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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Desparate Labour grasp at straws

Back, tired but happy, after a near-800 mile round trip to Hartlepool. The only other time I have been to this very pleasant town was in 1984 when I travelled up by train via London in the middle of my Council election campaign, shortly before I was elected to Swansea City Council for the first time.

It was a sad occasion, A very good friend of mine, a former President of Lampeter University College Students Union and an active Young Liberal, had just died in his twenties from cancer. My journey was to attend his funeral. I remember afterwards I went to the town centre shop that had just been opened by the Liberal Party as part of the campaign that led to them winning their first seats on Hartlepool Council. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, including a brief period when the Liberal Democrats ran Hartlepool in coalition with others.

One thing that has changed of course is the way that political parties campaign. It has also become more difficult for politicians to speak their mind, simply because whatever is said is often taken out of context and used against them. The result is that we are all required to stick to the party line and follow the spin doctors. Well that is what the spin doctors think anyway.

The political blog is an effective antidote to that but even then it seems that those intent on negative campaigning will seize on any opportunity to pick passages out of context and use them to launch personal attacks. Whatever happened to debates on policy? No wonder people are disillusioned with politics.

This passage from the blog of Hartlepool Liberal Democrats Candidate, Jody Dunn, is a perfect illustration of this phenomenon. The blog is meant to give a daily and very personal view of what it is to be a candidate in a major by-election. Jody religiously records the low spots as well as the high points and of course there are times when campaigning in the pouring rain and nobody wants to speak to you is downright miserable and there are other times when the sun is shining and you are being greeted as a long lost friend. Thus canvassing one street in Hartlepool Jody records:

And it didn't just rain last night either. It poured. In fact the evening became one of the more farcical moments of the campaign.

We'd picked what appeared at first to be a fairly standard row of houses. As time went on however, we began to realise that everyone we met was either drunk, flanked by an angry dog or undressed; and in some cases two or more of the above. Simon (Hughes) gave me his coat in an attempt to keep off the rain, but I still ended up looking more like Worzel Gummidge than a serious by-election candidate.

The latest Labour leaflet has seized on this passage with glee and in a perfect representation of mock outrage has termed this as a major insult to the whole town. This nasty A3 sized piece of vitriol fails to tell anybody what the Labour candidate's policies are, neglects to comment on the major issues of the day and has nothing to say of any note whatsoever. It is negative campaigning at its worse, based on half-truths and smears. Labour really must be desperate to be clutching at such straws so early on.

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