else applies for.”

Over-arching all of this, for me, is the big neon-lit sign flashing “I DON’T ACTUALLY CARE”. (I’m not sure how much neon costs for so many words plus apostrophe). Maybe it’s because I had to stop listening whenever my Dad began his anti-everything rant, or because I’ve grown up thinking more about lightbulbs than the exact percentage of non-Britons living here. I’ve tried to care, it’s just the inevitability of the topic being reduced to some gross name-calling tennis match. Our political leaders should know better to keep blowing dog whistles, particularly when the shrill only attracts a minority of voters and a majority of non-voters. The tracksuited circus that is the very splintered far-right won’t be won over by Ed Miliband saying “Immigrants are bad, k?”, it makes no sense to try. Why should all three parties – LibDems in particular – swerve to the right on an issue which actually helps the British economy more than it harms?

I love watching people tiptoe around bank bonuses and high-tax rates on the basis that the City of London could move to Zurich within months, whilst merrily throwing hospital cleaners and bin-men on the next train home. If this country loses its financial heart, there will be trouble, I understand that. I’d love to see how a specific region would suffer, never mind the whole country, if low-paid immigrants were suddenly ordered to pack their bags.

It’s just so much fluff and nonsense. I expect whinging against people willing to come here to suffer colder weather and terrible food just for the sake of a better job from that subsection of obsessed numpties who have “PROUD ENGLISHMAN” as their middle name on Facebook. I’m not one of those wishy-washy, bring down the borders libertarian type, but neither am I happy or comfortable to watch the Tabloid Corps of our ruling classes playing top trumps with peoples lives. If clever, qualified, educated people are dissuaded from coming here in fear of being labelled as “a dirty immigrant” from the Prime Minister downwards, then well done to all involved when the exact result you wanted turns out to be exactly what you get. We don’t need to frame this debate in terms of “immigrants verses native”, but that’s what we’ve got. And why?

Because it’s easier to follow Nigel Farage than it is to turn off his microphone. That’s more depressing than whether the head of year at a local school is Latvian.

Advertisements

wheels fall off

I’m not the kind of northerner who breaks out in Peter Kay sketches when conversation dries up at parties.

“So….erm…well, I see you’ve got a pretty hefty hatchback out front. That for the big shop, eh? BIG SHOP!! Isn’t Bombay Mix fancy?  They don’t do gravy down south you know!!”

I do look pastwards so often there’s a crick in my neck and most of the contemporary points of reference  can be traced back to the current comedy listings of Radio 4 Extra. I deny any childhood memory of watching All Clued Up whilst eating artic roll.

(Which I absolutely did. With my gran. In a house with a chain for the Warden)

As such I’m always happy to remember all those things which the past gave me – the Grandstand theme tune, what SOHCAHTOA stands for and the inability to shake off the anger at having a winning McDonalds/Trivial Pursuit scratchcard posted into an empty shop by bigger, harder, punchier lads…Er..yes, well as such I’m always happy but the problem with looking back is discovering how things never quite look as good as a cynical old grump.

When ITV recently repeated dozens of 80s and 90s cult children’s television faves some looked far fresher than most. It’s not abnormal, it’s to be expected. Cream always rises, be that music, films or even cheesy TV “guilty secrets”.

Of course some of those faded classics have done so because it’s deserved. Not to break out into end of the pier comedian again but, Wagon Wheels, eh? Weren’t they just awful? All mushy, two-tone slabs of processed mush, not quite biscuit, not quite pumice stone. Disco crisps, too, while I’m here. Oh come on, Disco crisps could hardly pass digestion – it was like swallowing a 50p coin drenched in caster sugar.

This is not hindsight; this is growing up. This is accepting that there are time capsules planted in the brain during childhood which are worth jettisoning, like accepting your father plodding to the back of the garden to say goodbye to Fido. What remains is that which would always have been considered as top quality – such as the vast majority of Belinda Carlisle’s back catalogue, say. Or Spangles.

Finding a joyous, trouble free paradise in the past is colouring memories with contemporary prejudice, and whilst it’s natural for people to do that when reminiscing, it’s unhealthy to base arguments on those invented truths. I know what my father used to say about his youth in the 1950s and 1960s – he was born just after the Second World War – and it’s not always pleasant.

And thus I make my way to Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (as they no longer want to be called). The basic core UKIP thinking is, “the past is another country”, based on the conceit that the UK is no longer the UK whilst the past almost certainly is. Farage talks about his ultimate aim being the return of the UK as a democratic country, just as it used to be, with all those unelected, unaccountable censors of the theatre and that. The UK of the wayback machine seen by Farage is one which is unimaginable to us now, even if you’re prone to calling the Coalition some kind of time-machine to the 1950s. We enjoy far more wealth, generally, better health, broadly, greater diversity and broader, deeper job opportunities than at any time in the recent past, and you don’t have to go far away from my dad’s memories of Wigan in the 1960s to have that proven.

But Farage doesn’t want to go back to the 1960s, or the 1970s, or at least not specifically. The UKIP aim is for Britain to be pulled into a nethertime, a space between reality and nostalgia, where the UK “ruled itself”. There’s not been much of that for generations, and until the 1960s and the great liberalisation of abortion law, sexual equality legislation and lowering of the voting age, most of the “independent” United Kingdom was an insular Edwardian island complacent and dismissive.

We’ve always been Atlantic rather than European in attitude – especially post-1945 – which comes out in 21st century Britain in our language, our television programme formats, and so on. We jump to the American cough, especially when invading Middle East countries on false prospectuses. Our scoffing at the French or the Germans copies the American sneering of Canada and Mexico, and for the most part our denial over European economic strength and liberal attitudes mirrors how the USA tends not to respect their cousins over its northern border. But in being anti-European in addition to anti-future, as UKIP seem to be, they’re swapping one paranoid fear for one uncertain reality. I’d rather not be the unofficial 51st state of the USA, thanks all the same, but UKIP clearly prefers this island of ours to be an Atlantic annexe than a European player, so far enoughski on that, Nige, replacing one uneasy alliance with another one.

I would say “this is me being unfair on old Nigel Farage, bless”, and after all he has ruled out ever getting into a Coalition with David Cameron. But that’s the point, I guess; delusion. That’s all UKIP end up talking about – delusion. They’re deluded if they think they’ll ever get an MP, or even a Council of their own, or even any kind of thanks for pulling us out of a Union with our closest neighbours. That Farage thinks he is to have any say at the next election is as laughable as the memory of one-half of my family choosing to sit around the television set, of our own accord, to watch “Telly Addicts”.

margins of error

If there’s one criticism of political bloggers and commentators which can stick to the targets like so much grease to the side of an oven, it’s the reactionary knee-jerk which comes from every daily opinion poll. Earlier this week, two daily polls put the UK Independence Party ahead of the Liberal Democrats, albeit by a single point, and from there came pieces in the Spectator about the trouble Cameron finds himself in and from Liberal Conspiracy rubbing hands in glee over the good all this does for Labour.

As a card carrying Liberal Democrat of twelve years standing, I am supposed to be weeping into my muesli and blaming Nick Clegg for every ill under the sun. Whilst I do have issues with the way the Party is going along a number of routes, the UKIP rise has barely registered with me at all. It’s a statistical blip. I know this because of my learnings. I know this because the newest daily poll has them below the LibDems again. By two percentage points.

There are poll findings which concern me, though these are more carefully considered points than the natural fluctuations (within most margins of error) of a voting intention straw poll. YouGov found that, amongst the younger voters, support for the Coalition is running at only 31%. When given the option “A Coalition between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats” to the question “If you had to choose, which of the following options would be best for Britain?”, fewer than 10% of respondents agreed.

For our Party to continue in the Coalition, our message must be distinctive, determined and far louder than it is currently. Voters are not learning about the success stories of the LibDems in Government – from the income tax allowance increase to pupil premiums and scrapping ID cards. The manner in which we have reigned in the Conservative Party’s natural tendencies has been lost amongst so much blather and bluster, most of which stems from a right-wing press desperate for an early election and/or a Conservative leadership challenge. Neither of these pipe-dreams will come to anything, though this can be only one reason why the polls are behaving as they are. In the run up to a festival of democracy – London Mayor, London Assembly, Scottish and Welsh councils, hundreds of English councils *and* two English Mayoral elections – there is bound to be other parties in the back of voters minds. In the aftermath of Bradford West, the power of voting “Other” has been proven to work. Of course voters are going to choose other options in an election period.

Any findings relating to dissatisfaction with the Coalition is of far more relevance than the ups and downs of party polling. 

I am not concerned that UKIP polled ahead of us by only one percentage point for two days in April 2012. By April 2013 such a blip would have been forgotten. Unlike  Nigel Farage’s party, we are in Government and making a change on a number of policies, rather than standing outside any sphere of influence obsessing over a European problem which doesn’t exist. There will be few UKIP voters taking votes away from the LibDems. What all LibDems need to do in the run up to polling day is what we always do: FOCUS.

Jumping into the ballot box

Some moons ago I wrote on the matter of Government reshuffles, those flurries of end of the pier entertainment which used to occupy the minds of ministers more than their job requirements. Read any diary or memoir of the time and the promise of a change in job underlines almost every decision, accompanying every minister like a shadow. The phone at the end of a corridor becomes more attractive than the office secretary.

The other parlour game of British politics is the good old fashioned defection. Once a mainstay of the political process, for whatever reason the high-profile ship jumper has become something of a rear treat. Defectors were always assumed to be somehow “special”, dismissed by former colleagues in often very colourful language (read Alan Clark’s diaries for the most colourful), welcomed with photo-ops and smiles by their new leader. MPs defect less often these days – Quentin Davies and Shaun Woodward being the most recent – and the prominence has been deadened over the years in any case.

Until, perhaps, this year: of the Jubilee, the Olympics and scaremongering Mayans. Starting with a piece in the Times and on ConservativeHome last week, rumours about defections from the Conservatives to UKIP have grown from just the two MPs to potentially a dozen or more. Suddenly the defection thing seems to have regained its relevance and, yes, sexiness. This is the stuff which pumped the blood of long since forgotten political times, after all. Of course, this drum banging intrigue does tend to fall apart at the sight of some of the names – Nadine Dorries is many things, but she’s neither particularly powerful and definitely not sexy. Bill Cash and the like are not exactly big hitters either, being much of the ‘old boys’ brigade for whom accompanying headlines – “Anti-EU backbencher joins anti-EU party” – would not cause David Cameron much of a headache.

The UK Independence Party has been a constant in British politics now for over twenty years. It has singularly failed to get any of its candidates elected to Westminster, but from Parish Council to Brussels, the UKIP success story is more remarkable than its critics might ever concede. Its done fantastically well despite only having one policy, changing its high profile leader Nigel Farage for an obscure Peer during the last election, and being unable to explain how its well paid MEPs have brought the country ever nearer its aim of leaving the EU from inside their very nice offices in Strasbourg. Somehow the party with little credibility outside its hobby horse has managed to grow in strength and size by achieving precisely nothing. What UKIP has always enjoyed, however, is a credible protest vote attraction to them. They are not the British National Party, knuckle-dragging anti-everythings without unity or purpose. They can’t point to success in their aim to drag the UK out of the European Union, but they can still attract votes. And with a hung parliament in 2010 and something similar possible in a reduced House of Commons in 2015, Nigel Farage knows exactly how significant his party has become.

Let’s assume one backbench Conservative MP defects prior to, or just following, next month’s local elections. No great problem for Cameron – if the jump is to UKIP and the defector is a known “old boy” looking for handshakes and a new tie, there is no real winner. Farage will point to his new MP sitting with fellow “one party states” George Galloway (Respect, Bradford West) and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and talk of “a new breath of air in British politics”. Here comes the smaller parties, despite first past the post, proving that Britain wants real change. 

Two, maybe three, possibly four MPs going across would be difficult for Cameron to defend, though the nature and character of the “gang” may do his argument the world of good. “They are just one-policy nutters,” he could explain, “going to a one-policy pressure group.” Local Conservative associations might not appreciate their MPs suddenly taking a leap into the unknown like so many lemmings draped in the Union Flag. There could be more tension in the Party as different shades of right-wing battle it out amongst themselves. “Whilst that lot busy themselves like ferrets, ” Cameron would tell the House, “I’m getting on with leading the country.”
Things will get tougher if the rumours, some of which come from hints and allegations within UKIP, that the true number of Tory defectors is nearer two-dozen. That’s not normal. That’s unexpected. And that is a constitutional earthquake. Yes, it makes the Conservatives smaller in the Commons, less anti-EU and presumably less right -wing. Yes, it even shores up the Liberal Democrats within the Coalition, who find themselves speaking with a louder voice as the backbenches empty around them. Though what would a mass phalanx of anti-EU defections do to the governance of the country? Would it need the MPs to resign on mass, causing by-elections across the land to smoke out ‘true’ conservatives, forcing local associations to choose between party loyalty and perceived patriotism? Would Labour capitalise on the splits within the Government by forcing through amendments to controversial health, welfare and education legislation? Could they even force a vote of no confidence? Could there even be an early general election?

Due to the passing of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, another LibDem manifesto promise now in law by the way, David Cameron has very little wiggle room to call an early ballot. It’s no longer the case that the Prime Minister of the day can fire the starting pistol on a whim. The pressure to do so in most circumstances would not be enough to ‘create’ circumstances in which MPs vote down their own government, as often happens in countries which have Fixed Terms. If there’s a grouplet of UKIPpers in the Commons, the constitutional consequences are hard to ignore. What government is now running the country? It’s hard enough explaining why a Coalition has legitimacy now, imagine trying to do so if near enough two dozen Tory MPs cross the floor in one swift movement?

To have any legitimacy, the MPs would have to resign their seats and force by-elections. They would have to, for UKIP is not a parliamentary party and their electors cannot just be told that it’s normal for MPs to create parliamentary groupings over a weekend that didn’t exist before. Farage may well be the man with more power than most at the moment. 

He could probably absorb Nadine Dorries trying to “do a Sarah Palin” by coming across as a strong, independent maverick woman with a voice of her own and no man ain’t gonna tell her otherwise, no way, no how. He could cope with Mark Pritchard, not exactly a household name, acting as de facto leader of the UKIP Rump State. 
But if he finds himself with 20 or more MPs under his party label sitting in the Commons as a group larger than the SNP, larger than Plaid Cymru, and in greater number than all Northern Irish parties combined, he has the sudden strength of the starting pistol no future Prime Minister can ever use. How legitimate is Project Cameron now, he’ll ask, when we’re the Party his MPs are moving to?

Cameron has been exceptionally unlucky these past few years. He failed to win an outright majority against an unpopular Labour Prime Minister who dragged the country into the longest, deepest, most damaging recession in peace times. He has struggled to shake off the image of his Cabinet as out of touch, and has had to say goodbye to close allies within his Office at the least appropriate times. He has struggled to maintain opinion poll leads against a Labour Party led by a policy-wonk with all the charisma of a Speak-n-Spell machine. 

Now Cameron has another piece of bad luck shadowing his every move. And it’s not as though he hasn’t been warned.
To lose one MP might be considered misfortune. To lose two, careless. To lose over a dozen and have a rival effectively force a General Election onto you? That, Prime Minister, is incompetence. 

Farage fandango

Nigel Farage has enjoyed more false dawns than a customer at a transvestite holiday resort.  Third place in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election and runner-up spot at the European Elections in 2009 pointed towards a spectacular break-through at the 2010 general election. Focusing on election in the Speaker’s constituency of Buckingham – the constituency of the sitting Speaker is nominally uncontested though every election sees a collection of independents and oddities make a contest out of it – Farage stood down as leader to be replaced by Malcolm Pearson, aka Lord Pearson of Rannoch.  I have a distinct memory of their election press conference crumbling before my very eyes, Lord Pearson struggling to hide the rather obvious fact that he hadn’t read his own manifesto.

Decked out in their garish purple and yellow party colours – which tend not to go well with mahogany tan – UK Independence Party candidates are notoriously good at talking up their chances. Under our current First Past The Post voting system, it matters not that the recent YouGov poll puts them within one point of overtaking the Liberal Democrats: no UKIP candidate will ever be elected directly to the House of Commons.

That said, it’s not as though Nigel Farage is Nick Griffin, who has seen his own British National Party collapse from height to shambles in a matter of months. Farage is the master of his party’s image and spin, and boy can the man talk. Yes, his anti-Belgium diatribes are embarrassing. His Statesman like behaviour carries all the credibility of a garden gnome. And yet…

The threat of UKIP has never been so potent as it seems to be this year. By “threat” I also mean “promise” and “aspiration”. Farage is not the captain of a sinking ship, even if the tan and fancy get up shouts “Howard’s Way”. With this month’s European Union referendum controversy still ringing in David Cameron’s ears, it’s little wonder UKIP are being talked about in terms of spoiling the party come election time 2015.

Realistically Farage has much more of a steep climb even with the EU debate so freshly served on the agendas of breakfast television programmes and commentariat sections in newspapers. Europe is the bee-hive poke which ruins every well laid out policy picnic Governments have planned since the days of Heath. There’s Cameron and Clegg in the rose garden, trying to return to the happy days of their honeymoon over barbecued halloumi and fruit juice when armies of purple and yellow ants creep up from behind. 


Whilst the Liberal Democrats have been excellent in holding back most of the excessive policies of the Conservatives since last May, the secret coalition partner stalking Downing Street has been Nigel Farage. There must be times when even the mention of the word ‘defection’ sends Cameron into a blind panic, the kind which enters the mind of a teenage boy in the middle of entertaining upon hearing the sound of footsteps outside the bedroom door. What if, what if, what if…Whilst decent showings in general elections are quite beyond UKIP under the current voting system, causing a shock in local and European elections most certainly are not, something Cameron knows all too well. Additionally, any threat of a backbench defection, even just the one, would be a heck load of urine in the punch. 

Crucially for the Conservatives, and in a broader sense pro-Europeans from all parties, is the lack of credibility on Farage’s part with regards to selling UKIP as a genuinely broad church. They have one policy – Europe – to which they return for each and every question posed. Until that problem is solved, then the polls will continue to show only one thing – where Liberal Democrats were once the party of protest for electors fed up with the mainstream parties, now stands UKIP. And as once was said of the LibDems, there’s no chance of a protest party ever getting into government. 

Lives of Others

Nick Griffin MP, anyone?

Already further down the rabbit hole than previous General Elections, this year appears to be glaring out towards us from somewhere beyond the looking glass. It’s the least predictable, most unusual campaign for generations.

And it could get awfully more weird…

The British National Party are standing candidates in more seats than at any previous election including here in Lancashire a candidate called Rosalind Gauci, who becomes the first candidate for the BNP in South Ribble since that seat’s formation. “Did she marry into the Gauci’s?” I have been asked by curious folk. I could not possibly comment.

The BNP manifesto is full of quotes no mainstream news channel would dare broadcast for fear of reprisals. Bring British is, “to belong to a special chain of unique people who have the natural law right to remain a majority in their ancestral homeland“, says their policy document. It gives the impression of these British Isles lifting from the oceans some three or four hundred years ago without a single brown or black face among the population. Or indeed the Welsh, or anyone with a passing knowledge of Gaelic. As most broad minded individuals note, the economic wellbeing of this nation is on dodgy ground enough without the sudden mass expulsion of every working immigrant or third-generation British Asian to their “home country”.

However – and this point is more true today than usual – the national opinion poll ratings showing the BNP flatlining on 3% or 4% does nothing to hide the possible (probable?) success of their leader Nick Griffin in Barking. His party is the official opposition on the Barking & Dagenham council; his main opponent is Margaret Hodge, a woman with a tarnished reputation. The mood of the country, if it is any guide to this specific seat, is of a rock solid Labour vote turning away from their party; no more certain bloc votes of the working class, for whom “New Labour” turned out to be an affront to their morals and expectations.

Griffin must be defeated. His presence in the House of Commons would be a dark day for this country’s democracy, however salient a lesson he may present to the commentariat already bruised by his MEP victory last year. For Barking he would be a disaster, encouraging division where none currently exists. It would do no good for voters to assume that a UKIP or LibDem vote would defeat him. The only person able to defeat him here is Hodge; a vote for Labour in Barking is the best advice anyone there can take.

Why Griffin is treated as a genuine threat in Barking is worth acres of analysis. All mainstream parties have failed to deal with immigration, job security, the alleged democratic deficit in England compared with Scotland and Wales. These are not points to be whispered or tip-toed around; exactly that kind of misunderstood, mishandled ‘liberalism’ has enhanced the BNP into the current, unwarranted, status of credible party.

It is worth noting that Griffin is the only possible BNP victory anywhere in the country; all other 300-odd candidates will struggle to save their deposits. A far-right Party whose Leader goes for the winnable seats? I could not possibly comment.

A few hundred miles away in deepest Buckinghamshire is the Speaker John Bercow, in a typically British struggle against former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the seat of Buckingham “convention” means sitting Speakers do not face any mainstream opposition. Hence Farage turning up, who knows how to attract media attention if not exactly reason to his arguments. Anyone who has witnessed his “speeches” in Brussels will acknowledge that Farage has brains and political savvy…but the 10-year old “YouTube Been Framed” clips on Russel Howard’s Good News have more lasting effect.

You may recall my attempt to cover the UKIP manifesto launch some weeks ago. The Party has not exactly made much of a serious dent in the election since. UKIP, like their distant cousins in the BNP, suffer from being a one-man band, with hundreds of foot-soldiers standing with shallow pockets and no chance of victory (or for that matter, support from the party command).

UKIP are as deluded about their place in the country’s affections as most “major minor” parties. The fact that they came second in the European Elections misses the point; the General election is not voted on in the same way: and in 2005 they managed just over 603,000 votes across the country, finishing fourth overall, just about 4 million short of the third placed LibDems.

Farage could win, of course, proving that national opinion polls mask such one-off results thanks to the unique way the nation elects its MPs. Bercow is neither a traditional shire Tory, nor the kind of MP who can walk away from the expenses scandal with his reputation unscathed. Farage – who shakes off claims about his £2million Euro expenses without being awfully convincing – could attract enough protest votes and traditional C/conservatives under the current circumstances. One MP from UKIP will not drag the country out of the EU (not a single UKIP MEP has managed that yet, despite that being thier only policy), but again, what a sign to the ‘establishment’ if the Speaker was defeated in his own back yard.

The third likely win from the “others” in this election – no, not Esther Rantzen in Luton South – is the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas – now the sole leader of her Party following years of inexplicable “duel leadership” – has steered the Greens from mavericks to mainstream, proving that they are more than just environmental mouth-pieces.

Her victory in Brighton – now favourite with some bookies – would be more of a significant blow than either Farage or Griffin. No, her presence would not herald a sudden reversal in environmental policy in Westminster. No, one Green MP would not alter the course of the country. However, unlike BNP and UKIP, no mainstream media coverage has ever frothed at the mouth whenever their name is mentioned. No breathless coverage a la Griffin whenever Lucas appears on Question Time.

Are the Greens more likely to be elected elsewhere, unlike the one-man-bands of the “others” ? It’s not likely at all, such is the problem of having so little resources, so much faith in the once in a lifetime chance of our electoral processes. Green policies are not without their faults – the total cost to ordinary people has not been worked out at all. It is refreshing to think that our perverse, unfair voting system could yet suffer a minor flesh wound.

It is worth noting that this 2010 election has broken all records – more candidates than ever before, more registered Parties, more “independents”. Despite everything thrown at the election from the duck houses of Westminster, democracy in this country appears more alive and compelling than ever. The Leaders Debates have changed the face of the election campaigns for ever. Now all this event needs is some guests. There is no truth in the lazy observation “they’re all the same”. Voting in 2010 really isn’t an optional extra among the hours of your lazy Thursday, I would be awfully pleased if you went out and did so…

Election Fever, part 94…

Nick Clegg emailed me today. Well the address was from “LIBDEMLEADER-SUBS2010@emarketing…”, but with the Leaders Debates starting tomorrow, appearance is everything. He’s a very busy man.

Yesterday was the launch of the UKIP manifesto. Never knowingly intentionally hilarious, the basement venue meant the quad of joint leaders – for that is how it looks – squashed together like naughty schoolboys outside the head’s office. I concede very well tanned, wrinkled schoolboys, although it has to be said their current down with the kids leader Lord Pearson of Rannoch closely resembles Monty Burns on ether…

It was “Honest Malcolm” who seemed to get the most laughs yesterday. He bumbled along with pretty heavy handed delivery of every over-rehearsed line – something about not wanting to order the octopus at a Brussels restaurant, or at least not to claim expenses for it – then tangled himself in knots over the policy on tactical voting.

In short, UKIP would prefer voters to choose the Tories, but not too many Tories, because that would cause a Conservative victory, thus causing the end of the nation as we know it. I assume, therefore, that m’Lord would prefer UKIP voters talk to each other by means of telepathy to ensure that, like Goldilocks, the number of votes given to each Conservative candidate is “just right”.

Lord Malcolm of Used Cars then had a manifesto blank. On the proposed burqa ban, a journalist asked about the intention to extend the ban to private buildings. “We haven’t said private buildings,” protested Malcolm. “Yes we do, it’s on page 15,” whispered one of the joint leaders. “I will hand you over to our policy chief,” blustered Lord Octopus.

It was this “policy chief” – Duncan, a normal name to offset his double barreled surname – who turned up on SKY News later in the evening to sink into a quicksand of interview failure.

“You say in the first line of your manifesto that, in year one, you will reduce public spending to 1997 levels…?” barked the interviewer
“Yes” answered Duncan
“Can you tell me what public spending levels were in 1997?”
“No”.

There will be no UKIP hilarity tomorrow during the first ever Leaders Debate, live on ITV1. Despite the constraints strapped onto the debates by the 76-point rule book – which includes, bizarrely, one rule indicating exactly when the three men can shake hands – I remain optimistic that something good will come from this new curiosity to our election campaigns.

Lord knows this has been a pedestrian campaign so far.

“I’d rather watch paint dry,” comments my mate on the prospect of watching tomorrow night. “No, actually, I’d even watch dry paint, just stare at the walls for an hour, to be honest…”

Nick Clegg, having successfully seen off a petulant Jeremy Paxman on Monday night, is in the strongest position. He needs to polish off a few soundbites, otherwise all is well. Gordon Brown has the most to lose, given how disastrous he is during live television, with his almost autistic preference for answering with pre-prepared lists of statistics.

David Cameron needs a good showing after a rather ho-hum reaction to the hard-backed “power to the people” manifesto on Tuesday. If he can avoid starting every sentence with the very Blairite “Look…”, he could be onto something…

It’s not looking good, though, this election. Still seems distant and abstract. It’s missing a vital policy difference – National Insurance contributions just ain’t snappy enough – or an incident around which the campaign can turn. Unlike American elections, from which the Leaders Debates have been adopted, an election over here happens in shorter, sharper bursts. We’ve just been lacking the burst so far…

Is it a measure of the election – or your humble Doktorb – that the excitement could come when the 90 minute interview starts tomorrow night ?

London fascist week

Nick Griffin must think all his birthdays have come at once.

From the first dawn of new year 2009, the mainstream media and blogosphere have united in giving the British National Party the one thing they crave; massive and widespread coverage. For around six months the topic was “How we can stop the BNP being elected to Brussels”. When the North West of England, and Yorkshire & Humber elected one BNP member each, the former being Griffin himself, a brief flurry of discussion later has lead to a new target: the BBC, in allowing Griffin to appear on Question Time, is now in the firing range.

Deluded rent-a-quote Peter Hain, MP for Neath and Welsh Secretary – so in other words, Minister For Having Nothing To Do With How the BBC Conducts Itself – has been ranting like a wind-up toy for weeks about nothing else. He called the BNP “illegal”, which must come as some shock to the Electoral Commission whose Register of Political Parties includes them just as they do almost every other group wishing to stand in elections. In Mr Hain’s imaginarium, the BNP probably do not exist. Or else, perhaps, they do; Griffin is only one below the Archbishop of Canterbury in order of precedence, and Question Time is a CGI-laden one-off event broadcast across all frequencies and watched by literally everyone.

The BBC are completely within their rights to ask Griffin to appear on Question Time, just as they are completely within their rights not to ask a card-carrying member of the Monster Raving Loony Party: much to the annoyance of people like Hain, Nick Griffin has gone and achieved the sort of democratic mandate every trick in the book was supposed to deny. “No Platform” has resulted in dozens of councillors, a GLA member, and 2 MEPs. The one thing which could have stopped the tide of BNP success – face-to-face discussion – was dismissed as being something akin to collusion or agreement.

Allowing Griffin to appear in all his pudgy wonky-eyed glory will “prove the lie” on the strength of his party and their policies. Jack Straw represents Blackburn, so should know a thing or two about the realities of racial relations in a multi-ethnic town. Bonnie Greer has her own perspective on the difficulties – and consequences – of racism far beyond our shores. On any subject other than race – and there’s quite a few news stories circulating at the moment – Griffin will struggle. Anyone who has seen UKIP leader Nigel Farage shoehorn Europe into every single answer he’s asked to provide know how tiring it becomes hearing the subject heave-hoed up the hill each and every time.

Griffin will hang himself with his own words. It’s not as though his other interviews and appearances have ever been successful in reinventing his reputation. Those who wish to deny his voice on QT forget just how many blogs and YouTube appearances the man is getting even as I type. Let democracy and the democratic process actually happen, on a respected and popular television programme, and then react.

There are a lot of extremists on the left-wing who forget that the “spectrum of politics” can so easily be displayed not as a straight-line, but as a circle…

on polling day

Commercial radio plays in the background – Spice Girls, Savage Garden, Simply Red, something I don’t recognise which could be a jingle. The tricky Su Doku is not being completed very quickly; I’m free enough to fill in every number from one to nine in every box twice over, though, turnout is not exactly booming. The Daily Mail is frothing at the mouth. It’s not my natural choice but for now it’s the only thing to hand: I read it from top to bottom, copyright included.

This Polling Station is a church hall, smelling faintly of over enthusiastic spraying of air freshener. Jesus on the cross looks down over the ballot boxes. Those who are coming to vote do so with gaps of twenty or so minutes between each other – a man in a Slayer t-shirt, an old couple with polite if dismissive smiles for me and my orange rosette, a young lad with confusion in his eyes. I wait for some kind of guide to the mood of them, but there’s nothing more than a “Jesus on a bike” reaction to the two-foot European Parliament ballot paper. Time clicks by very slowly. I struggle with the Su Doku until the whole exercise becomes so intense I can hear the numbers laughing at me.

“Telling” probably sounds totally useless for most of the population. Honestly it probably is. Even in times before technology the numbers were only as useful for the short timeframe between getting them from polling station to agent. Today the computer programme used to log the numbers is clumsy, slow, with no connection to on-line analysis or communication to other party members in different parts of the city. Trying to explain why we need numbers is becoming increasingly hard, some people assume it is just one of those cute harmless traditions. Gruff young men – maybe voting for the first time – are less likely to fall for the oft-repeated line, “It’s just to stop us knocking you up later”. A young mother at another polling station smiles, “You can trouble me all you like but I’m not giving you my number.”

At a school sports hall, turnout is far more brisk. It’s the afternoon rush. “I’ve just voted for you,” starts a friendly enough bloke in a builder’s merchant t-shirt, “but not in the Euros.” He leaves the subtle hint in the air long enough for me to get the hint. With nobody saying it out loud it’s hard to guess how many people have made a choice they could live to regret on the wallpaper-sample sized ballot. Reports come from one part of town where people are queuing out of one polling station; from another such tumbleweed quietness there’s an unsettling sense of isolation from the outside world.

“We read James and The Giant Beanstalk. How would the giant feel?” With nothing else to read, I take a look at the features on the wall. I fince he wud be angrily becuz jack stoled all his hings reads one of the hand-written captions. I wonder how Gordon Brown feels now…

I open a packet of crisps. Two voters walk in. I try again. Three voters walk in. And again. God does not want me to eat these ready-salted crisps. A woman chats to me about litter and dog-mess on pavements, proving that these things really do come high on peoples lists at election time. As she talks to me, an older man is getting vocal with the electoral staff in the next room. He has never received a polling card and wants somebody to do something about it there and then. Calls are made to Town Hall, mumbled conspiracy theories are bounded around. Nobody suggests, as UKIP end up doing, that folded ballot papers are experiment in mass disenfranchising.

Another hour in another church. “How’s turnout been, like?” “Fairly ropey”. The man is middle-aged, sporting a robust moustache. “I mean to say, like, if you want to get rid of…I’ve heard them, ‘oh I don’t want to vote for them, they all need to go’, I mean, what I’m saying is, if you want to get rid of them, you vote them out, don’t you?” His wife, three strides away, folding her arms, nods her head. “Vote them out, absolutely”. A young woman with art teacher hair and a sensible beige dress gives me an awkward smile. She leaves the polling station chatting into her mobile phone, “Green or Christian Party? Green? I didn’t know there was a Christian Party.”

Unusually for an election day, there is no other party member on telling duty. An old councillor used to chat for hours about every election story he’d ever experienced. Sometimes sweets are handed out, sandwiches if you’re lucky. Old hands spot known voters, wink or shake hands or hug. Today there are no other tellers on duty. As signs and auspices go, it has a fair amount of value. Somewhere there’s party workers desperate to get out their vote, and limited resources are clearly being stretched.

British election days are quite unique. There remains an old-fashioned, quite sweet historic nature to them. The stubby pencils, the school halls, the elderly married couples walking hand-in-hand to do their duty. The mood of the nation is highly tense, predictions for results are pretty pointless fingers-in-the-wind. It’s the greatest game show in the world. For all the tedious hours spent sitting on plastic chairs in empty halls, I wouldn’t change it for the world.