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Never mind the wheeliebins, we want inspiration - the polls show that Tony Blair is still well ahead, but who's he well ahead of?
1 May 2003
How can it be "apathy" that stops most people voting today? It's only two months since one and a half million people went on a demonstration, so the political climate is hardly apathetic. Maybe those people are all thinking, "I'm not going all the way to the primary school to vote, I've already been out once this year."
It's typical of how "politics" is seen in this country that we can be described as "not interested in politics" because not many people are interested in politicians. These commentators would say Che Guevara wasn't interested in politics because while he was building his army he didn't use his postal vote for the Argentine county council elections. Or that no Spaniards were interested in politics during the Spanish Civil War because only 8 per cent of the country watched a party political broadcast by the Liberal Democrats.
The main parties often suggest that most people aren't interested in grand ideologies, that they just want to know that their rubbish will be collected. But most people had a strong opinion about the war, and if there had been a referendum on whether it should take place, the turnout would probably have been huge. It's when there's a vote between three people bickering about who's best at cleaning up graffiti that no one bothers. Because people vote for someone who they identify with, whose aspirations for society matches their own. That's why millions in South Africa queued for hours to vote for the ANC, and not many said "I'm not bothering, because that Nelson Mandela may be good at overthrowing apartheid but he's useless at providing wheeliebins."
Just after a victorious war is traditionally the time a political leader should be basking in popularity. Instead Blair's party enjoys a combination of contempt, indifference and grudging approval, even from those who voted for him before. This is disguised by the polls, which show him still well ahead, but who's he well ahead of?
With regard to the public standing of Iain Duncan Smith, I think I may have witnessed a world record. A couple of weeks ago I was in a minicab being driven by a Rasta, and we were listening to Duncan Smith interviewed on the radio. Suddenly the driver yelled, "Him a prick me tell ya. Him have nothing to say, him just prick." Having arrived, I went into an office where, for a strange reason, there was an ex-commander of the Desert Rats, who happened also to be listening to this interview. The commander shook his head and spluttered "Good God, this chap's nothing but a bloody prick." Now, can anyone ever have witnessed two such diverse people both calling the same person a prick during the same interview? If not, I claim my record.
So Blair may be ahead, but only because people ask, "Well what else is there?" And the result is that the record low turnouts of recent years are almost certain to get even lower, perhaps until the results can be read out like football results: "Isle of Thanet New Labour TWO Liberal DEMocrat two".
All major parties passionately endorse the free-market world, with its dazzling corporate pay rises and privatised services, and the deeper they enter this world, the more remote they seem. And for many people, including those on that march and those who supported it, the disconnection with mainstream politicians goes even greater. When you see the brazen manner in which a Shell executive has been put in charge of Iraq's oil, you get the same feeling you had while watching the Major on the quiz show a sort of "Look, if you're going to lie and cheat, at least try and bloody conceal it."
The most common electoral method for expressing remoteness for politicians is not voting. Which may be why the Scottish Socialist Party could achieve the most significant results of all today's elections. They've been consistently scoring 10 per cent across the whole country, in spite of being marginalised in the media, to the extent that The Scotsman newspaper still lists them among "other small parties", along with the "Protect Rural Scotland Party" and the "Fishing Party". Even if they take power, commentators will say "The big news is a 2 per cent swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats."
And the SSP has done everything generally regarded as disastrous in a modern election. It has opposed the war, supported asylum-seekers, proposed higher tax for the wealthy and has no backing from big business. Yet it may well score the biggest jump of any party standing.
Or maybe, early this morning it will be announced that amid the smouldering ruins of the Iraqi Ministry of Fishing in Baghdad, an in-tray was found. And under some ash were documents proving that Tommy Sheridan was conspiring with Saddam Hussein to hand over the rubbish collection of Stirling County Council to the élite Republican Guard. And Tariq Aziz was to be offered control of Motherwell central library.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd