Daily Archives: 30 June 2006

Africa, America and the UK Constitution

Simon Jenkins infuriates and delights in equal measure, but today’s article in the Guardian fell in the latter category.

The Church of England is simply absurd.  I was unaware of how the number of Bishops has sky-rocketed over the past 100 years, but I was aware of how the jealously guarded seats the Church has in the House of Lords are, by and large, left vacant.

According to Public Whip, the Bishop with the best attendence record is the Bishop of Chester, on 11.8%.  The average Bishop turns up to vote 2.76% of the time.  What is the point of them?  You don’t need a Bishop to read out a few prayers; if Simon Hughes and John Battle can cope, surely anyone can do it?

If the Anglican Church does split, where will that leave Establishment?  It is very curious to have a part of our constitution determined by a spat between a bunch of Americans and Africans, yet that is what we are left with.  Which Church should then sit in the House of Lords?  Almost certainly the socially conservative wing which has simply nothing to say about 21st century Britain.  Worse, because this side is more politically active, it means that at the same point that the church becomes less representative of the country, it is likely to start using its constitutional position more.

This is a recipe for disaster.  Now is the time to start seriously calling for disestablishment.

Did I lose the Bromley and Chislehurst election?

Not withstanding my irritation about Lib Dem campaign techniques, a sincere well done to the Bromley and Chislehurst team.  I wrote my post last night suspecting that it was going to be close; the fact that it was as close as it was does of course give me pause for thought.

With the majority slashed to 633, could I have made the difference between winning and losing if I’d gone to help a couple more times?  My efforts certainly would have probably slashed a few more votes off.

The aftermath of this campaign will be interesting.  The Tories are already spinning that the Lib Dems ran a very nasty and personalised campaign.  The truth is, we did, but not entirely without justification.  It is legitimate to question how good a job Bob Neill will do if he also has responsibilities in the GLA, although frankly I suspect it is the other residents of his Bromley and Bexley GLA seat who will suffer from poor representation rather than the ones in Bromley and Chislehurst who will now get to decide whether or not he gets to keep his seat at the next general election.  Attacking him for being a barrister is a less strong argument, ditto his seat on the North East London SHA (although his admission that he knowingly signed a false statement on his nomination form ought to make the Bar Council raise an eyebrow or two).

I’m not convinced it was in the Lib Dems’ best interests to make so much of the campaign about him, however.  Pretty much all the literature I’ve seen was either about Bob Neill or the World Cup.  Maybe I’m naive about expecting us to campaign on what the Lib Dems stand for, but it does seem to me that had we won, it would have been a bit of an empty victory.  It will also now only enforce the image of the party as dirty campaigners.

All parties go negative: the Tory campaign in the seat I helped in in 2005 was one of the nastiest I’ve ever seen.  Fortunately, it was also one of the most incompetent.  Iain Dale, who loves accusing people of being the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, spent pretty much the whole of the two years leading up to his crushing defeat in North Norfolk personally attacking Norman Lamb MP on the most spurious of grounds.  The Tories are in no position to take the moral high ground over this, but that won’t stop them, and it seems to me we’ve made it just that little bit easier for them to do so.

Waiting for the results…

I probably won’t stay up for much longer waiting for the by-election results, but while waiting, I did come across this bizarre story about one of the more pointless candidates standing in Bromley and Chislehurst.

Apparently the BBC is riddled with gay sex, which is news to me. Concrete slab sex on children’s programmes maybe, but clearly Mr Hemming-Clark has been looking hard – certainly rather too hard to be accusing one of his opponents of being a closet homosexual.

Now that the polls have closed, I can get away with saying that Hemming-Clark comes across to me like the typical Bromley resident. I can’t remember who it was who said to me after a day’s campaigning that Bromley was stuffed with “rich chavs” but it is a very accurate description.

Bromley is mainly famous for being the place that lots of talented people leave, the first chance they get. David Bowie, Hanif Kureshi, Siouxsie Sioux (we’ll forget about fellow Bromley Contingent member Billy Idol), H.G. Wells… for over 100 years the inane, casually cruel suburbia has inspired a loathing that few other places even begin to reach.

You may have guessed by now that I too am a Bromley escapee. Going back to help in the by-election for me was very painful. Just as I thought I was giving the old place too hard a time, some brainless wanker starts trying it on in the queue leaving the train station. It all came flooding back.

Fortunately for me, the Bromley campaign team made it impossible for me to go back. They published the results of a “crime survey” which “proved” that 2/3rds of residents don’t feel safe going out at night. Regular readers will know how my bete-noire is Lib Dems playing silly games with crime statistics and choosing between going to help the campaign and spending a day with my girlfriend suddenly became very easy indeed. The fact that so many Bromley residents seem to think they’re living in a war zone rather than one of the most affluent parts of the country just made me realise I don’t actually want a Lib Dem in Parliament representing the morons.

This too, is frankly unacceptable. I can happily justify a lot of Lib Dem campaigning, most of which is simply effective marketing. Rival party activists who get precious about the use of “misleading” bar charts in our literature strangely don’t get upset about Labour spending millions of pounds on advertising in the last general election making misleading claims about how a Lib Dem vote would help get Tories elected. Putting out literature that notionally looks like a local tabloid or a handwritten letter is about getting people’s attention. I don’t see the same outcry over TV adverts that “look” like TV programmes or newspaper adverts that “look” like articles. It is a gross insult to the public to claim they are so stupid they can’t tell the difference. What’s more, to pretend we are any worse than the other parties is simply a lie.

But merely being as bad as the others is not good enough. I draw the line at dishonesty, I dislike ambulance chasing and I detest scaremongering. The photos of Ben Abbotts “cleaning up” graffiti that is then left is a disgrace. It is similarly a disgrace to go around taking photographs of every single piece of litter on every single street in the constituency in order to present a misleading picture of a constituency drowning in grot, as is now a standard by-election tactic.

I’m sorry if such negativity annoys some of my Lib Dem coleagues, but I am absolutely sick of it. It puts me off wanting to help in by-elections and I’m sure others feel the same. Is it too much to ask for us to follow a basic code of conduct? I’m sure we were better at not crossing the line five years ago. Perhaps I’ve just been blind to it all these years, but I can honestly say I’ve never done the same sort of thing myself in elections, with some modest success.

What do fellow Lib Dem activists think? Am I just whinging about nothing, or is it time we got our shit together? I’d like to think the former, but I’ve gone from loving campaigning to dreading it and I’m quite sure something’s changed.

UPDATE: Labour have conceded defeat in both the Blaenau Gwent Assembly and Parliament seats.  If nothing else, at least I have Schadenfreude.