Monday, April 19, 2010

The Dad's Army Gambit

I spent Monday evening walking and chatting round the ward - this time in the Hercules Street area. David and I bumped into a couple of LibDems canvassing too - I'm sure Mike will report on his blog that the people of Springfield were thronging to the LibDem banner...

In truth, unless you are stuck up a pole in the middle of the desert, things aren't easy for politicians of any stripe right now - the mood seems not to have shifted one iota from the visceral anger that erupted during the European elections over MPs' expenses. Then there was a general recognition that politicians from all the Westminster parties were implicated to a greater or lesser extent, and that is still the case today. Many times residents vented their anger with me about fairness - whether about MPs or benefit seekers or other groups. "You're all the same" goes the refrain. Still, I'm not reaching for my tumbler of whisky and pearl-handled revolver just yet.

How to respond to the astonishing rise in popularity of the LibDems is taxing both the main parties right now. To some extent, the question is most acute for the Tories and David Cameron - having seen his 20 point plus lead squandered, Cameron must be coming under intense pressure from the hard right of his party who would dearly love a "bash the immigrants/welfare scroungers" agenda to shore up his core vote. Cameron is not a complete fool however - he must kmow that tacking off in that direction, even given the current mood, would be a suicidal move. Even beating the old familiar drum of anti-Europeanism carries huge risks - it is the LibDems after all who want at some stage to have an "in or out" referendum (a policy I think isn't completely daft, but which does carry huge risks with the national interest) which would appeal to some Tory/UKIP floaters.

Labour is presented with some different problems. Labour and the LibDems have a fraught but complex relationship, as the recent brilliant post by Hopi Sen sets out. To suggest however, that Labour strategists are relaxed about the current state of the polls, in which Labour are running third, can't be right - and if it is, those strategists should be quietly taken out of the room and shot. Polling around Michael Foot's level of popularity back in 1983 is hardly planning for success.

Over on his blog, Mike has suggested that Labour in Darlington are panicking - nonsense of course, but as I shall blog shortly, there is real truth in the "Vote Yellow Get Blue" line here in Darlington. Instead, rather than "Don't Panic", another refrain from Dad's Army might be more apposite - if there's one thing we've come to learn about the LibDems over the years, it's that "they don't like it up'em!" Willing to tell half-truths and campaign negatively to their hearts content in contests around the country (and I exempt Mike from this, by the way), they are notoriously thin-skinned when attacked themselves.

The Tory-supporting press have already got to work on this, pointing out LibDem crackers policies on crime and justice, and drugs reform for example. Lord Mandelson is busy pointing out that Nick Clegg wants to restrict Working Families Tax Credit - a line which brought 2 Labour supporters back into the fold on Monday night in discussion with me.

My personal favourite, which I don't think has attracted a great deal of attention to date, is the LibDem policy that children as young as 16 should be able to not only enter sex shops and buy hardcore porn, but be able to take part in hardcore porn themselves. Don't believe me? - have a look at the article from the Independent here. I needn't tell you that pornographers (and worse) would be queuing up to take advantage of that change and exploit potentially vulnerable young people.

So here's a challenge to Mike - I'd be happy to go onto the High Row with him and talk to 10 voters currently uindecided about whether to vote LibDem or not, and see how they feel about the LibDems after learning about that little gem. How about it, Mike?


Mike Barker said...

What took you so long, Nick? I've been waiting for Labour's number one attack dog to be let loose.

If you want to debate issues with voters on High Row, or anywhere else, with me, I'm up for it.

But you'll have to rely on better ammunition than a six year old party conference motion which has never been accepted as party policy and wouldn't come anywhere near a manifesto. I could produce plenty of Labour Party Conference motions which you would disown now (and at least we don't chuck old men out of our conferences for heckling).

The shift in public opinion is far more fundamental than you suggest. It's not even about the details of policy. It's about the desire for a wholesale change in the way we do our politics in this country. And the Tories are getting hit just as much as Labour.

In this constituency in this election we're not in a two-way marginal where the Lib Dem vote can be squeezed or where you can appeal for a tactical vote to stop the Tory getting in.

We're in a genuine three horse race where perhaps 8% of the vote will go to the fringe parties, leaving 92% for the other three to play for. The winner could get elected with 31% of the vote.

Now our 18% five years ago and 24% in the local elections three years ago, combined with the unpopularity of Labour in Darlington and the Tory choice of an outsider as their candidate, makes the gap we have to fill seem quite small, I'd say!

Darlington Councillor said...

Now then Mike - as you know, I have a great regard for your political acumen, but here, you're talking b*llocks!

Darlington isn't a 3-way marginal. If your party had a sniff of a chance, it would be national target. LibDem luminaries would be piling onto the streets of the town - we would at least have the occasional visit by someone other than Fiona Hall.

Have a look at Chris Lloyd's blog from yesterday. There he lists the hot seats for the LibDems in the North East (Durham City principally, but also Blaydon, Newcastle Central and Newcastle East) and the places where they are becoming "increasingly excited" about - Redcar and Wansbeck. Not Darlington.

If your own Party HQ doesn't think you've got a prayer, don't expect the people of Darlington to swallow the line.

By the way, I never saw myself as an "attack dog" - more a lovable black labrador. Still, it makes a change from sinking my teeth into poor Edward's soft white hide!

Wally watcher said...

Good choice Cllr Wally, a black labrador. A breed prone to becoming fat and unhealty as a reslut of eating and swallowing anything! Now are you a(ahem)a little portly and a member of the Labour party? Thats two for two in my book.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes

Local candidates with policies which voters can relate to do win elections.

A perfect example was in the 2001 General Election in Kidderminster the local GP ran on a single issue and overturned a Labour majority of 6,946 at the previous election into a 17,630 majority. The Labour share of the vote slumped from 48.76% in 1997 to 22.1% in 2001. The Tory share of the vote also slumped from 36.14% in 1997 to 19.1% in 2001.

There is a website which gives the General Election results for each constituency dating back to 1832. Now there must be a few upsets recorded there.

In the current climate and judging by the events of the last week anything can happen in the election in Darlington.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes again.

I forgot to mention. Who would have thought that the US Senate Democrat seat in Massachusetts which was a Democrat stronghold and which was formerly held for many years by Edward Kennedy would have fallen to the Republicans, but that's what happened last November.

So there are precedents.

Darlington Councillor said...

You're right, Alan - big upsets do occasionally happen, though normally in by-elections rather than General Election campaigns ( the Massachsetts seat is an example of that).

I was careful in my language in stating that enormous swings do sometimes happen - but they are rare. Local factors, like the hospital issue you mention in Kidderminster, or the presence of the monstrous Hamiltons in Tatton, tend to be necessary to spark the sort of swing Mike needs. I just don't see the conditions here in Darlington.

It's all a matter of probability for me - which is more likely - that Mike scales Everest and wins the seat, or he takes enough votes off Labour to give the Tories a chance at a seat they frankly don't deserve to win?

The people for whom this is a real issue aren't the dyed-in-the-wool LibDem activists such as yourself - I appreciate you want as many votes for your party as possible, and aren't too bothered if you lose which of the main parties win the seat. It's the 50% of people who voted Labour last time, who support progressive politics, but some of whom are disappointed or disaffected with the Government and politics in general.

I find that those residents may be thinking about voting LibDem, or maybe even not voting at all. What they are very clear with me about, however, is they do not want either a Tory MP or a Tory Government. They really aren't that interested in your party, and know little about you. In effect, it's a vote for none of the above.

And it's to them I say "is voting LibDem a risk worth taking when you could easily end up with a Tory MP?" Voters aren't stupid and know that there is little tradition of voting LibDem in any numbers here in Darlington. I find that many, but by no means all, readily come back into the fold.

Anonymous said...

with a least 2 properties in hercules street housing asylum seekers i just wondered can they vote in this election.

Ex Labour said...

Nick is right yet so is Alan, both to an extent, personally I am not sure of how strong a swing there will be towards the Lib Dems, Darlington Labour have been terrible for the last few years, John Williams still at the helm is as bad as it can get the Phart fiasco the high level Eastern Transport Corridor all Labour financial white Elephants, however I would hate (and this is my fear) to vote wanting Lib Dem and due tot he spread of the votes get legend as MP and possibly a Tory Gov. by default as it were.

This is a frightening prospect for many and this is why I think many will not vote and whilst I cannot agreee with this stance a lot of what Nick says could come true!

Saying that the Labour party need a few home truths too, Brown must go he was unelected, unwanted and unliked. Milliband must never be allowed into power and anything to do with Mandy in anyway whatsoever must be severed, the Lords must be elected not just from the ranks of the toffs and your MP should be sackable if they perform like 6 jobs Milburn, scrop ID cards, stop ALL imigration including asylum seeking and oh yes and finally give the people the promised referendum on getting out of the EU.

Nick may not like some of my suggestions but remember Nick the Gov. works for the people no the other way around, Labour are in this mess because they have not listened for too long.

A sure vote winner in Darlo would be sack Johno!