Adam Somerset offers a personal reflection on days 12 – 28 of the election campaign
Over two weeks of campaigning I cannot recall a single word of memorable note uttered by a member of the Conservative Party. But then they do not need to. They are defending the status quo so they do not need to say anything. As for direct engagement a Conservative is a rare sight on the streets west of the Cambrian Mountains.
However, the other parties are out and visible. I am party to a revealing discussion with a cluster of activists on Aberystwyth’s Great Darkgate Street. The results are fresh in from the local elections and they are a-wonder that Glasgow’s most deprived area has swung to the Conservatives.
It is an instance where the activists are too close to the action to see it clearly but also too far. To understand Scotland, like understanding anything, requires primary experience. You have to be there. Ruth Davidson is not just a whirlwind force but she and Downing Street are personally very close. That depth of relationship is not the same as that between Kezia Dugdale and the party in England. Likewise the same lack of empathy pertains between the Cardiff and London leaderships. Look at the leaders of Wales and England on TV and it is all there in the seeing.
PM being interviewed by Marr. Political language by necessity needs a blurriness to reach an audience that is impossibly wide. She straddles the line between generality and specific with skill.
The first and only mention over two weeks of an ageing society. A campaign is like a good drama for theatre; what is unsaid is more significant than what is said. Britain’s future is all in the arithmetic. The indigenous population does not have enough children and chronic disease has replaced acute disease. No government can change that or staunch the growth of diabetes, dementia and depression. Britain is going to import its young. To the credit of Parliament a cross-party group, including Tom Watson, is highlighting child health as a priority.
The papers have a small item on property. The smart owners of property in France and Italy are selling and piling into Pembrokeshire for rental properties. The civic evisceration of the fringe of Wales is unstoppable. Nothing a government can do about that either.
A twenty year anniversary. I had charge of an infant of twenty-seven days’ of age. In the London tube he was getting grouchy and to spare fellow passengers we exited. By pure chance the station was Green Park and I carried him into a place of fresh air. We ambled on and again by pure chance witnessed a limo passing into the gates of the Palace. It had the election winner of the day before. In truth Mrs Blair looked startled but then she had been up all night and flown in from County Durham. The crowds at Buckingham Palace were ecstatic. That is the historical record.
For anyone over age fifty the bombs stopped. Blair, Mowlam and others created the power-sharing in Northern Ireland. That too is the historical record. I cannot find a Labour member of any maturity who is not colossally proud of the government of 1997-2001.
Still no clear idea of what this election is about. Paul Mason on TV saying Labour must to get Europe on the table.
A few minutes with the incumbent MP on his perspective on the social care-health budget schism. He knows the topic from government budgets to case studies in the constituency. As usual the abuse showered on MPs by the cyber-mob surely cannot be based on any primary experience. The insiders write that the diligence of MPs is vastly improved over cohorts of previous generations, a proportion of whom were alcoholic and indolent. Social care looks like the same old problem, the wish for a Denmark-like public domain on a US-like revenue base.
Tom Baldwin on TV critiquing Emily Thornberry. She is Shadow Foreign Secretary, he says, and the entire interview has nothing on foreign policy.
Michael Ignatieff, a powerful intellect destroyed in politics, got in a pithy one-liner. “It’s not what you say, it’s not what they hear.” I hear first use of the phrase “protecting vital industries.” It is one of those phrases where I suspect that the speaker’s definition differs from mine.
The vital industries are molecular genetics, artificial intelligence and robotics. The United Kingdom is not bad at two of them except that the start-ups are snapped up by foreign companies. It has been the case as long as I remember. None, save Vodafone, has ever lasted the course to being a world leader. But no-one seems to worry that much.
A group of Plaid heavyweights working the street, among them Elin Jones and Cynog Dafis, conversing with three twenty-year olds. It is good to see. I remember a German telling me that the party list system, much fairer arithmetically, did not encourage this kind of canvassing. The last time I saw Elin Jones in person she was exiting a cinema on a Friday night and we traded a few words out of “La La Land.” Politicians get to be judged on both the shallowest and the deepest of factors.
The activists are out in strength on Great Darkgate street. The Labour Party on two sides of the pavement turns out to be a mirror of the party nationally. On the sea-ward side of the street it takes a minute of conversation for the activist to get to the enemy. The political enemy of course is Blair. On the railway-side of the street the party member is older. We discuss Barry Gardiner who made a quiet but impressive appearance in a television interview a couple of days back. We are in agreement. I add as a complement that a party that keeps Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna on the back benches is a party that wastes its talent. The member is too polite to nod but half of expression is in the eyes. So if eyes could nod that is what they are doing.