Detente to DEFCON 1 – The Cold war of the Assembly Campaign.

As Wales goes to the polls Mat Mathias considers the two sides of the campaign.

Mat Mathias works for the charity sector in Wales.

While not one person has been arsed to mention this I think people need to know that I joined the army in 1990 and soon after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Coincidence? I doubt it. I understand it wasn’t all me but a little recognition would be nice. The reason I highlight my key part in the ending of the Cold War is it brings to mind this Assembly election campaign.

“Of course it does”, I hear you cry.

Stay with me and let’s recall those heady days of the 4 minute warning.

There were two main battle fronts to the Cold war and I don’t mean Central Europe and Sarah Palin’s backyard.

One was all done in plain sight. This was chest beating shows of power. This was the Seventh Army of the United States in western Germany, this was the 3rd Shock Army of the Soviet Union in Magdeburg. It was troop movements in spheres of influence, arms races and space ones too. It was ideology in your face, with big personalities backed up with big teams. It was individuality and the greater good against society and…erm…well, the greater good.

The other one was fought in the shadows. It was soft power and sinister with it. Cash, smear and blackmail, espionage, clandestine meetings and agent swaps. I’m thinking real life George Smiley more than Moonraker’s James Bond….

In Wales, we have our own 2 front battle going on. There is the one in plain sight. We have seen the leaders of the six main parties on our telly boxes jockeying for position. There have been the leaders’ debates on ITV and BBC. They are marmite events but I love them BECAUSE they are events, they are important and they are a reminder that the election is on. Battle lines are drawn and big policies are debated. Long may they continue. We have seen The Wales Report’s education and health debates and we also had the BBC Wales ‘ask the leaders’ programme which were thoroughly enjoyable although I do question that the audience was full of undecideds and party supporters. With friends like that… Some of the questions were a bit niche as well which led to one of my favourite lines of the election campaign as a party leader told the audience ‘I didn’t get into politics to kill badgers.’ Good….that’s good to hear. What about Geese?

On the other side, we had Sharp End but also Adrian Masters presented ‘election bites’ where the smiling political assassin visited the homes (except one) of the party leaders and discussed policies, personalities and political pitfalls. Loved it – enjoyable and original although I do question Nathan Gill’s choice of béchamel sauce for his lasagne. Move one more channel on and some more originality with Y Ras i’r Senedd on S4C where selected celebs got to find out a little more about the parties. I especially enjoyed former First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who is always dressed as if he is settling down for a 48 hour session of watching box sets and eating Chinese food, finding out about UKIP. The presenter, Catrin Haf Jones takes absolutely no prisoners when she interviews politicians and we need to hear more of her!

What about the other front, the one of whisper and deceit? It’s been busy and the Machiavellian manoeuvres that were usually done behind the scenes are starting to make the news. It’s funny but once you are part of a party in the middle of a campaign it’s like you are living in a completely different reality. You are working from morning until bed time in campaign mode, talking and thinking politics. You hardly see the news and everything is magnified. If you see one of your opposition’s placards it affects you in a ridiculous way. You know it is one house and at the very most it is 3 votes but for a nanosecond it’s like a personal attack on you, it means the end of days and that those 3 votes will mean the end of you. You completely forget it’s 3 votes and if you are to win you need another 8000. However, it’s about the little victories as well. When you first start leafleting you are told to make sure the leaflet drops to the floor because if it doesn’t the opposition who may be leafletting there later might take it from the letterbox, thus denying that person in the house who may or may not vote a chance to read your policies. I am not joking – ask someone.

For political geeks and people who like doing origami, the flood of party literature that continues to flood through our letter boxes are symbols of joy. There have been a shed load of symbols of joy in our house. This is because I live in Newport West and this is a seat where a fight is going on. Labour has it, but former Presiding Officer with the withering stare, Rosemary Butler has stood down and the Tories believe they have a chance of taking the seat. Both parties are watching my house like hawks. They must be because the moment my back is turned, one of their team runs over and delivers another piece of information. And while I feel a bit mobbed like Justin Bieber or Derek the Weatherman, I really feel like my vote is wanted. Even ruddy faced, Dai Number 10 has written to me, a real letter in an envelope. (No kisses at the end – must be busy).

Back to placards. I could call it placard-gate but then I would rightly be called an unimaginative twat so I won’t, but placards have been in the news almost as much as the NHS in the last week. It seems rather than using their scarce human resources to get out on the doorstep and get people to vote for their policies, political parties now have placard destroying special forces who, under the cover of darkness either draw on them or tear them down altogether. This has been reported from north to south but it is in Cardiff West that it’s become even weirder. You could read it on wales online but the website is so slow, convoluted and crammed full of adverts, that your eyes will melt so I will make it easy by putting it below in the style of me and my brother fighting in the back of the car circa 1982.

Candidate – you nicked our placards in the deep of the night

Council – we never

Candidate – yeah you did and I’m telling everybody

Council – ok we did take some but it wasn’t at night because we can no longer afford overtime because of cuts from Westminster and from poor decisions we made with regards to stuff we do. Anyway it was a communal council area so that’s allowed

Candidate – it was private land

Council – it was never

Candidate – I don’t believe you

I think that’s where we are at the time of writing.

The reason I did that is because a lot of this Machiavellian stuff is childish, pointless and a lot of fun. There are megalolz abound if there are spelling mistakes on a leaflet. We have had two so far that have managed to misspell the actual constituency name. In reality that should mean a small foot up the arse of the team proof-reading it – it hardly means the candidate cares so little for the place they are standing for that he forgets or never knew the true spelling – they didn’t write that bit – they are out there walking around and knocking doors and doing hustings. The other parties jump on it in a nanosecond because they know that no quarter would be given to them in the same instance.

Shit spelling – put it on facebook – laugh – one nil us.

And back to the Cold War (that I ended) analogy. Misinformation features throughout, whether it’s gossiping about candidates not living in the constituency when in fact they do or a graph in your leaflet that bears as much to reality as say Eastenders, telling anybody who reads it that you have the best chance to win, or a letter from your trade union with an easy to digest tick chart telling you which party supports all the things you support. If you want to know who won stop reading now, but it was the one which the Union supports and has loads of its members in. A leaflet of such fiction that Tolkien would have been proud to write it.

Also annoying is the constant white noise from parties sniping about their opposition’s intentions for coalition without talking about their plans.

‘I’ve heard that ‘insert party’ will do a deal with the Khymer Rouge and Robert Mugabe if they get in….’

So this is it. The time to show off your leader, highlight a great policy, showcase your team or put your balaclava on ready for Operation Placard-down has now passed.

Doors have been knocked

Hands have been shaken

Babies have been kissed

Dogs have been avoided

Feelings have been hurt

Opposition leaflets have been stolen from letter boxes

And next week we start on the Euro referendum.

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