Election 2015: Part 1
If you can’t convince them, confound them
Day 1: Pawn to Queen’s House
Our British political tradition is rich in symbolism. From Black Rod rapping on the door of the House to the fawning historical pageantry of the Queen’s speech, we Brits can chart the passage of our miserable rain sodden lives through such elegant set pieces. Most people don’t, and prefer to use the more contemporary currency of who won X-Factor or the most recent outrage by a professional footballer. But these traditions still rumble on, and our antiquated election process throws up plenty.
So it was that on the morning of Monday the 30th of March, the election began with a journey.
The car wound through London carrying the UK’s most powerful man, he thought of the great events he had been part of in his volatile career and his chances for future employment. Only days ago he had been at the top, now he was effectively unemployed. After stopping the car Jeremy Clarkson went into the garage, paid for his petrol and bought a Wispa Gold.
Meanwhile on the other side of London his good mate Dave skipped down the steps of Number 10 and up to a waiting podium to tell everyone what a top bloke he was before slipping, eel like, into the back of a waiting car.
Parliament was literally dissolving right before our eyes, like an old biscuit in cold tea.
The journalists, fresh from adding their brand new ‘#GE2015 Race to No 10’ header graphics to their copy, were in an excitable mood. As the crowd parted to let Dave’s Uber X (how long till Uber offers a three bike armed police escort as a premium service?) sweep onto Whitehall, the hack pack had already begun to waterboard the voter with endless buckets of pointless and highly partisan opinion.
The race was on. Cameron, who was heading to meet the Queen to break up with her, had started out in a car, so that had to give him a fighting chance.
Meanwhile, somewhere in a quintessentially English hamlet Nigel Farage was shaking off a nine pint hangover and limbering up to a cart horse while chewing an ear of corn.
The press had hired a helicopter so we wouldn't miss a second of this one mile journey to the palace. Interestingly they made no mention of the moment when Cam’s car nearly ran down an entire family of Chinese tourists on The Mall. Maybe the spin doctors are keeping that back for one of the speeches about bringing down net migration.
What Dave did say, before getting in the car, was that the next person to go back through the famous door would be either him or the devil incarnate ‘Red Ed’. If Ed did get the job, Cam warned, that feckless communist would ensure that all hard working proles of the UK could ruddy well kiss goodbye to £3k of the cash they got from their jobs at the zero hours food bank, or wherever they worked.
Apparently Dave usually treats Ed a little bit like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, never saying his name and usually referring to him simply as “the Scottish play”. But during his opening speech he said ‘Ed Miliband’ three times. Pundits suggested this was to highlight a binary choice between the two leaders but it could also have been Cameron attempting to summon a zombie version of his rival from a mirror, like in Candyman. At this stage we just don’t know.
This journey from Downing to Buckingham had, the hacks recounted breathlessly, always served the sitting Prime Minister well, as it showed the gravitas and distinction of his office. An audience with Big Liz, it was said, was the ultimate seal of quality, much like a kite mark on a toaster. God knows we all agree that Dave must have a top of the range toaster in that fantastic kitchen of his!
Of course since the implementation of fixed term parliaments, the Queen’s laughably ceremonial role of dissolving ‘her’ government no longer even applies. But like everything else in the UK, complete obsolescence has never been seen as a reason to stop.
The chopper captured everything as Cameron left the car and disappeared into the eaves of the palace, round the back, obviously.
Since we never get to see Cam meeting Big Liz,or hear anything of what is said the whole thing might as well be a total charade. She could be at Balmoral endlessly rewinding Richard III’s funeral on Sky+ for all the humble voter knows. Dave may have just gone out of shot and hidden behind a potted plat for ten minutes, like a child who threatens to run away from home in a tantrum, but never gets past the end of the garden. Nevertheless rolling news gave a running commentary on every moment of this traffic disrupting, tourist baffling farce.
But what of the villain of the piece, Red Ed? This is an interesting time for TV news channels. For the next month they are bound by strict impartiality laws meaning they cannot appear to offer any bias or favouritism in their election coverage. To balance things out the newspapers ratchet up their partisan shouting just in case anyone is in danger of getting some unadulterated facts.
To reflect this unfamiliar impartiality the news anchors broke away from the compelling helicopter view of Dave’s car. Red Ed, they said, was at this very moment launching the Labour election campaign indside the big ugly sculpture in the Olympic Park, presumably because it’s red, or something.
“Listen,” said Ed, “everyone hated this huge red thing at first, awkward and gangly, looming on the horizon. Many of us looked at this sculpture, on the first day of London 2012 and wished we had voted for its brother. But now we have grown to love it. See what I’m saying? Vote Labour.”
“Now back to our main story, I believe the Prime Minster is stuck at a red light…”
By the afternoon the spin doctors had all had plenty of time to chew up everything that had been said into a sticky ball of lies ready to spit out all over the lunchtime news bulletins.
On the World at One, Michael Green was on for the Tories, and so was Grant Shapps, which seemed a little unfair on Labour. Luckily Shapps/Green both held identical opinions so there was no confusion.
“Three thousand pound worse off under labour, he roared “every hard-working Brit three grand worse off under Labour!”
“Ridiculous, you can’t possibly make that kind of calculation, when we have not released our costings for the next Parliament”, countered whichever faceless second-home owner Labour had sent on to battle the hydra headed Green/Shapps.
For Green/Shapps, this broadly factual response was too much. He spluttered and chuntered with mock incredulity, “how can Labour expect people to vote for them when they have not even costed their plans”, he demanded?
No one cared to mention that yesterday Iain Duncan Smith, a sitting government minister, refused to say how the government was going to make £12bn worth of cuts to public services in the next Parliament. No need to dwell on that, the journalists agreed, those are just people’s lives, we've got an election going on.
The Conservative narrative was in place and no one was about to change it with facts. Labour is bad for business, and would cost everyone a fortune. After all, these points had been covered in the morning papers, and they had been out for almost nine hours.
But Labour wasn’t going to take that lying down. What better way to show the business community you’re their mate than big advert in the FT, the good ol Pink’un. A direct hot-line to the business elite.
The text, the actual words on the page, focussed on the EU, but the subtext was clear: “Listen boys, we can snort a lunchtime line in The Ivy and head back to the trading floor to seal a multinational trade derivative deal with the best of them. Don’t let Dave tell you any different. Couple of cheeky tequilas before we hit the strip club?”
But Labour had blown it again, this time by including quotes from business leaders without clearing it with their PR teams. Only lunchtime on day one and already Red Ed is “facing embarassment.” What a shambles. I mean, in general the whole point of a quote is that it is a direct representation of what you said in a public forum, so you don’t generally contest it. But this is the Business Elite we’re talking about.
Nevertheless, the team at Kellogg’s, for it was their CEO who had said the thing he was now not happy about being reminded he said, let us know that eyebrows were raised early that morning at the breakfast meeting. Which, in fairness, is the only place you might expect Kellogg’s eyebrows to be raised.
So that was day one: millions of pounds of cash already spunked into the ether, and the product of thousands of hours of strategic planning slipping insipidly off the news agenda like a slimy fried egg into the bin at a greasy spoon.
Pleasingly, the bit of political content that reached further and farther than any of these choreographed set pieces was the latest offering from Cassette Boy. I wouldn’t bet against this one piece of lip-syncing YouTube gold reaching more young voters in one day than the entire election strategy of Linton Crosby and his fellow black wizards.
Overall it was a soft sort of a start to a strange sort of election. The Telegraph reported that more than half of the people who will vote on the 6th of May won’t make up their minds until a few days before, and I can’t be alone in wishing that Dave and Ed and the rest of them would just keep it zipped until then.
Edit: Nick Clegg also visited some children and hedgehogs