Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lives of Others

Nick Griffin MP, anyone?

Already further down the rabbit hole than previous General Elections, this year appears to be glaring out towards us from somewhere beyond the looking glass. It's the least predictable, most unusual campaign for generations.

And it could get awfully more weird...

The British National Party are standing candidates in more seats than at any previous election including here in Lancashire a candidate called Rosalind Gauci, who becomes the first candidate for the BNP in South Ribble since that seat's formation. "Did she marry into the Gauci's?" I have been asked by curious folk. I could not possibly comment.

The BNP manifesto is full of quotes no mainstream news channel would dare broadcast for fear of reprisals. Bring British is, "to belong to a special chain of unique people who have the natural law right to remain a majority in their ancestral homeland", says their policy document. It gives the impression of these British Isles lifting from the oceans some three or four hundred years ago without a single brown or black face among the population. Or indeed the Welsh, or anyone with a passing knowledge of Gaelic. As most broad minded individuals note, the economic wellbeing of this nation is on dodgy ground enough without the sudden mass expulsion of every working immigrant or third-generation British Asian to their "home country".

However - and this point is more true today than usual - the national opinion poll ratings showing the BNP flatlining on 3% or 4% does nothing to hide the possible (probable?) success of their leader Nick Griffin in Barking. His party is the official opposition on the Barking & Dagenham council; his main opponent is Margaret Hodge, a woman with a tarnished reputation. The mood of the country, if it is any guide to this specific seat, is of a rock solid Labour vote turning away from their party; no more certain bloc votes of the working class, for whom "New Labour" turned out to be an affront to their morals and expectations.

Griffin must be defeated. His presence in the House of Commons would be a dark day for this country's democracy, however salient a lesson he may present to the commentariat already bruised by his MEP victory last year. For Barking he would be a disaster, encouraging division where none currently exists. It would do no good for voters to assume that a UKIP or LibDem vote would defeat him. The only person able to defeat him here is Hodge; a vote for Labour in Barking is the best advice anyone there can take.

Why Griffin is treated as a genuine threat in Barking is worth acres of analysis. All mainstream parties have failed to deal with immigration, job security, the alleged democratic deficit in England compared with Scotland and Wales. These are not points to be whispered or tip-toed around; exactly that kind of misunderstood, mishandled 'liberalism' has enhanced the BNP into the current, unwarranted, status of credible party.

It is worth noting that Griffin is the only possible BNP victory anywhere in the country; all other 300-odd candidates will struggle to save their deposits. A far-right Party whose Leader goes for the winnable seats? I could not possibly comment.

A few hundred miles away in deepest Buckinghamshire is the Speaker John Bercow, in a typically British struggle against former UKIP leader Nigel Farage. In the seat of Buckingham "convention" means sitting Speakers do not face any mainstream opposition. Hence Farage turning up, who knows how to attract media attention if not exactly reason to his arguments. Anyone who has witnessed his "speeches" in Brussels will acknowledge that Farage has brains and political savvy...but the 10-year old "YouTube Been Framed" clips on Russel Howard's Good News have more lasting effect.

You may recall my attempt to cover the UKIP manifesto launch some weeks ago. The Party has not exactly made much of a serious dent in the election since. UKIP, like their distant cousins in the BNP, suffer from being a one-man band, with hundreds of foot-soldiers standing with shallow pockets and no chance of victory (or for that matter, support from the party command).

UKIP are as deluded about their place in the country's affections as most "major minor" parties. The fact that they came second in the European Elections misses the point; the General election is not voted on in the same way: and in 2005 they managed just over 603,000 votes across the country, finishing fourth overall, just about 4 million short of the third placed LibDems.

Farage could win, of course, proving that national opinion polls mask such one-off results thanks to the unique way the nation elects its MPs. Bercow is neither a traditional shire Tory, nor the kind of MP who can walk away from the expenses scandal with his reputation unscathed. Farage - who shakes off claims about his £2million Euro expenses without being awfully convincing - could attract enough protest votes and traditional C/conservatives under the current circumstances. One MP from UKIP will not drag the country out of the EU (not a single UKIP MEP has managed that yet, despite that being thier only policy), but again, what a sign to the 'establishment' if the Speaker was defeated in his own back yard.

The third likely win from the "others" in this election - no, not Esther Rantzen in Luton South - is the Green Party in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas - now the sole leader of her Party following years of inexplicable "duel leadership" - has steered the Greens from mavericks to mainstream, proving that they are more than just environmental mouth-pieces.

Her victory in Brighton - now favourite with some bookies - would be more of a significant blow than either Farage or Griffin. No, her presence would not herald a sudden reversal in environmental policy in Westminster. No, one Green MP would not alter the course of the country. However, unlike BNP and UKIP, no mainstream media coverage has ever frothed at the mouth whenever their name is mentioned. No breathless coverage a la Griffin whenever Lucas appears on Question Time.

Are the Greens more likely to be elected elsewhere, unlike the one-man-bands of the "others" ? It's not likely at all, such is the problem of having so little resources, so much faith in the once in a lifetime chance of our electoral processes. Green policies are not without their faults - the total cost to ordinary people has not been worked out at all. It is refreshing to think that our perverse, unfair voting system could yet suffer a minor flesh wound.

It is worth noting that this 2010 election has broken all records - more candidates than ever before, more registered Parties, more "independents". Despite everything thrown at the election from the duck houses of Westminster, democracy in this country appears more alive and compelling than ever. The Leaders Debates have changed the face of the election campaigns for ever. Now all this event needs is some guests. There is no truth in the lazy observation "they're all the same". Voting in 2010 really isn't an optional extra among the hours of your lazy Thursday, I would be awfully pleased if you went out and did so...