Thursday, April 21, 2005

On Tour (Express)

(First, a word of explanation: I recently moved from London W12 to the Welsh/English borders, where hickory smoke wafts over smallholdings, and the Trumpton clock rings out the quiet passage of whole years)

At last: the doorbell rings, and it is the local Lib Dems, gamely defending their 800-vote majority over the Tories (their local site is here). We have two Orange Posters in the window, and I'm zealously gung-ho about assisting their leaflet deliveries. This feels more than a little strange, given the serial occasions in my youth when canvassing for Labour would be punctuated by encounters with LDs who could only sneer and stare at the floor, but what the hell: it feels like a kind of developed version of Tactical Voting. Just about.

And apparently, they sorely need us - not so much in my local seat of Brecon & Radnorshire, but just over the border. This is a key Tory target seat, where being nasty towards foreigners is playing well - by way of proving how seriously the Cons are taking it, Sandra Howard was up the other day. Duly terrified, I intend to stop by the LDs office this afternoon, and receive instructions to brave big dogs/quad-bikes/you name it and get out on the stump in the village of Cusop.

(NB: Last time I was politically active, I was handing out leaflets for K.Livingstone outside Shepherd's Bush tube. I think this may be less fun.)

The Lib Dem visit came mere hours after I'd come back from a big old election trip, taking in the North West, London and Cardiff. First, we were making a film for the BBC about tactical voting, flipping around Cheadle (Lib Dem/Tory marginal, held by 33 (!) votes), Oldham East & Saddleworth (Labour/Lib Dem) and Altrincham & Sale West (Tory/Labour). It was an instructive experience, proving 1)that the public are a little more sophisticated than they're given credit for, and 2)For all the good cheer provided by the polls, Iraq is still causing Labour trouble.

In Cheadle, we had no problem finding natural Labour voters who were tactically switching, for fear of a Tory revival. Saturday morning shoppers seemed long used to the tactical idea, and the imperative of using it to (as one lifelong Labour fella put it) "stop the people who ran the country for 18 years and ruined it". Similarly, an hour's stop in the Pennine village of Delph found plenty of Tories who were thinking of voting Lib Dem to unseat Phil Woolas MP. But!!!

In Altrincham, people who had once supported New Labour in the service of attempting to get rid of the Tory MP could no longer be persuaded: Iraq had got to them, and they were sticking with the Lib Dems. Such was the theory of Tactical Unwind, manifested outside Rackham's Department Store.

Then I went to London, to debate the future of the Labour Party and the issues at stake in the campaign with the venerable David Aaronovitch, soon to cease yelling at the liberal middle classes over their All Bran and depart The Observer for The Times. This may not be much of a revelation, but his debating technique recurrently consists of reducing his opponent's position to an ugly caricature and then piling in (but I can take it). I take comfort from an e-mail sent the next day from a friend, which described DA as a "centrist tankie, all hard edges and strut", while I was "more left - but more discursive and open". The volume of Joe 90 glasses and nice suits initially suggested I was being hurled to the Blairite lions, but no: hats off in particular to the young man & woman who so enthusiastically agreed with my contention that no-one under 25 would join the Labour Party until it had lanced the Iraq boil.

Were DA to blog his take on what happened, he would doubtless make reference to several occasions on which he got one over, so I will spare you much of that and describe only one: when this self-styled scourge of Dinner Party lefties said health policy was best based on the idea that people - like him - wanted "to decide how their individual health spend was allocated" (or similar). This, I said, sounded like exactly the kind of sentiment you only hear in close proximity to Shiraz, Angels On Horseback etc.

And then to Cardiff for a 10pm-1am endurance test on 5 Live involving saxophones, Charlotte Church's mum, and a Plaid Cymru health spokesman who was something of an advert for the precise opposite.

I returned home knackered, inevitably. And now I must go and get my leaflets.