.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Birmingham again

I have just come back from Birmingham Hodge Hill where the Liberal Democrat campaign is steaming ahead. I spent the afternoon canvassing and can report that the Labour vote is collapsing, the Conservative vote is non-existent and that Liberal Democrat candidate, Nicola Davies, is looking increasingly like she can win it. I still believe that it will be close but there is everything to play for.

The Birmingham tradition of political parties hanging their posters on lamp posts has really given a feel to the campaign. In every street each lamp post is festooned with at least three posters, all from different parties. In the face of such strong competition the use of dayglo orange diamond shaped posters by the Liberal Democrats give us a distinctive edge in the visibility stakes.

As for the other parties, the literature I saw from both Labour and the Conservatives today has plumbed new depths in deeply personal negative campaigning. They really have brought the politics of the gutter to this campaign with direct copies of the sort of attack ads played out daily in American election literature and broadcasts. The one consoling factor is that it seems to be counting against them. People are opting for the more constructive, issue-led campaigning of the Liberal Democrats. However, if this is how British political campaigning is to evolve then we will find more and more people put off the political process and turnout will continue to decline.

See the last paragraph in this post and then please cite the literature at Hodge Hill that you believe is worse than these examples. Conceivably your judgement on this is right (I haven't seen any literature from this by-election, so I don't know), but it strikes me as pretty unlikely.

Oliver Kamm 11 July 2004
I am not in a position to make comparisons with the literature referred to by Oliver as I have not seen it. However, I am instinctively averse to personality based campaigning, preferring to concentrate on issues. The only exception to this is where responsibility for a particular decision clearly rests with a particular politician when I believe that it is acceptable to directly ask that person to account for their actions.

The one comment I will make on Oliver's post is that, having been around at the time, I believe that the accusation that the then Liberal Party "made sly insinuations about the sexuality of the Tory candidate" is a political myth, The allegation actually related to the then Labour Candidate, but it has no substance. What actually happened is that the media had accusations that they wished to get out into the public domain so they used an innocuous leaflet that promoted Liberal candidate Richard Livsey as a family man as an excuse to do so. The leaflet was a standard candidate with his family type promotion that is used so often in Rural Wales and no other implication was attached to it. However, the opportunity that it offered to the press was too great to resist and they spun it as an attempt to raise issues that most of us were not aware of and which we had no intention of raising.
No, your recollection is mistaken. The leaflet wasn't just a 'happy family' snapshot, in common with may other candidates' campaigns. It stated that (I paraphrase, but this was definitely the message) Richard Livsey was the only main-party candidate who enjoyed a stable family life. This was a clear Liberal insinuation against the Tory candidate, who was a bachelor of mature years with what appeared to me to be a slightly camp manner, and the Labour candidate, Richard Willey, who was in a stable long-term relationship with his common-law wife. If you doubt this, you can ask your party colleagues in Wales to check it - presumably someone will have kept a copy of the leaflet, which the press interpreted accurately.

The precise accusation made by the Social and Liberal Democrats, as the party then was, against Kate Hoey in the 1989 Vauxhall by-election, is one I'm reluctant to paraphrase, because it's got some potential to be libellous, but it concerned the death of a child in care. Mike Tuffrey, now a member of the Greater London Assembly, was the SLD candidate. It struck me at the time (I was living in Vauxhall, and would probably have voted for Miss Hoey purely as a sympathy vote even if I hadn't thought well of her for independent reasons) as the worst case of character assassination I'd come across in a by-election campaign.

Admittedly, I am not well-disposed to the Liberal Democrats, but I'm capable of criticising any party that breaches campaigning ethics (e.g. I've strongly criticised Tony Blair's 1997 election claims about the supposed threat to the state pension under the Tories). I consider the Liberal Party and its successor organisations to have the worst record of any mainstream party in this respect, and I think the evidence will bear me out.

Oliver Kamm 12 July 2004
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?