'Ask the Voter', the new political phone-in

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The Independent Online
Today we have something totally new in the election. Not another dreary phone-in programme with a politician giving guarded answers, but a chance for politicians to put their questions to the ordinary voter! In the studio we have an ordinary voter. At the other end of the line we have leading politicians of the day dying to put their questions to an ordinary voter. And the first call is from ... ?

Clarke: Kenneth Clarke. Voter: And what is your question, Mr Clarke?

Clarke: I just want to put it to you that as, under the Tory stewardship, this country's economy is now booming ...

Voter: Excuse me one moment. This is not a question you are asking. This is the usual political trick of disguising propaganda as a question. If you have a question to ask the voter, ask it. If not, get off the line.

Clarke: Point taken. May I first ask what kind of voter you are? A party faithful? A floating voter? A first-time voter?

Voter: I am a last-time voter.

Clarke: Good heavens. May I ask you to expand on that?

Voter: I am not particularly old, so I do not expect this to be my last election. But I do expect it to be the last time I vote if I feel my vote is wasted.

Clarke: And how do you feel your vote would be wasted?

Voter: I feel that it is only at election time that politicians pay any attention to the voter. For five years in between elections we are ignored. Suddenly, at election time, we are courted, like a bank manager agreeing an overdraft. Then we are ignored again. There have been plain signs in the polls for two years now that we are sick to death of your government, but you paid no attention. You never admitted to being unpopular - at most you said it was mid-term blues, or that your message was not getting through. What you should have done was go to the country then.

Clarke: You think a government should call an election every time it is down in the polls?

Voter: No. But nor do I think that the right people to decide on a vote of confidence are the parliamentary majority. Do you, Mr Clarke?

Clarke: I am here to ask questions, not answer them. You said so yourself.

Voter: I did. Good point. Next please!

Howard: Michael Howard. Given that the level of crime has now gone down for five years in a row ...

Voter: Next, please!

Dorrell: Stephen Dorrell.

Voter: Next, please!

Blair: Tony Blair. Before I come to my question, may I ask why you refused to listen to Dorrell and Howard?

Voter: To give them a tiny touch of their own medicine. And your question, Mr Blair?

Blair: My question is this. Given that the government of the country is in the hands of tired, clapped-out and corrupt politicians, is it not time for a change?

Voter: To put it into the hands of inexperienced, idealistic innocents?

Blair: No, I am not talking about the Liberal Democrats. I am talking about Labour.

Voter: Nice try. But do not the Liberal Democrats have more recent experience of governing, at least at local level, than Labour?

Blair: All right, I will rephrase the question. Come 1 May, will you please please please please vote Labour?

Voter: No.

Blair: Why not?

Voter: Because Labour is lying a bad third in my constituency and I would rather vote Lib Dem to get the Tory MP out. Because in this country we tend to vote against people rather than for them, and I shall be voting against Tory, not for Labour.

Blair: Even if it means putting Labour in?

Voter: Yes. We don't trust Labour any more than the Tories, but we haven't had a good chance to mistrust you yet. Because politics, if it is anything, is a soap opera, and the British public are dying to see what would happen in the next episode if Labour were put in power.

Ashdown: Paddy Ashdown here. Then why in heaven's name did you vote the Tories back in at the last election? Voter: Because we are voters, and voters are not very clever people. Was it not H L Mencken who said, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard"?

Ashdown: Was he American?

Voter: Yes.

Ashdown: Then his remarks are not relevant, are they?

Voter: No. Whatever else the Americans' faults, they do at least think big. Even when they are complaining they think big. Americans worry about the budget deficit and the national debt to Japan. We worry about VAT on heating and the price of prescriptions. The British electorate is petty and deserves petty politicians. It gets them good and hard.

Ashdown: Yes, but ...

Voter: Sorry, time's up.

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