Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Mrs Duffy, Mrs Ledger and the insipid campaign

General elections generally come around every four or five years. A fifty year-old is likely only to have had the chance to vote in a general election at most six times. As we get older time seems to pass faster with the result that five years can go by in a flash but it's still five years. Some of us look back on events of twenty years ago and feel they were very recent, were we to add twenty years to our current age we would get a greater appreciation of just how long twenty years is in a human lifetime. Five years is also a long time. A lot happens in five years. I suppose most of it is spent in just run-of-the-mill living so it passes through our memories without leaving much of a trace. It is special events that leave memories: happy events, sad events, interesting events, unusual events. In the general scheme of things popping out to buy a loaf of bread and a pint of milk is not such an event unless you live in Rochdale and are called Mrs Duffy.

A lady not dissimilar to Mrs Duffy caught the television cameras and the public attention more than thirty years ago, her name was Mrs Ledger. It was during the 1979 election campaign, Mrs Ledger berated a government minister called Shirley Williams who was addressing an open-air meeting in Sussex. At the time inflation was one of the many curses afflicting the UK economy and Mrs Ledger was concerned that brown bread was rising fast in price. She waved a loaf at the minister and challenged her to think about the real cost of living for ordinary people. Her views struck a chord. Mrs Ledger had her fifteen and more minutes of fame because her attack on a failed government was graphic, entertaining and obviously correct. The 1979 campaign is not remembered for Mrs Ledger, however, but for combative debate between politicians about the future direction of the country.

Now we have had Mrs Duffy challenging the so-called Prime Minister about other real issues that affect ordinary people including immigration and the national debt. Since Mrs Duffy was exposed to the world the party leaders have mouthed a few platitudes about the issues she raised. Does anyone remember what they said? No, I thought not. Does anyone remember what she said? Yes, I thought so. This has been a stunningly insipid campaign which, I suspect, will be remembered more for her interjection than for anything else. Even if the result is a change of government I suspect Mrs Duffy will be remembered more than any policy the new Prime Minister put forward. We have, of course, seen the emergence of the millionaire leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mrs Batty, from behind the arras but his bubble appears to be deflating.

The elections of 1979, 1983 and 1987 are remembered for the titanic figure of Margaret Thatcher emerging, strengthening and then waning, during as well as after the campaigns. 1992 is memorable for Labour's implosion under the leadership of a patent incompetent and for the supposedly weak John Major showing great strength by literally standing on a soap box in town after town and facing anything the electorate wished to throw at him. 1997 saw the emerge of Tony Blair's charm offensive, 2001 saw the Conservatives fail by taking a path that was wholly unsuited to the electoral mood of the moment and 2005 witnessed Tony Blair asking for one last chance and the Conservatives falling short but making significant gains through a well-organised campaign under a leader whose personal standing increased as the month of electioneering progressed.

This time there is nothing. Mrs Batty did well until his policies were examined. Mr Cameron lost momentum before the campaign started by his clumsy handling of the cast-iron guarantee he had given over the Lisbon Treaty and has not regained it yet. Poor Gordon is lucky not to have faced opposition on the issues that worry the ordinary voter, until he met Mrs Duffy.

Now there are just a few days to go and neither of the major parties appears to have struck a chord as Mrs Ledger did with her loaf of sliced brown and Mrs Duffy did by slicing Brown.

Maybe Mr Cameron will make it to 10 Downing Street, time will tell. I bet this campaign is remembered not for anything he, poor Gordon or Mrs Batty said but for Mrs Duffy and only Mrs Duffy.


Stan said...

Another terrific post, FB. Mrs Duffy stands out because she is the one thing about this campaign that was not organised by or for the media.

The "debates" were organised by the media for the media and stuffed with an audience vetted by the media and primed with questions selected by the media.

The parties have organised "public" events for the media and tried to ensure that those events were "media" friendly by stuffing them with party activists and supporters.

Mrs Duffy stands out because she is the one instance where the public actually got past the media control.

Our political process is subverted by the media who no longer "report" on politics - they dictate politics.

Oh, one more thing - you say that "Even if the result is a change of government" - well, that can not happen. Whoever wins the election, the government they form will be the same - just different faces and names.

Grumpy Optimist said...

Your wrong Stan. A Tory government will be a million miles from labour. But you have to be a bit subtle to see it and to realise that the real damage of labour has been their infantalisation of the British people and their corruption of the political process. Its not about Europe and it is not even about economy - important though they are.

Lightf00t said...

I bet Mrs Duffy still goes and votes Labour.