Monday, July 16, 2007

Dirty Politics

There are two by-elections to be resolved this week, Ealing and Southall following the death of Piara Khabra, and Sedgefield due to the resignation of Tony Blair. Both, it appears are becoming increasingly dirty affairs where the ideals of democracy and representation seem far from the minds of the candidates.

Ealing and Southall has seen councillors defecting from Labour to the Conservatives on the grounds of not being selected to be candidate; this indicates little ideological attachment to a party but rather a desire for power independent of the party. The Conservative candidate Tony Lit is not standing as a party candidate bunt under the moniker of 'Cameron's Conservatives', strange in itself. But over the weekend it was revealed that, representing Radio Sunrise, he attended a Blair fundraiser and there is an embarrassing photo (below) to prove it. Local Labour supporters have made great capital of the fact and so branded all the Conservatives turncoats. One can only wonder what the local voters are thinking about those people who seek to offer them representation.

Sedgefield is not much better. The Liberal Democrats decided to launch their campaign on Trimdon Green opposite the Labour office, not provocative at all. Labour supporters turned up to spoil the event, chaos ensues, and all is filmed and posted to Youtube [see below]. This looks like a cross between a home movie and a party election broadcast that puts both parties in a fairly bad light. The Liberal Democrats reportedly tried to corner the Labour candidate with camera again to produce a sequel but Labour were wiser on this occasion and avoided taking the bait.

The only positive campaign seems to be that of Graham Robb. He has been trying to engage local voters but the name Conservative appears to be sufficient to turn them away from him. But the positive tone of his blog from his MySpace page is actually quite a refreshing oasis in a desert of dirty politics. Given comments like "Labour have held this area for years and they have taken the voters for granted and done nothing at all." made publicly by local voters on the service received under Blair, and the disgust expressed by those commenting on Youtube, Robb could be expected to do well. But it seems unlikely, his eight friends on MySpace, none of whom are potential voters, indicates a lack of momentum and interest. Predictions are pitiful turnouts and Labour wins; a real triumph of democracy.

And this is perhaps the main loser here. When politics is carried out in this way how can trust and engagement be built? If the parties were squabbling about who would do the best job for the people of the area it would be understandable and perhaps would make voters think about their choice. When Labour pretend to be Newcastle fans when breaking up the Liberal Democrat launch, and attack the candidate only on the basis of him being from Newcastle and so not local to the Sedgefield constituency boundary, it suggests pretty weak politics. Equally when candidates appear to drift between parties, seeking the power and influence that comes with the title MP, it puts politics in a bad light and reinforces negative connotations. Thus politics becomes soap opera and voters become an audience, it may have always been this way but in an age when anything can be broadcast to everyone in seconds such behaviour does seem inappropriate and demonstrating little voter efficacy.

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