Daily Archives: 4 October 2007

Has Gordon Brown dropped a big hairy one?

I think the answer to that one must be a Big Yes:

An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper indicates the gap has narrowed to just one per cent compared to seven per cent a month ago.

It follows two other surveys which suggest Labour’s lead has dropped to four and three percentage points.

The word hubris springs to mind. What I don’t understand is why people put so much faith into opinion polls. Before Brown took over, all the signs were that he wasn’t going to do Labour any good at all. Labour got all excited and read way too much into the subsequent rallying in their poll figures and started plotting an election campaign. Now, with that gap narrowed, going into a General Election looks like lunacy. But having hyped it up to an unbearable degree for the best part of a month, can they afford not to go?

On balance, and I’m willing to be proven wrong here, I still think they will err on the side of caution. Although walking away from a snap election will make Labour look very silly indeed, there are simply too many known unknowns out there for them to want to risk it. The IGC could get out of control, at least a million people will be disenfranchised (and that’s assuming everything else runs smoothly), the Tories are rallying, in any case Tory supporters are more likely to turn out at a time of year where the weather is likely to be poor and the sun will be setting before most people get home from work and the “big mo” argument is now out of the window.

What all this does hail however is the end of Brown’s honeymoon period. It won’t be so easy for him from now on and the media do not forgive vanity (for that is what going for an early poll was) lightly. The irony is, if Labour had played down speculation about an early poll, the Brown Bounce could possibly have continued long into the winter.

So if he doesn’t now go for an early election, he’ll come out of it looking damaged. If he does go for an early election, he’ll come out at least as damaged and possible worse.

Can we return to normal politics again? First item on the agenda: fixed term parliaments.

Policing Party Conferences

One final thing I have to say about the party conferences this year, and this is not a partisan point, is the state of policing at the various party conferences this year.

At the Lib Dem conference, as usual, the police were almost non-existent. No great surprise there as the party is simply not a target. Indeed, even the Brighton & Hove Albion FC fans didn’t bother to show up this year and shout rude things about David Bellotti.

In Bournemouth, the police surrounding Labour conference was a severe case of overkill but, as a leafletter, I have few complaints. Yes, they mucked us about a little on the Sunday morning as they dithered over where to allow people to hand out flyers, but all of that was sorted over about 30 minutes. They were friendly and courteous throughout.

Blackpool was a different story however. To start with, they kept away anyone without a conference pass so they couldn’t even flyer. This included the ubiquitous anti-cigarette man who for much of the week was forced to shout at the other side of the street. They kept hassling people for the so-called crime of leaving their bags to one side as they handed out flyers. This was justified on the basis that people could hide dangerous devices amongst it while the owners weren’t looking. But any terrorist worth his or her salt would simply take advantage of the dozens of traffic cones that the police themselves had insisted on scattering everywhere.

The worst day was Tuesday. Overnight, and for no apparent reason, they massively stepped up security around the Winter Gardens. Suddenly, you weren’t allowed within 100 metres of the entrance without a pass. There were mounted police everywhere, despite the fact that there were no demonstrators, no crowds and no expectation of them. People with press passes were suddenly told they were not allowed to use the main entrance and had to round the back.

Myself and a colleague turned up with a big heavy box of materials to hand out only to be told we would have to either carry the box or have it confiscated. In the end, we ended up with a pantomimic routine of holding the materials every time a police officer walked by.

What was worse was that it was clear they were just having a laugh. An officer would come up to me and give me a hard time, walk up the road, have a giggle, and his colleague would come down and do the same again. A lot of the time they couldn’t even keep a straight face. I’m not claiming to be the victim of some major miscarriage of justice, but police harassment is an ugly thing no matter how petty and it was unacceptable.

The last time the Lib Dems were in Blackpool, it was a similar story. They insisted on a number of extravagant security measures which they then told the Home Office were not strictly speaking necessary, therefore leading to the party itself to carry the costs. And then the enforcement was shoddy, to say the least. At the Imperial Hotel, they operated an extremely tight operation at the entrance, but the officers themselves would then leave the fire exits open and unguarded, allowing people to sneak in round the back. It was utterly hopeless.

This was possibly the last time there will ever be a main party conference in Blackpool, at least until they sort out their basic infrastructure (lack of direct trains, the distance between the Winter Gardens and the main hotels, etc). But in case there is one (and unforeseen consequences have a way of forcing parties back – in the case of the Lib Dems in 2005 it was the practicalities of holding a conference at Gateshead just before the Great North Run), they need to get their act together.