Thursday, 22 April 2010

Election Classic

MOST observers seem to agree that this general election is more exciting than most: A combination of global recession, the Government’s massive debts, the faltering starts by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron, and the surprisingly good impression by Liberal/Democrat leader Nick Clegg have all combined to give the hustings impetus.
The national excitement is reflected here in Westmorland and Lonsdale which has the added dimension of it being a tight marginal won, just, by the Lib/Dem Tim Farron from the Conservatives back in 2005.
Inevitably the BBC North West Tonight team decided to feature the constituency this week and decided they needed an “independent observer”. Less inevitably, they chose me.
They had wanted to explore the Nick Clegg factor, only to find that what people in the constituency wanted to talk about was the Tim Farron factor.
I managed to say that in all elections the best the local constituency party hopes for is that the national leaders and central offices don’t muck up their chances. In this case Nick Clegg has done the reverse for Mr Farron.
He has made an impression as a likeable, energetic and very effective local MP. The Tories, however, have found an equally likeable, energetic and effective candidate in Gareth McKeever.
The UKIP and Labour candidates, by contrast, stand less than no chance. Embarrassingly I forgot their names on camera (John Mander and Jonathan Todd, respectively). But I suppose my loss of memory reflected the fact that this really is a two-horse race.
All four runners were at a lunch question time organised by the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce at The Riverside Hotel in Kendal today.
Hotel owner Jonathan Denby made the most insightful contribution, pointing out to UKIP’s Mr Mander that in 2005 his party polled more votes than the margin of Mr Farron’s win. So, in effect, they had handed the seat to the Liberal Democrats.
In view of the Lib/Dems pro-Europe stance, wouldn’t the best tactic be for him to withdraw and support Mr McKeever? Mr Mander, who made a poor impression generally, was completely flummoxed by this.
The other outsider, Mr Todd, and the two main men performed better, although Mr McKeever made the mistake of attacking the spending of public money on the Kirkgate entrance to Kendal, especially as the main protagonist, formidable businesswoman Mandy Dixon, was in the audience.
The debate lurched between Europe, the Economy (especially the impact of a 1% increase in National Insurance contributions), Immigration, Crime, Education and Pensions, to the more prosaic New Road free car park in Kendal.
But the debate as always in Westmorland & Lonsdale boils down to whether a hung Parliament, facilitated by a victory for Mr Farron, would make decisive Government impossible, or whether it was better for a rural constituency to vote for Mr McKeever to help ensure a Conservative government committed to change.
A photo-finish is ensured.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Story finally takes off

THE Media was dreadfully slow to wake up to the implications and opportunities in the story about the volcanic ash grounding all flights in or out of the UK.
The BBC in particular kept telling the same story illustrated by the same graphics: Volcano erupts, plume of ash might get in engines, flights grounded, airports quiet. For several days, Heathrow and Manchester airports hosted reporters giving an exercise in déjà vu.
The first real human interest angle I heard was actually on good old Radio Cumbria which featured a lady from Barrow who had her trip to Penang and on to her daughter in Australia cancelled. What was really interesting was the knock on impact on the lives of all the people she knew.
If there were 150,000 Britons trapped abroad, there would be that many fascinating stories to tell on how people were coping.
By later on Saturday it was the plight of celebrities that was obsessing the national media.
First there was former Monty Python and Fawlty Towers star John Cleese who took a £3,000 taxi ride from Oslo in Norway to the Belgian capital Brussels after becoming stranded.
The 943-mile journey is due to take him more than 15 hours. He is being driven by a total of three taxi drivers who are taking turns at the wheel.
But Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker wasn't far behind. He made sure he was available for Saturday night's programme by making a marathon trip across Europe.
Lineker was holidaying in Tenerife when the flight ban took effect. So he booked a flight to Madrid, hired a car at the airport and drove through the night to Paris where he caught the Eurostar to London.
Clare Balding drove back from Switzerland to present the fourth-round rugby league Challenge Cup tie between Hull and Leeds. And Jonathan Pierce drove from northern France to commentate on football this afternoon.
Singer Whitney Houston, who was due to perform in Dublin as part of her Nothing But Love world tour, was forced to take to the Irish Sea on a less-than-glamorous car ferry.
The 46-year-old star opted for the boat after the flight ban threatened to cause another cancellation on her tour, which has already suffered several cancelled dates due to her respiratory infection earlier this month.
By the time I had bought my Sunday papers, they were full of journeys of daring-so by staff trapped abroad (which says something about the lifestyle of these national media types).
One Independent on Sunday writer wrote glowingly about his adventure getting from near Rome back home, the travel editor of course was stranded in the Algarve, and Janet Street-Porter, God Bless Her, filed her copy from Italy, saying: You’re Stranded – Get Over It. She would say that, wouldn’t she.
But if you want real Dunkirk spirit, TV presenter Dan Snow had been planning on ferrying people back to Dover throughout Sunday. Each round trip was expected to take two hours. He filled three rigid inflatable boats with 25 people but was told by officials in Calais that he would not be able to return. A spokesperson for the group said they did not know the reason why.
It’s a good job there were no health and safety inspectors around in 1940.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Gene Hunt image is Labour's own goal

POSTERS are a much maligned medium. I am surprised more use is not made of their ability to get across messages.
If you need convincing on the potential power of the images on bill-boards plastered on hoardings then remember the Labour isn’t working slogan which helped Margaret Thatcher lead the Conservatives back to electoral victory back in 1979.
But Labour may well have shot themselves in the foot by trying to repeat that success, ironically using the same advertising agency responsible for that Tory coup.
According to web-sites today, Labour will portray David Cameron as politically-incorrect TV detective Gene Hunt in a poster campaign designed to revive memories of 1980s social unrest and youth unemployment.
The poster - the winner of a public competition - shows the Tory leader sat on the bonnet of an Audi Quattro like that driven by Hunt in the Life on Mars and Ashes To Ashes series.
And it appeals to voters: "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s."
Apparently cash-strapped Labour launched a poster competition in a bid to save money on design by tapping into public creativity after a slew of parodies of Tory ads swept the internet.
The Gene Hunt theme was the brainchild of 24-year-old activist Jacob Quagliozzi and was worked up by Labour's ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi. Cabinet minister brothers David and Ed Miliband are due to officially launch the election poster.
Foreign Secretary David said he and his brother first got into politics in the 1980s and that the poster was a "powerful reminder of the damage which the Tories did to Britain in the 80s and the threat which they pose to the country should they win the election".
The pair is expected to make several campaigning appearances together with the aim of securing the support of under-25s for a fourth Labour term.
But my own reaction that Labour may have seriously misunderstood the mood of the nation was borne out by comments on the story.
“This could be a campaign that could backfire very badly for Labour. Labour could actually manage to do what the Tories can't and make Cameron seem cool, this campaign couldn't have been timed better”...”The 1980s... I wish, how kind and gentle they now seem, please, please take us back!”... “Labour has totally missed the point of Gene Hunt? Gene Hunt is cool, women want to sleep with him and straight British males want to be him, own goal”...“Labour so genuinely out of touch that they don’t realise Gene Hunt is pretty much exactly what people want? Someone who kicks the bejeezus out of criminals and doesn’t respect 'political correctness' is something people would vote for” ...these are typical of reaction.
It depends on which image of the 80s you share: the horrors of the Falklands war, the 4 million unemployed, and the destruction of mining communities; or the glorious victory over the Argentinians, the property boom and putting the unions in their place.
Like Gene Hunt, the 80s polarised public opinion. I suppose that is what elections do, too.