It’s not only the election campaign that will stop in May: the sneering, the hype and the bluffing will too


“If something cannot go on forever it will stop,” said the American economist Herbert Stein. That is a thought worth clinging on to during the next three months. But it’s not just the election campaign that will come to an end. The sneering, the hype, and the bluffing will stop too.

Right now there is more magnificent certainty and grand assertion in the newspapers, on blogs and on Twitter than any mortal can possibly take. People just know what is going to happen, they really do. I salute them. I admire them. I envy them.


But, as Boris Johnson probably wouldn’t say: haruspex haruspicem, cum videt, ridet – which means, of course, “when one soothsayer sees another one, he smiles”. In plain terms: you can’t kid a kidder. And, trust me, there is a lot of kidding going on.

You could almost hear Westminster mouths dropping when, after “Labour’s worst week ever”™, the Sunday morning YouGov poll showed a restored lead over the Conservatives of three points. Yes, it was only one poll, and by the time you read this the next polls will probably be showing the two main parties neck and neck again. But it was a useful reminder that, no matter how much Conservative MPs convince themselves that things are going better for them, and no matter how consistently some journalists echo and reinforce that view, the voters may be thinking differently. Indeed, we have reached a point, I believe, where media hyperbole and distortion is proving remarkably ineffective at shifting public opinion. The public recognises where much of the press is coming from, and takes over-the-top headlines less and less seriously.

Not only that, but anyone over the age of 40 will remember very well the denigration and character assassination aimed at Neil Kinnock in 1991/2. It worked back then. But only five months after the April ’92 election the Tory government’s central economic and foreign (European) policy collapsed in the humiliating exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Many voters, in other words, have seen this movie before, and will be less easily persuaded that that a traduced Labour leader can really be as incapable as some newspapers will claim him to be.

Passing almost unnoticed over the weekend were two quite significant admissions which may ultimately have more impact on the election result than any amount of name-calling and finger-pointing. First, Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, was asked in the Guardian who out of David Cameron or Ed Miliband she would prefer to see as prime minister. A normal, heavily media-trained politician would have made some non-committal remark about going for every vote possible and waiting to see what the verdict of the electorate was. But not Ms Bennett, who gave a disarmingly frank answer. As Rowena Mason reported: “When push comes to shove, the Greens leader is rooting for the Labour leader to walk into Downing Street in May. ‘If you’re going to push me on that, yes, I would prefer Ed Miliband,’ she says.”

That sentence, I expect, will appear again and again on Labour leaflets in seats where a substantial Green vote could cost them a win. Nobody can say for sure what proportion of the current Green Party poll rating will end up voting Labour. But the chances are it will be significant, at least enough to calm some of the “split the left” talk. The Green vote will not prevent some important Labour gains.

The second under-commented upon story was in the same paper, revealed by the same reporter. This was the sad tale of Randalls department store in Uxbridge, west London, which is being closed down by its current boss, Sir John Randall, the local Tory MP and former deputy chief whip.

You really have to read the piece in full to grasp the full, gob-smacking nature of his comments. But suffice to say he criticises the growth of zero hours contracts, describes a world of employment that is precarious, unjust and scary, and muses that he possibly should have worked as a rep for Usdaw, the shop-workers union. Never mind tax exile billionaires who are worried about paying their fair dues to HMRC: here was a British employer bemoaning the nature of the economy and the jobs on offer in it. Sir John Randall is a walking party political broadcast for the advocates of better, responsible capitalism. Which would be the Labour Party.

Had more of Westminster’s finest walked a few yards down Whitehall last Thursday to hear Jon Cruddas’ interesting speech for the Relationships Alliance, they might perhaps have been less surprised by the amazing rebounding Labour lead and continuing Tory unpopularity.

His themes were love and work – two things, he suggested, that we do not have enough of. Cruddas said:

“Politicians don’t talk enough about love. After all, it’s people’s close relationships – the national web of love and dependence – that makes our society strong. Where those relationships are weak, we are weak. Where there is a lack of love there is a lot of trouble.”

We also need, Cruddas said, more worthy and worthwhile work. This helps build a sense of community. And he added:

“Labour is a love of home and the common life and inheritance that belongs to ‘us’, the people, wherever we have come from. Our neighbourhoods and the landscapes we live in give us our sense of identity and belonging. Society cannot be made by government. It is not held together by the transactions of the market or the administrations of the state. It is made and renewed in the daily life of generations; in friendship, family, community and love of place.”

This is nation-(re)building at home. This captures a sense of what it is we have lost. It is a grand thought which needs, urgently, to degenerate into a clear “retail offer”. But if Labour can convey more of this sense of social cohesion and worthwhile work the party will not merely fall over the finishing line in May but stride confidently towards it and through it, in first place.

That, I think, is the reality that remains well within Labour’s reach, whatever today’s noisy headlines and tweets may say.

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