spiked-geist: Day Three

Blair: Famous in Farringdon (not); Government by accountancy; Ghost-voting; The deserted ballot-box; Tony's school pantomime

Various Authors

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Famous in Farringdon (not)

‘Yeah, apparently he’s gonna be here any minute now….’ At least the newspaper vendor was excited – nobody else at Farringdon Tube station last night seemed to care that prime minister-in-waiting Tony Blair was on his way to pay the station an impromptu visit. But what would Blair be doing in Farringdon – apart from maybe consolidating the Guardian vote? ‘Dunno’, said the newspaper seller. ‘But according to one of those coppers he’ll be here soon. 35p darlin’.’

Aside from the five British transport police officers, two tall men in immaculately pressed suits, and a small fierce woman who glared at anybody who hung around the station entrance for more than three seconds, Farringdon was as it was every evening at 5.30pm. The day’s newspapers (with Blair’s picture staring out) were strewn across the station floor; there was a mile-long queue for the ticket office; and platform 4 was packed with visibly irate commuters.

‘So what’s going on here?’ I asked a ticket guard, nodding towards the police-and-pressed-suits posse in the corner. ‘Can’t say’, he replied, clearly relishing his new role as keeper of an official secret. ‘Is it true it’s something to do with Tony Blair?’ I asked, not having the heart to tell him that his big secret was being blabbed to anybody who bought the Evening Standard from the motormouth newspaper vendor outside. ‘Tony who?’ he said, giving the game away with a wry smile. MI5, sign this man up.

Suddenly, Blair materialised in the station, shook hands with some Tube workers, was quickly encircled by the protective posse, taken through the ticket barriers (I noted that he didn’t have his own ticket – clearly takes after his wife), down to the platform, and on to a train going in the Luton direction. And that was it. There were a few sideways glances from the odd commuter, but most people were oblivious to the fact that the man of the moment had graced Farringdon with an ‘impromptu visit’.

It was delayed trains and signal failures that brought Farringdon to a standstill last night, not Tony Blair. Maybe this was a snapshot of the election campaign 2001 – newspaper billboards declared ‘Blair’s election promises’ and pictures of him stared out from discarded newspapers, but nobody noticed that the man himself had turned up. ‘I want a fucking refund on this ticket’, I heard a man saying as I left. ‘These trains are a disgrace.’ BON

Government by accountancy

As the parties begin to reveal their manifestos, they look increasingly like accountants bidding for a large business deal.

While the Tory Group promised to cut fuel duty by 6p (saving the average Ford Mondeo driver £3.70 when he fills up), and give £8bn worth of tax breaks to pensioners, savers and families, the Labour Group pledged to keep mortgages and inflation as low as possible, to have 10,000 extra teachers, 20,000 extra nurses, 6,000 extra police officers and the minimum wage increased to £4.20 an hour. What is going on here – politics by target?

It would seem so: especially as the main criticisms the parties could find of each other involved not politics, but maths. The Labour Group claimed that the Tory Group’s sums did not add up: Treasury chief secretary Andrew Smith said ‘They are proposing tax cuts they cannot afford on the basis of spending cuts they cannot find’. Although not really in the running for the bid, accountants from the Liberal Democrat Group said they had been through Tory sums ‘with a fine-tooth comb’, and agreed that the ‘figures simply don’t add up’.

Meanwhile, the Labour Group’s five pledges are treated with disdain by the Tory Group and the Liberal Democrat Group, who pointed out that the Labour Group had not really ‘delivered’ on the pledges that won them the bid four years ago. Could they be relied upon this time? And accountants from the Institute for Fiscal Studies projected that if, in their effort to deliver 10,000 extra teachers, the Labour Group carried on increasing public service spending at 3.8 percent a year, then they would need to raise taxes by the equivalent of almost 2p on the basic rate of income tax.

At best, these number-games might send people running for their calculators. They certainly won’t get them near the ballot box. Are we voters here – or minor shareholders of UK inc? JA

Ghost-voting

‘Many thousands of people sacrificed their lives to give us the vote’, said veteran Labour MP Tony Benn, standing down from the House of Commons after 50 years. And so the chorus was written for the All-Party Election Song against voter apathy.

To date, the only issue really to have emerged as the Election Issue is the election itself, as politicians of all parties stare into the abyss of quiet polling stations and featherweight ballot boxes, and compete to see how far they can cajole and castigate us into voting. But if anything could really turn people against turning out on 7 June, surely it’s the notion that we should vote for the memory of Our Glorious Dead. Should Remembrance Sunday really be the model for a general election, where we wear our ‘I cast my vote’ badges with pride?

The notion that we should vote because – well, because we should – even when all candidates emit a resounding silence about what we should be voting for – is based on the idea that people refusing to vote degrade the importance of this democratic right. But what degrades the vote today is not people refusing to use it, but the presentation of voting as a moral obligation, devoid of politics and devoid of choice.

People who fought for the vote did so because they wanted to change things, not because they felt a burning desire to re-affirm the status quo. The anti-apathy brigade might like to consider that, before throwing the ghosts of elections past in our faces. JB

Read on:

Your vote counts! (to Bush, Blair, Gore and Hague, anyway), by Frank Furedi in spiked-election

Wake up! The truth about youth apathy, by Jennie Bristow in spiked-election

A-pathetic excuse, by Mick Hume in spiked-central

The deserted ballot-box

What if Election 2001 yields more abstentions than it does votes for the government? Read Anatole Kaletsky in The Times (London):

‘For the first time in modern British history, abstentions are likely to outnumber votes for the government in this election. In 1997, Labour garnered the support of 30.9 percent of registered voters, while 28.7 percent failed to vote. For the record, the closest post-war photo-finish between a governing party and the abstainers occurred in October 1974, when 29.3 percent of the electorate backed Harold Wilson’s Labour, while 27.2 percent stayed at home.

‘If I am right in my hunch that “none of the above” will emerge as the overall winners of this election, what conclusions should be drawn?’

Why William Hague is my electoral hero, The Times 10 May 2001

Tony’s school pantomime

Irene Bishop, head of St Saviour’s and St Olave’s in south London, was keen enough to use her pupils as Blair’s red carpet for his general election announcement. But she admits to being ‘naive’ about the consequences.

First of all, the prime minister and Labour Party leader decided to talk about politics! Bad marks there.
‘Schools should be apolitical’, tutted Ms Bishop. ‘They shouldn’t be seen to be in favour of any particular party.’ She countered accusations of being a Blairite by stressing, ‘If it had been a prime minister of another party, they would have also been welcome’. Unfortunately even the Liberal Democrats don’t think there should be one prime minister for each party.

But what really appalled this headteacher was the naughtiness of journalists. ‘They were elbowing people out of the way, smoking in a non-smoking school, pushing and shoving, taking chairs meant for the children’, she complained. Honestly. As if, when reporting on the announcement of a general election, journalists should have more important priorities than behaving well in assembly. RL

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