And the prize for the worst manifesto goes to . . .
I spent a rather gloomy day yesterday reading the various party manifestos. I admit that this was not in the cause of my own political development, but because I was due on the Today Programme this morning to sound off about them, and about the 'Great Debate'.
Honestly, I thought that there was not much to choose between the three main parties in this respect, though Labour and Tory were worse than Lib Dems by a short head. It wasn't just the graphics-- though quite where both of the big two had found their left-over Eastern bloc propagandists, heaven knows. The Tory "people power" illustration really did have the tractor factory feel to it -- and the fact that it was indeed an ad. for the TORY party is just one hint at the ideological emptiness that you will find if you read these documents.
As I blurted on the radio, the worst thing about these documents is their oozing platitudes. Whoever has written them has not grasped the point that political messages only count as interesting and engaging and worth bothering with if the opposite point of view could conceivable be held -- if that is there is something to argue about. The mainstream parties give us almost nothing that most of the human race could possible object to. "A future fair for all" (Labour)? Sure, but the country isn't actually teeming with people who are demanding a less fair future. "Children should be allowed to grow up at their own pace" (Tories)? Is anyone seriously advocating the opposite? "As Conservatives, we trust people"? Unlike who...?
Often different parties actually come out with almost exactly the same platitudes. "Get better politics for less" (LibDem) or "Good government costs less with the Conservatives" -- in this case not only vacuous but untrue as well.
Partly, you get the impression that they are all so keen not to offend anyone that they resort to anything bland. Partly it's the simple absence of ideology again. (Another nice example, the Labour Manifesto includes enthusiastic words on "Creating a shareholding society" -- admittedly on the John Lewis model.). Oh -- and don't mention the war. There is plenty of stuff about military equipment and hospitals, and a couple of pics of soldiers fraternizing with natives, in the Tory manifesto with a football. But not a word about whether we should be in Afghanistan or not. As the husband remarked, "People Power" clearly doesn't extend to the "people" of Afghanistan.
It is perhaps predictable that those furthest from any possibility of being in government (or even winning a seat) had the freshest approaches. After blandness of the big three, it was a positive relief to turn to the Communist Party. The policies are probably barking, but I loved the front cover which blazons "Britain for the People not the Bankers. make the Fat Cats Pay" (The "people" may smack of the Tories, but "Fat Cats" gives it away.) Some ideology at last.
So which was the very worst. Well, in a very close race, between the big three, it has to be the Labour version. Two particular sins make it slightly worse than the others. I cant stand the "I love Britain" line from Gordon Brown in his introduction (as if everyone else didn't...?). But worse, just before a paean of praise to the DNA database, we read "We are proud of our record on civil liberties". Now either that is a whoppa -- or it is self delusion. Either way it wins them the wooden spoon.
Anyway, you can listen to my few minutes' worth here. And some stuff on the debate too. Though I got my come-uppance for self promotion. One of my lines (about how the poor guys must have been up all night having their eyebrows plucked and learning their spontaneous jokes) was taken onto a BBC "quotes for the day". But sadly I wasn't. It said Mary Beard is an "American historian and women's rights campaigner". Shit - the wrong Mary Beard. The more famous one died in 1958, when I was three.