They (whoever they are) say that a week is a long time in politics. And this last week or so has indeed been both long and eventful – as far as the general election campaign is concerned anyway. Thursday night saw the second of three televised leaders’ debates, this time on foreign policy issues. To this observer at least, the debate seemed to be more fiery and bad-tempered than that of the week before.
Voices were raised, impatient interruptions were made, very little of any actual substance was said, and there was much less agreeing with Nick this time – David Cameron publicly accused a sneery Gordon Brown of scaremongering and being an out-and-out liar, and they both laid into Nick Clegg in a seemingly pointless effort to flatten ‘Cleggmania’ before it can become truly politically dangerous.
It is interesting to see Brown and Cameron (as well as certain parts of the media) so obviously threatened by a man previously as politically anonymous as Nick Clegg. Both Labour and the Tories always knew that this was going to be a close-run election campaign, but the (perhaps not entirely unexpected) emergence of the Liberal Democrats has got them rattled now – the fact that the old two-party system is now being blown wide open can easily be read as further proof that the electorate is heartily sick and tired of the current, broken political system.
Well, that’s ninety minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected, and in some ways the perceived outcome was surprising (to me – a bit – anyway). This, the first televised debate of its kind in the UK, appears to have been some sort of attempt to engage the electorate in their own homes, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a large proportion of the ITV-watching population simply reached for the remote at 8.30pm. I didn’t – for my sins – and this is what I thought…
Gordon Brown fared better than I expected, although I thought he looked worried and old – and his attempts at joking his way out of a hole fell a little flat to my ears. He handled the question on the economy with more knowledge and grace than David Cameron (all those years in the Treasury waiting for Tony Blair to begone are paying off now, eh Gordon?), but his weird little attempts at deferring to Nick Clegg were noticeable and rather amusing – “I agree with Nick” being the catchphrase of the night from Gordy. I get the impression that Downing Street may well be preparing for a hung parliament and are thus rather clumsily grooming Clegg because they suspect that he may end up in an important position in any resulting coalition government.
So it’s May 6th then. Now there’s a surprise.
In exactly a month’s time, the polling booths will be open and the British people will be casting their vote for a new/old government, but, finally, today Her Madge gave her consent to Gordon Brown dissolving Parliament – which means the election campaign really, actually, finally, officially starts now (despite the fact that some candidates have been at it for months already).
And what an exciting morning it’s been for all us armchair election followers!
I’m not entirely sure what was most (least?) thrilling about this morning’s frankly mindless media coverage. Forced by Freeview to choose between Sky or the BBC, the telly ended up being muted when my brain started dripping out of my ears. I did catch Gordon Brown’s thoroughly tedious speech – although I was slightly distracted by the phrase ‘as dull as ditchwater’ bouncing round what little brain I had left by this point.
Other media lowlights included David Cameron’s unpleasantly smug speech to the rapt party faithful, complete with its mysterious (hmm) omission of the same two words (“gay” and “straight”) which were so heavily emphasised in the draft version revealed yesterday.
Now we’re a month into it, I suspect that it’s still too much to hope (perhaps) that 2010 will be a better year politically than the last. I suspect things will pick up where they left off at the end of last year and we’ll get another twelve months of bitching and moaning – but very little action on behalf of our elected ‘representatives’ in Westminster. Quelle surprise.
I can’t help being so cynical. I used to be a full-blown idealist (and I still hold firm to an arguably idealistic belief in the necessity of peace, equality and fairness, despite everything), but the more I learned about and the more I understood the way the political system in this country works, the less convinced I was by its weasel words (ie, not at all), and the less I believed in the possibility of it being an agent for and a necessary force in creating positive change.
Cynicism comes naturally after that.
2009 did little to disabuse me of this belief. All in all, it was a pretty sorry year, politically speaking – although no matter how much you despise the government of the day (and no matter how enjoyable the schadenfreude), it is never comfortable viewing to watch them dig themselves deeper and deeper into a pit of infamy; that same pit of infamy which Tony Blair played such a prominent role in originally (re) opening up back in 1997.
“It’s not a war on drugs, it’s a war on personal freedom is what it is, OK? Keep that in mind at all times. Thank you. They lump all drugs together. It’s not going to work…” – Bill Hicks, 1990
Hicks had a point, you know. But, then again, he frequently did. On that showing, and if he were still alive, I’d probably be lobbying for him to replace Professor David Nutt, the scientific advisor to the British government on the subject of illegal substances, who was unfairly sacked by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson at the end of last week (two of Nutt’s colleagues have since resigned in support of his stance).
And why was Nutt sacked? Simply because he dared to take a stand on the relative dangers of drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy that actually took into consideration the scientific evidence, rather than simply toeing the government policy line on the assumed risks associated with such substances.
Final proof, if any were needed, that drug policy in this country bears no resemblance to scientific fact and has everything to do with the assumptions and prejudices of politicians; many of whom seem to be stuck in the 1950s in their attitudes towards drugs anyway – Gordon Brown’s public pronouncement in April 2008 that cannabis is a ‘lethal’ drug being but one example of how out of touch this government is on the matter.
The drug issue has always been a complex and emotive one. There are and will always be risks associated with drug use, risks which cannot be underestimated or ignored – but the vast majority of illegal drug users in this country (and there are many) have positive and enjoyable experiences on their substances of choice, much like those who enjoy a social and legal pint or two in the pub of a weekend.
I’m wondering if it is really true. I’m wondering if this really is victory – because no-one seems quite sure either way yet.
After all the campaigning and letter-writing and protesting, and after the government’s controversial decision on the matter, the ‘announcement’ that BAA will not be submitting plans for the third runway at Heathrow before the 2010 general election slipped out with barely a whimper last week in an article in The Sunday Times.
As one of the thousands of people who live under the Heathrow flightpath and who have been involved in the various local campaigns against the third runway, I should be dancing in the streets and cracking open the cooking champagne as a result of this apparently new decision, but, if anything, it’s left me feeling even more confused than before.
The final decision on the third runway was always going to be a complex and controversial one. Any financial and economic benefits of its development had to be weighed against the impact of a new runway on the lives of the communities in the immediate vicinity and under the wider flightpath of the airport. Or at least that was the theory, anyway.
Of course, when major projects like this are in the planning stages, the agencies involved (whether of big business, government, or – in this case – both) will always make lots of colourful and seemingly sincere noise about how they intend to listen to and take on board the views of ordinary people, particularly those who live locally to the development, and about how this type of consultation is an essential aspect of their decision-making process.
I can understand the many people who are up in arms about the possibility of the British National Party appearing on the BBC’s Question Time programme. I have gone on record many times with my personal view that the BNP are a deeply unpleasant gang of ignorant, racist, homophobic, fascist bully-boys who disgust and disturb me, and that this country would be a much better place if they (and others of their ilk) were to shut the fuck up and crawl back into the hole they came out of.
However, I also believe in freedom of speech (something the BNP don’t appear to acknowledge even exists for anyone other than themselves). But believing in freedom of speech means believing in that freedom for everyone, whether you agree with them or not. Censoring a group like the BNP because you disagree with their ideology just plays into their hands, reinforcing their already deeply-felt view that they are being victimised for holding views they perceive as ‘correct’ – no matter how vile and factually incorrect those views may actually be in reality. Such censorship also runs the dangerous risk of driving these groups underground, where they may become even more of an extremist threat to the groups they oppose within our society, and, as a result, harder to campaign against and police. Do we really want to run that risk?
To me, that possibility is even more harmful, sinister and dangerous in the long run than allowing them to say their piece on Question Time. Unfortunately, since Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons were elected to the European Parliament earlier this summer, they have become a part (albeit a marginalised one) of the mainstream political structure of this country, which – scary and unpleasant though it is – does give them certain rights as elected politicians. So why not get these elected idiots on the telly, get them to spout their ill-informed rubbish – and watch how they shoot themselves in the foot. Because they will. They will make themselves look ridiculous. Why? Well, mainly because their policies are so vague and badly structured (apart from the ones that discriminate against such targets as ethnic groups and the LGBT community, of course), and they lack any sense of the political savvy needed to actually get anything done in the world of politics. For a start, I’d really like to hear how Griffin and co plan to deal with the complexities of the current economic crisis, a situation that I think even (the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer) Gordon Brown doesn’t fully understand….
And to the politicians from other parties who have stuck their noses in the air and loftily stated that they refuse to share a platform with the BNP – why not take this as a much-needed opportunity to counter the lies these fascists tell and publicly prove their stupidity and ignorance? I’d love to see the likes of Respect’s George Galloway or the prospective Green Party candidate and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell go up against Nick Griffin in a televised debate. Whatever you think of Galloway and Tatchell, they would easily wipe the floor with Griffin and his cronies in a most entertaining and educational fashion. Or get someone like the comedian and activist Mark Thomas on Question Time. I’d pay good money to see him confronting the BNP; being far, far more well-informed and aware than them, he’d rip them apart.
It is vital that Britain continues to stand up to the BNP and their supporters, particularly as the far right continues its sinister and threatening regrowth across Europe. It must be made clear time and time again that Nick Griffin’s party do not and will never represent the vast majority of this country. And if we can start the process by showing them up as the ignorant fascist bully-boys that they are on national TV, then so much the better.