Mark Steel: Vote for credible people - and call the liars' bluff

Blair's message to millions who feel betrayed is like the sneer of a wife-beater
Click to follow
The Independent Online

One morning this week, the first thing I heard was a Tory on the radio. He was asked something or other and answered: "Can I say it's typical of the BBC that I'm given this early slot as usual when Ruth Kelly has been give the prominent slot at ten past eight six times and this is typical."

One morning this week, the first thing I heard was a Tory on the radio. He was asked something or other and answered: "Can I say it's typical of the BBC that I'm given this early slot as usual when Ruth Kelly has been give the prominent slot at ten past eight six times and this is typical."

At first I was quite impressed that anyone could be that angry that early in the morning. Surely even Ian Paisley takes a few minutes to warm up, enjoying the birds and a cup of tea before rehearsing a few constitutional growls and heading into his first "This will not be tolerated" at about ten to nine.

Maybe it's an instruction from Conservative Central Office that all candidates have to become divas. Breakfast With Frost will be told "Honey, if Michael Ancram isn't top of the bill he isn't on the bill". David Davis will refuse to be interviewed for Channel 4 News because the smoked salmon in his dressing room hasn't been sliced thinly enough. And Ann Widdecombe will storm out of Newsnight because they haven't provided a bare-chested Moroccan sand-dancer in her trailer.

It's as if it's their right to rule, and an affront to have to stand for election at all. They're like someone who's had a scarf nicked by kids at a bus stop, going "Right you've had your fun, now give us back our power. Come on, hand over the Treasury this instant or I'll call the police."

So they shout random insults about Tony Blair, the latest being that he's a liar. This may well be true but loses its bite coming from a party whose last government included Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer.

It's like one of those logic puzzles: "A party that included two men who'd been jailed for lying called a third man, who'd been caught lying, a liar. Who is telling the truth?" If Blair answered the accusation by saying: "If you were asked whether my answer about lying was true, one of you would answer with a lie," it would keep philosophers in work for 50 years.

And they persist with the nodding-winking strategy of asking if we're thinking what they're thinking. So if anyone accuses them of racism they can put on that surprised teenage "What have I done now" expression, when they're aware that, while avoiding anything explicitly racist, they're making sure they appeal to the racist. Their next slogan will be "I mean, if they moved in near you, whatnot, ay, you wouldn't want your daughter, ay, that's all I'm saying."

Labour seem to be aware that their strongest card in getting the millions who feel let down by them to still vote for them is to raise the scariness of Michael Howard as the alternative. So the inspiring vision offered to rally the troops is: "I know we're shite, but the other lot are even worse," which is hardly up there with "I have a dream".

There's an army of people who feel lost in this election, with books and websites dedicated to working out how to punish Blair without aiding the Conservatives. All possible permutations have been discussed, and people have sat up all night before making declarations such as: "Right - we support the Liberal Democrats in Labour seats, Labour in Tory marginals, and in safe Tory seats vote for the Scottish Nationalists - but only in England."

But maybe it's the wrong question to start with. Because we do have more influence than that, and not just as an election approaches. For example, last week in Bristol I met up with an inspiring group of disabled people and their carers. They have been protesting against the Labour council's decision to close their day-care centre because, as one protester put it: "They see us as uneconomic units."

The welfare state has largely survived the past 25 years of governments ideologically opposed to it. The reason is that every time a centre like that, or a library or a fire station has been threatened, there's been a furore from those who depend on it, work in it or live near it. Similarly, the only reason Blair can't brush away the war is because of the vast scale of protest.

There are many credible candidates standing at the election in opposition to the ideals of Blair and Howard; Respect, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Greens, and independents such as Reg Keys, whose son was killed in Iraq, and who is standing against Blair himself in his Sedgefield constituency. If, as seems likely, these candidates receive an unmistakably high vote, that will provide a huge boost to anyone feeling left out by the privatising, warmongering consensus that forms the bulk of this election campaign.

The alternative is to give in to Blair's bluff, in which his message to millions who feel betrayed by him is like the sneer of a wife-beater to his wife - "Well, what are you gonna do? You can't walk out on me. You've got nowhere else to go."

Comments