To help promote awareness of this series among EuroKossacks, please recommend Welshman’s Diary at dkos. BooMan
Welcome to the second of the UK election diary series. Welcome especially to those from Daily Kos who have made the trip across to give us your company and support in our efforts to bring you all that is bright, new and wonderful in an election campaign that will almost certainly be of enormous disinterest. Disinterest not to Americans but to the British. Apathy is the likely winner again in this election.
It has been a momentous week. The Prime Minister is not due to trigger the election by going to the Queen to seek the dissolution of Parliament until early next week (have a read of Lizzie’s enjoyable diary here if you need to look up what this means). Yet my own belief is that, by a series of acts of great stupidity, the election is now, if it wasn’t before, decided.
Markos, I have news for you. Whatever you find when you come over as the Guardian US observer in the last week of the election, expect to be disappointed. It came to an end, appropriately, in the seven days leading up to April’s Fool.
First some domestic issues. If you haven’t seen the announcement on Dkos, the move of this diary to Boomantribune is the beginning of what I hope will be a much more major initiative. Other diaries on what is happening in Europe will also be found here, including that by Jerome a Paris on the French referendum and a new one on the Italian election by Gilgamesh.
Secondly, I am joined again on this diary by Lizzie for the Labour Party and Edis for the Liberal Democrats. Still there is no Conservative party representative. You might well ask “why not?”.
You see, after last week’s diary, I got an email from the missing duck Peter Cuthbertson. It said “Just wanted to drop you a line saying I like the look of the diary so far, and to encourage you to send me all the questions you send others, at least until you find a full-time Tory voice. You never know: some of the answers may be other than “Bite me!”
So, biting back any feelings about his previous prevarication, I said “great” and asked him for a copy of the photo of him and ex-Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher for pre-publicity. Later I sent him two more emails.
I got no response. Again not a quack from the duck. So I set off in search for him in the best traditions of the Gannon enquiry.
I thought that I had found him here:
No, I thought, that can’t be him. So I looked and looked and finally came up with that famous picture on an obscure site on the internet:
Cuthbertson I believe is the one on the left. The one on the right is Maggie.
Hang on, I thought. I need another look at the first picture:
Could these two people be the same? All the material has been passed over to the Gannon/Guckert enquiry team to investigate. My only fear is that in the unlikely event that Cuthbertson is found to have sites with the type of naked self-portraits that Jeff Gannon had, the images – judging by the only one we have -will be a lot less pleasing for those who might otherwise be of a persuasion to enjoy such things.
Meanwhile. we are without a Tory representative. Fear not. Instead of the apparently athletically challenged and unreliable Mr Cuthbertson, there is a hint that the delectable Chloe may join us. More on this as the story unfolds.
And so we come to this week’s headline:
TORY PARTY TAKES FLIGHT BEFORE ELECTION IS ANNOUNCED
The story is all about one Mr Flight, Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party.
You, as an American, will have never heard of him. Relax. I assure you that 99.9999999999% of British had not heard of him either.
The landslide defeats experienced by the Conservatives in recent years have been due to the electorate not trusting them. I know this will be hard to understand from a people who elect Tony Blair as their Prime Minister, but I promise you it is true. Least of all, do they not trust the Conservatives to safeguard our public services and our National Health Service in particular.
Michael Howard, Conservative Leader, has worked hard like his predecessors to reassure us about this point. I believe that some progress was being made. His big election platform was that, despite intending to make some small cuts in Income Tax, the Conservatives would be able to achieve this by certain specified savings in public services that would in no way reduce their effectiveness.
Except onto the scene comes Mr Flight, a key contributor to the public services savings policy. At a private meeting of some Conservative backers, he explained that the savings proposed in their election manifesto involving a £35bn target for lower spending would “be the start” of more radical cuts in the public sector. The hapless Mr Flight declared that the Tories have a secret agenda but, he explained, first it had to gain power. Ah, the spirit of the neocons lives on in the garden suburbs of Merrie England.
The trouble is that some socially minded, or socialist minded, fellow had a tape recorder. He leaked the speech to the Times. The foul, slime-besmirched cheat! Or not, depending on who you believe was the greater threat to truth in politics.
There are many ways Michael Howard could have dealt with the matter. After all, it happened at the last election and the goon of a Conservative was simply hidden away, literally, for the rest of the election campaign. He could have bluffed it out and merely said that it was a proper statement that even greater savings could be made than those proposed, without diminishing the services to the public, but they were being cautious in the manifesto. I might have been sympathetic to that argument.
Instead, Michael Howard wanted to show he was tough. He sacked poor Mr Flight from the Deputy Chairmanship. Then, to show he was even tougher, a few hours later he had him de-selected from his constituency. Mr Flight has declared that he will not go easily or quietly.
I do not know which of the many political gurus were advising Howard, but they are a bunch of lame idiots. No one needed to prove Mr Michael “something of the night about him” Howard was ruthless. It impressed not one voter. Regardless of the sense behind some of Mr Flight’s comments, all the great British public will remember is that the Conservatives have a secret plan to cut their beloved public services according to their own man and he must be right because Michael Howard sacked him!
Remember the cheery duck I put forward as Conservative Party spokesman last week. Well, I have to bring you a very distressing picture of him:
Sadly I have to report that this poor thing, in which were held all the hopes of a Conservative Party come back at this election, is a Monty Python of a dead duck.
This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker!“E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-DUCK!!
So now for what our two commentators have to say about the week. I first asked them what their parties had been highlighting as new policies. Edis for the Liberal Democrats responded:
Secondly Tory spending plans. The Libdem Treasury team was already highlighting the inadequacies of the official ‘James Committee’ Tory calculations on ‘spending cuts’ before the Howard Flight clog-dance raised questions of a hidden agenda..
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, outlined campaign themes to MPs. There are no ‘No-Go areas’ for the Liberal Democrats, who are the real opposition to Labour.
Several Libdem mini-Manifesto’s launched. :
1 On the family. Themes: We are no longer a nation that has one universal family structure. But all families share common concerns. Manifesto lays out policies on giving children a good start in life, balancing home and work needs, strengthening financial security of family arrangements. Includes a pledge to support same-sex civic unions as one means of strengthening families.
2 On the Environment Tough measures on Global warming needed. Sets out measures for cleaner transport and power.
3 On disabled peoples’ rights. Stress on promoting Independent Living, removing barriers to public and political participation, helping people have greater control over their own lives.
4 For Ethnic Minorities. Equal protection against racist attacks masquerading as religious comment. Human-rights based asylum and economic migration system set out.
Strangely, Lizzie did not respond to this question at all. Poor dear, I understand her difficulties. The Labour Party is largely re-cycling what it has already announced and has very little new to say that was not already said in its “safe” but lack lustre pre-election statement.
The great shame is that there is no Conservative here to explain their party’s new initiatives. Some of these, such as for the elderly, are very attractive. The absence of comment from them here, however, is perhaps a useful indicator of their impact on the British public. However much they may have had election appeal, the whole debacle over Mr Flight’s comments on public services have completely over shadowed them. If any Tory reading this doesn’t believe me, then read these extracts, many from their own people and newspapers, which shows the devastating effect of the last week.
The even greater shame is that all this occurred just as the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were making some headway in embarrassing Tony Blair by his refusal to make known his Attorney General’s advice on the legality of war in Iraq. Teflon Tony slips through the net again.
And so to the question of what our commentators made of the week, including their take on Mr Flight. First Lizzie for the Labour Party:
So it would have been a good week anyway, with a nice budget and all, even if it hadn’t been for the hilarious antics of the Tories. During the Thatcher years, Labour’s problem was convincing the voters it was “safe” to vote Labour. Many were deeply in debt, having bought council houses (low-rent houses built by the post-war Labour government) at the height of a housing boom that had gone bust. But they trusted Labour even less with the economy. Better the devil you know….
Now, the tables are turned. The economy is stable, much more so than it was under the Tories. So why should anyone vote Tory again? Well, the National Health Service isn’t a lot better – but it’s better than it was under the Tories. Schools are still underfunded – but primary schools are getting palpably better. Public transport is still dire – but better than under the Tories when the town centres were full of competing bus companies running half empty buses, with not a bus for hours out on the estates. And the streets are cleaner, and there’s some fun Millenium stuff around, like the London Eye. Yes, Blair went to war in Iraq – but the Tories voted for that war, and in any case, Tories like war, don’t they? So the only reason to vote Tory is if you want tax cuts. And you only want tax-cuts as long as there won’t be cuts to public spending.
So the Tories have come up with a neat promise – more for less. Limited tax cuts without spending cuts. It’s all supposed to come out of “efficiencies” (i.e. axing the few programs that have made Blair’s government genuinely progressive). The idea, I think, is to make disgruntled ex-Blair voters feel better about parking their protest vote back with the Tories.
The problem with this strategy for the Tories is that it’s not enough for their base. They want red meat. So, in a “private” meeting of select Thatcherite Tories, Howard Flight, a conservative MP, is asked by a questioner whether a Tory government “could go further” once in office. Flight replies: “Whatever the fine principles, you have to win an election first.” Adds that the plans have been “if you like, ‘sieved’ for what is politically acceptable”. And a mole catches him on tape.
At which point all Labour needs to do is to order the popcorn. Tory polls slump. Howard sacks Flight as a shadow minister, and withdraws the Tory whip, so he can no longer stand as Tory candidate for his constituency. Lord Tebbit, arch-Thatcherite, accuses Howard of opting for the “nuclear response”. Flight seeks legal advice. His constituency likes him. Dammit the Tories like him – he’s offering them what they want. Trouble is, there aren’t enough of them to vote in a Tory government on anything as, well, Tory, as a slash and burn tax-cut program.
Labour ends the week 12 points ahead.
And now for Edis on behalf of the Liberal Democrats:
Apparently they won’t be sacked as candidates, unlike Howard Flight, the Tory in Arundel who embarrassed his leader so by letting economic cats out of bags. Remarkably he is not the first Tory candidate to be compulsorily stood down. In fact in Slough they are on their second enforced de-selection in two months.
One because the candidate turned out to be a Gun-Fetishist straight out of US boondocks nightmares, and his successor because he believes the European union is a Catholic plot to corrupt Britain. While I sympathise with Mr Howard’s desire not to be seen in the same coffin as these characters, the Tory habit of removing dissenting voices is actually quite worrying in terms of constitutional practice in Britain. MPs should be able to debate with their parties and leadership, they are not nominated afterthoughts of the Caudillo. More though on this later.
In the polls, as Lizzie notes, there has been some marked improvement for the Labour Party. My favourite poll of polls interpreter, UK Elect shows some small internal adjustment of their own previous figures in favour of the Tories but still indicates a massive loss for them. It also shows the loss of the seat of a key Tory Minister, David Davies, to the Liberal Democrats.
So that was the week that was. Except for one thing that I forgot to mention. I keep calling the Conservatives “Tories”. Well, it appears that I shouldn’t. The party’s head of broadcasting, Michael Salter, has written to television channels urging them stop using the label. “It will be Conservative candidates people are voting for and they will be Conservative policies rather than Tory,” said Mr Salter. This sad plea, throwing out two centuries of tradition, is the latest in a series of attempts by the party to shed its unpopular Thatcherite image and rebrand itself as a centrist political force representative of modern Britain. Like the compassionate face of George Bush, the possibility of it being recognised by the electorate exists only in the unreality of the minds of his closest staff.
If you missed last week’s diary, it is here. And my forecast for the next stage of the campaign? Expect this election to get very dirty – I can see little benefit in the Tories now holding back after the damage done to them this week. Iraq may be featured more strongly. The people to gain from such tactics are the Liberal Democrats.