Tag Archives: tony-lit

Return to Ealing Southall

I’ve sure everyone is heartily sick of the Ealing Southall by-election by now, but I thought I’d add a few final thoughts.

The Tories made a big play about how they were, to paraphrase one Iain Dale commenter, “parking their tank on the Lib Dems’ lawn”. Many of their leaflets did indeed ape our style (although as I said earlier, they were appallingly amateurish – in particular their version of “Talk of the Town” OK Magazine style literature), but they were still infused with Toryish notions about the candidate standing stiffly and self-importantly in every picture. I don’t think I saw a single photo of Tony Lit actually listening to someone talking in any of their literature. Of course such photos are always posed, but they send important subliminal messages about your candidate. Of course, if you come from a Conservative standpoint and see politics as a thing done by important men in suits rather than for ordinary people (it’s interesting to compare and contrast the photos posted on the Facebook groups for Conservative Future and Lib Dem Youth & Students: the former has portraits of Cameron, Hague, Osborne et all, the latter is full of pictures of LDYS campaigning, partying and doing lewd things to one another. Same age group, different planet), you will struggle desperately to get your head around such a concept.

That leads me onto the choice of Tony Lit himself. Why would you even consider a non-local candidate who wasn’t a party member, let alone impose him on the local party (I heard Caroline Spelman on Today yesterday saying that the ES campaign showed that Cameron was committed to localism – ha!)? But Tony Lit does rather conform to the ideal Cameroon candidate, not because he is minority ethnic, but because he is a dilletante. To be sure, he isn’t a top hatted toff like Boris Johnson or Zac Goldsmith, but he screamed money. Far from seeing this as a problem in an economically under-performing place like Southall (I should be careful here because I actually loved the place and have added it to my list of places I might consider moving to), the Tories tried selling him as a ‘local success story’. In doing so they blithely ignored the fact that his ‘success’ is rooted in his father’s money; but when have ‘meritocrats’ ever let the truth get in the way of a good story? Again, it boils down to a Toryish concept of the candidate as ‘hero’ as opposed to ‘public servant’ and one that I’m not convinced has much traction outside of the sort of cosy suburban areas that the Tories have retreated to over the past couple of decades. Far from modernisation and reaching outside of the Tory supporter base, Cameroonism is looking distinctly old fashioned and inward looking from where I’m sitting this morning.

Then there was the bad tempered nature of their campaign. I for one was taken by surprise by the sheer intensity of it. It started with Grant Shapps bizarre claims about ‘poster lotteries’ which he still hasn’t offered any evidence of and continued with a stream of threats to either sue their opponents or sic the police on them. In the event, only one campaign team are being investigated by the police: the Conservatives, for allegedly leaking the result of the postal vote count. The Grant Shapps/YouTube incident will live on forever as an example of quite how mad, bad and plain stupid the Conservatives can be.

But there was another, more subtle but in some ways even more lamentable aspect of this. In by-elections, tensions among party activists run high. There are regrettable incidents such as the Watson/Kemp addiction to using rentamobs to intimidate their rival candidates. But as a general rule you make a point of being polite to one another when you cross each other in the street or tell at a polling station. There is simply no need to make it personal.

The Tories I encountered in Ealing Southall however were something else. Without fail, if I crossed one of them in the street, they would sneer, mutter something rude under their breath or otherwise make it clear that I was wasting my time and the Lib Dems were about to be victorious. One Conservative woman was polite when she drove up to me on the eve of poll, but that was simply because she was trying to plug me for information (having just carefully taken the Lit posters off her window ten metres down the road).

In fact – confession time! – it was one particularly unpleasant incident outside the Conservative HQ in West Ealing that lead me to blogging about that Billy Taylor post on their Facebook group.

What is clear from these incidents, and from a cursory glance at the blogosphere is that the Conservative campaign team committed the ultimate sin of convincing their own activist base that they were on the cusp of victory. You don’t piss in your own backyard. The innocent little CF monkeys who were so arrogantly sneering at rival party activists in the street two weeks ago will have had their hearts broken. It was clear from the outset that the Tories weren’t getting activists in sufficient numbers, despite the hype. Next time, they’ll have to rely on Paul Seery to do everything (if he hasn’t defected to Labour by then). And that’s not to mention all the political journalists, such as Jonathan Isaby and Michael Crick who they were quite clearly telling fibs to. Campaign teams in backwater, moribund seats get this sort of electionitis all the time, but when your senior by-election task force gets carried away like this, you have a crisis on your hands. Just how badly do you think they’d have screwed up if it had been a General Election?

Finally, you have to ask serious questions about David Cameron’s judgement. I’m not just talking about his decision to put his personal credibility on the line, to the point of having his name on the ballot paper, but of his decision to dedicate so much party resources to a campaign that went nowhere. Let’s be quite clear about something: the Conservatives did play a decisive role in denying the Lib Dems another by-election win. The Tory campaign was effectively a spoiler, muddying the waters, confusing the media and enabling Labour to present it as a straight Labour-Tory fight. If they hadn’t gone for it in the same way, perhaps concentrated their resources in Sedgefield where they were second, the Lib Dems might just have been able to take the seat.

Of course, for people like the aforementioned Paul Seery, that is mission accomplished. But if Cameron thinks that, he should resign. Coming a poor third in Ealing would not have got them worse headlines than they received yesterday and today – indeed without the over hype, they wouldn’t now be getting spanked. But it would have damaged Brown and brought his honeymoon period to a crashing end. Instead, Brown’s bounce has been consolidated. From a strategic point of view, it has to be one of the worst political miscalculations ever.

It could be that the Tories genuinely believed they had a real chance of winning, but who managed to convince them of that? Nothing is certain in politics, but if you can’t guarantee with 100% certainty that you are going to come at least second, you should never campaign to win. I think I learnt that in Primary School. What do they teach those crazy kids at Eton?

There is a comparable pre-1997 example. In 1995, Labour took a strategic decision to challenge the Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, a Tory held seat where the Lib Dems were second. They ran a hard, even nasty campaign, that many Lib Dems still feel sore about. The Lib Dems won, but Labour significantly came second and went on to take the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in 1997 (which they hold to this day). Peter Mandelson knew exactly what he was doing. Did Grant Shapps?

All this suggests that, for all the froth, Cameron doesn’t really have a clue what his anti-Brown strategy should be. He’s done a good job at making people sit up and pay attention to the Tories again, but he’s done a lousy job as changing hearts and minds within the Conservative Party itself. He surrounds himself with top hatted toffs and dilletantes, and calls it ‘diversity’. At the height of his popularity he nearly lost the Bromley by-election, while at the height of Gordon Brown’s popularity, he ends up humiliating himself when he didn’t need to. The money continues to flow in, some of it not from the clinically insane, but money can’t buy you activists in the North and other areas they need to win. And now we have a return to back to basics and posturing over Grammar Schools (sorry, ‘Grammar streaming‘), entirely at the behest of the very swivel eyed loons who have been keeping them in the political wilderness for the best part of two decades now. It isn’t looking good.

(and after all that, I failed to blog about my favourite Tory election leaflet of all time! Maybe later).

What a complete Lits up!

Fuck up Ealing SouthallNo time to blog at the mo, but in a rare act of cross-partisanship, I thought I’d make my new Ealing Southall button available to all. Subtlety is my middle name!

UPDATE: here’s the code if you want to add it to your page:

Is Britain broken?

I’ve just been peaking at the Tories’ consultation website, going by the bossy title of Stand up! Speak up! Straighten that tie! (I made the last bit up).

On it is a stark video about Britain’s ‘broken society’ illustrating how the UK is such a mess. Some of the statistics are undeniable, and if the economy was on a downward spiral they might be causing us problems, but does Britain actually feel broken? It’s easy to say, but good marketing is only effective if it resonates. Does this?

Perhaps I’m showing my age, but in 1997, it did feel like that, and it did feel like it was time for a change. That was why, even though I wasn’t even tempted to vote tactically for Labour, I was celebrating as loudly as any Blairite on election night.

The bottom line is, civil libertarian and environmentalist though I may be, it is the economy, stupid. This new Tory narrative may work if we suddenly enter a recession, but I can’t see it working otherwise. Combined with the new Cameroon strategy of shoving dilettantes and top hatted buffoons down our throats, and finger waving about marriage, and I just don’t see them capturing the public imagination. At a time when they needed to realise we are living in the 21st century, they seem obsessed with making us believe we’re living in the 19th. Perhaps this explains their Dickensian analysis of the state we’re in.

The Lab-Con Hokey Kokey

You put your right leg in, your right leg out, in, out, in, out, shake it all about

There is a serious side to all this. The degree by which the Tory and Labour camps in Ealing Southall are attempting to manipulate the Sikh and other communities is truly breathtaking. More to the point, I’m not sure it is all that effective. Throughout the 80s and 90s all parties, but particularly Labour, tended to treat minority ethnic groups as handy block votes that could easily be bought and sold by offering the so-called “community leaders” morsels such as a community centre here, a link with (read: money siphoned off to) a school in Kashmir there, etc. etc. It was the height of cynicism, but it generally worked and the minority ethnic communities themselves were the worse for it because they found themselves in a perpetual state of ghettoisation, with individuals emerging as major power brokers simply because the political class felt they were useful.

This has been slowly changing however. The Iraq War was a major corrective, at least as far as Muslims were concerned, but there have been broader generational shifts. Over the past couple of years there have been a growing number of initiatives designed to counteract this corporatist approach, such as the New Generation Network.

What I seem to be seeing in Ealing Southall is Labour coming a cropper of years of adopting the old approach. The Tories’ response however seems to be to walk into the same trap at precisely the time when it ceases to be useful. How impressed will Southall’s young second and third generation Sikhs be with all these shenanigans? Tony Lit started by trying to present himself as something new and fresh, but has spent the last week embracing the old guard. This tactic would surely be useful if the Sikh community was a homogenised block, but is that true?

More to the point, is the Sikh vote that important? In Southall, sure, but across the constituency they make up just 18% of the population. Are the Tories banking on the Hindus and Muslims (who, combined, make up another fifth) following in line with their turbaned neighbours? If so, then they are dafter than I thought. And what is the majority white population making of all this effervescent silliness that the Tories seem obsessed with?

We shall see, we shall see. But I can’t help but suspect that for all their noise, the Tories may end up in not that much stronger a position in the constituency after the election than they were before it. Either way, they will have a long term price to pay.

EXCLUSIVE: Tory Ealing Southall campaign all front? (UPDATE)

I spent yesterday afternoon and evening in Ealing Southall constituency (I would have been there earlier, but I had a prior meeting). Impressed with the Lib Dem campaign HQ, which is conveniently placed and just right for our needs.

I thought that there was something amiss about the Tory campaign when I saw that extraordinary video on Webcameron of Cameron adlibbing desperately to break the awkward silence. Very odd footage that appears to serve no purpose. It wasn’t about the candidate, or the area, or the issues. For a man who works in radio, Tony Lit doesn’t say much does he? Or perhaps they were trying to keep him quiet.

My suspicions that the Tories weren’t running a serious campaign seemed to be confirmed when I got to see what they are actually delivering. A tabloid newspaper that looks like it has been designed by a not particularly competent amateur who is trying to copy the Lib Dem style. Too much filler, not much substance, too few photos. Half a page of newspaper quotes about Cameron, half of which are more than a year old? A whole page wasted on listing councillor details? They’ve made a brave stab at a bar chart, conveniently ignoring the fact that they are third in terms of actual votes (next time you hear a Tory moaning about a Lib Dem bar chart, laugh hollowly). This is the sort of literature you would expect to see in a low profile, “up and coming” non-target election campaign, not a key target byelection.

Then, pop over to the Facebook group of the Ealing Southall Byelection Virtual Campaign Base and you find that, despite the Conservatives’ high presence on Facebook, it has just a handful of members. Its first Campaign Day is in a week’s time. That’s almost halfway through the campaign!

If the Tories were serious about this campaign, they would be spending less time producing bizarre videos and more time producing decent election literature (produced by one of their professional organisers rather than an enthusiast). If they were serious, they’d have an actual campaign base, not a virtual one. I’m sorry Arleen, but it looks like you’re going to have to wait a bit for your Christmas.

UPDATE: I can’t believe Tony Lit named one of his children after David Cameron! Creepy or what?