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?