diary of a floating voter, part one

It has occurred to me recently that I must be the thing that all politicians are trying to find: a genuine, bona fide, floating voter.

I exist! And not only do I exist, but I’m politically engaged enough to actually go and vote. And I honestly don’t have a clue who to for in the 2015 general election – or even if I will vote at all.

So I’m going to keep track, on this blog, of which way I’m leaning.

By coincidence, I am also a 100% accurate bellwether voter: in the three general elections in which I have been eligible to vote so far, I have always voted for the winning MP in that constituency, and the party I have voted for has gone on to be in government. (I voted Labour in 2001 and 2005, and Liberal Democrat in 2010).

But I haven’t seen much evidence since 2010 that either of those parties deserve another vote from me. I would call myself, broadly speaking, a kind of socially-conscious modern liberal, so ideologically I suppose I ought to vote Lib Dem, and I think Nick Clegg has his heart in the right place; but I have been bitterly disappointed by the Liberal Democrats’ weakness in the coalition.

And while I grew up supporting Labour, I still feel betrayed by their record in government. It was partly over Iraq, civil liberties and their economic reliance on a banking and housing bubble that means only those of my generation with parental wealth will be able to afford a place to live in twenty or thirty years. But it’s also the way they governed: they were so obsessed with spin and appearance that they lost sight of doing the right thing.

I don’t think I’d ever vote Tory; and yet I sometimes think – although I say it quietly amongst my more lefty friends – that David Cameron is actually quite an intelligent and reasonable fellow. So while I would feel like a terrible traitor for doing so, I wouldn’t rule out a Conservative vote, if only I could be persuaded that Cameron can get his more reactionary backbenchers in line.

On the other hand, I’ve also been impressed with some of the Green Party’s achievements in Brighton, as well as some of their more socially liberal policies.

Basically, I’m anybody’s.

(Well, maybe not UKIP’s. But that doesn’t make much difference: I know plenty of old Tories who say they’d vote for UKIP now, but they’d never take the risk of voting for them in a general election if it meant Labour would get back in. So it’s my vote rather than theirs that the Conservatives need if they ever want to get another majority.)

To scale things up a notch, I am determined to vote in a marginal seat in 2015. It’s looking likely that I’ll be in a Labour vs. Lib-Dem marginal constituency; but if not then I intend to register at my mum’s house in Northampton North – a three-way marginal at the last election – to make sure that my vote really counts.

So I am basically the guy that any party needs to persuade if they want to get into government at the next general election. If they can persuade me, then they’ll probably be on the right lines.

With this in mind, I should say that what I’d really like is to be won back by Labour. The trouble is that they just can’t seem to stop doing things which come across to a floating voter like me as annoying party politicking. Ed Miliband always seems to be trying to make jokes and snide remarks at Prime Minister’s Questions rather than presenting a credible alternative. And I like jokes, but he’s no Beppe Grillo.

And then, this week’s Labour proposal of adopting the Lib Dems’ Mansion Tax policy would have been a welcome one, if it had been a genuine pledge to recognise the merits of that policy and include it in the 2015 manifesto. But it transparently wasn’t that, because there was no such pledge, just a clumsy attempt to make Clegg et al look like they had abandoned the policy (and therefore, we were supposed to assume, their principles). Since pretty much everyone who voted Lib Dem in 2010 is now reconciled to the fact that the Lib Dems have made compromises in order to do things like getting Gay Marriage passed and protecting the Human Rights Act, it just looked like a stunt. Why rub the Lib Dems’ noses in it that they’re locked into a coalition agreement that means they can’t get everything they want right now? They wouldn’t be able to get it from the opposition benches either.

Labour, and Ed Miliband in particular, don’t need to win Tory voters to win the next election. But they do need to win back the people who deserted them to vote for the Lib Dems in 2010. The trouble is, they don’t seem to understand why we deserted them – it was because they were too busy trying to keep power to think about coming up with policies that would improve people’s lives. They took their voters for granted.

They have a long way to go before they look like a government. And until that happens – I’m open to solicitations. Even from UKIP.

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Derek Draper’s Comedy Masterclass

I suppose – as always – that Armando Iannucci got there long before I did.

His Friday Night Armistice was never a huge ratings hit but I watched it semi-religiously for most of 1997. I was 17, was just beginning to understand the British political landscape properly, and the Thatcher/Major government was playing out its last few sordid months. It made for great TV: there was Mellor and his sexual deviance; Neil Hamilton, quickly gathering a comedy reputation (in brown paper bags, mostly) at the heart of the Tories’ sleaze-riddled spectacle; poor Major cutting a tragic-comic figure in his failure to handle a fractured party. Iannucci and co were never short of material because the government were such a bunch of incompetent, sniping, grasping buffoons. I was inspired.

And then there was the Labour Party. Blair was young and dynamic and promised to be ‘whiter than white’; Brown was intelligent, principled, sensible; Robin Cook had ripped the Tories to bits in the chamber over Arms to Iraq and looked about to be a genuinely decent Foreign Secretary…

And on the night of May 1st 2007, while Dimbleby and co. were on BBC1 analysing Labour’s landslide in their straight, dry election night way, BBC2 was given over to Armando Iannucci to present The Election Night Armistice. I don’t remember that much about most of the show. I remember it was brilliant. The bit that stuck in my memory, though, was a section where they got ‘spin doctors’ from the major parties and asked them to try and put a positive spin on ridiculously bad quotes. And one of those was a young-ish guy called Derek Draper.

Draper was remarkably impressive; in fact I think he won the little ‘spin’ competition that the Armistice team held. He was charming and witty, and although he seemed like a little bit of a tool, he was a tool with his heart in the right place: he was the representative of the new government that were coming to save us from the sniping and sleaze of the old politics. I liked him.

This week, Draper – several scandals later, the editor of the LabourList blog – was revealed as the recipient of those emails that Gordon Brown’s press guy Damian McBride wrote discussing a number of possible smears of Tory shadow ministers. I’ve read his responses to the whole thing blowing up and he’s clearly the same guy I watched 11 years ago, trying to make a bad situation look better. But he’s obviously still a tool.

His overall motives, I think, are decent: he was fed up of the fact that politics in the blogosphere is dominated by right-wing gossip and rumour-mongering and wanted to change it.

But he forgot that there’s a reason why that kind of nasty politics is done by Tories, and that’s because they are supposed to be the nasty, sleazy, sniping ones. And he – and McBride, of course – are both massive tools because Labour are supposed to be, in the public’s perception, the ‘good guys’; when the Labour party stoop to the level that we expect of Tories, then it is always going to be big news.

The traditional perception of the floating voter in Britain is generally that the Tories are unpleasant and sleazy, but competent; and Labour are decent and principled but a bit rubbish at governing. The reason Labour won by a landslide in 1997 was because, in addition to being principled, they managed to appear more competent than the Tories. They don’t look competent anymore (despite Brown’s handling of the banking crisis); but the one thing they still had was some kind of shambolic decency – they were going to keep the debate about policy, not personality etc.

And now Draper and McBride have blown that. All the Tories have to do now is look suitably offended and shocked and their job is done.

What makes it all so tragic, so heartbreakingly tragic is that it was all there, all the ingredients of this, from the very beginning. And Armando Iannucci saw it long before I did; when Iannucci met Draper on election night back in 1997, he knew that he was meeting what the Labour party had really become – a party so obsessed with its image and making things look good that it was never going to be able to do a really good job of governing.

So, tomorrow, ‘In The Loop’ – Iannucci’s film about government spin and underhanded, spiteful, sniping politics – is out and it looks like it’s going to be brilliant. And perhaps Derek Draper will watch it, and recognise what a complete tool he always was.

And that’s why I would only ever be a comedian and not a politician; I knew it even during that inspirational election night in 1997, when in my youthful naïveté I felt like Blair was going to fix everything. And I certainly know it now.