Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hanging With The Girls Of Gamma Phi Beta

To an American observer, it might appear that Wales’ politicians are trying to join the fraternity in this election campaign. The voters have been bombarded by pledges on all sides, in most cases rather more literally than normal.

It all starts with Plaid Cymru and their “7 for ‘07” (clever, huh!) list that adorns all their literature (well, almost all; their first leaflet in Cardiff West did go with, “we have seven pledges for 2007, here are two of them...”) It’s certainly a headline-grabbing list;

  1. Universal Affordable Childcare
  2. First Home Grant
  3. One Laptop Per Child
  4. Stamp Out Student Debt
  5. Saving Wales – The Energy Plan
  6. New Community NHS
  7. Business Tax Cuts

Unfortunately, the headlines are all expensive and unworkable, with a hint of discrimination (the First Home Grants are for Welsh people staying in their hometown) and a tad of vacuousness (there’s no detail as to what the energy plan is, just a suggestion that it might be an idea to have one)

Nevertheless, the Tories liked the idea of seven pledges so much they decided to have some of their own, and they even called them key pledges, so they must be important?

  1. £100pa Council Tax Rebate for Pensioners
  2. Nurse-led NHS walk-in centres
  3. More police
  4. Business rate relief for flexitime and childcare providing employers
  5. Business rate relief for post offices
  6. £20 of energy-saving light bulbs for every household
  7. £48 million more for Welsh schools

Far from important, they are in order unimaginative, unoriginal, unsurprising, piddling, inappropriate, inefficient and insufficient. Still, it’s nice to see that in the first major election campaign of the Cameron era the Tories have reverted to the unintelligent managerialism that is their trademark.

But then, just when you think things can’t get any worse, the red flag hoves into view. If there’s one thing New Labour knows how to do, it’s flogging a dead horse (I see your Mandelson and raise you Blunkett, for example) and in pledge terms they’ve stuck to what they know;

  1. Quality education for quality jobs
  2. Better health for all
  3. Strong and safe communities
  4. A fairer Wales
  5. A greener Wales

In other news, Rhodri Morgan has announced that he hopes to encourage bears to make more use of the woods for their defecatory needs, and that he will be bringing forth measures designed to increase the Pope’s Catholicism…

As for the Liberal Democrats, we don’t have any pledges; instead, we have this strange thing called a manifesto, in which we have mystical beasts called policies. I’d invite the other parties to have a look at them, but I doubt they’d understand what they were…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Rejecting The Premise Of Saint Jude

So you may be asking yourself, what is Gareth Aubrey, that smart, sassy young political operative doing spending a month trying to unseat the First Minister of Wales (you may very well not be, but it’s a good West Wing paraphrase and I never look a gift one of those in the mouth) But, taking Leo’s advice not to accept the premise of the question, why shouldn’t I be doing so? I mean, let’s list three reasons why Rhodri Morgan might be considered favourite to win in Cardiff West;

  • He’s First Minister
  • His majority’s quite big
  • Erm…
  • Ah…
  • That’s it…

My abiding memory of the election night coverage in 2005 is of Anthony King, on being told that we had won Manchester Withington, saying that the result was a mistake, followed by bugger all mention of it by anyone the rest of the way, certainly compared with the song-and-dance made of results like Leeds North-West. But at least with Professor King, one can at least be comforted in the thought that he goes away, does years of painstaking analysis and eventually comes to understand how things came to occur as they did.

The problem is that reality is defined not by the academics but by the journalists, and in their world only two things can identify an election race as interesting; a squeaky bum-time majority or an incumbent who molests domestic animals. On those occasions where a seat changes hands in other circumstances (for example, in a student-rich constituency with predominantly Lib Dem councillors where hospitals have been closed and major infrastructure programmes postponed), the result is chalked up to some fluke process and the carnival moves on.

I mention all this for two reasons. One is to remind all those young activists who are starting out on their Lib Dem careers this year that journalists are, in electoral punditry terms, rank amateurs. Have faith in the people around you, they are the ones with actual information. They will tend to pessimism, it is true, but that pessimism will be borne out of realism rather than ignorance.

The other is to remind all those young (and indeed old) journalists that fluke results don’t happen; when you overturn majorities of 5,000+, there is always a reason why. The choice you have is simple; rely on the primary school maths and look stupid, or know your stuff and be the cleverest pundit on the planet. And never forget, probability dictates that one day the supposedly shock result will be in the constituency you live in, and how dumb are you going to look if you don’t know what’s happening outside your front door?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Calm Down Dear, It’s Only A Party Election Broadcast

At this stage it’s only fair to warn regular readers that I am now working in the Welsh Assembly election campaign, and some of you may find the following images disturbing… Specifically, I’m using the LDYS Target Seat Scheme to help former LDYS Chair Alison Goldsworthy in Cardiff West, a seat currently held by some obscure Labour AM called Rhodri Morgan or some such…

Anyway, while I’m here I thought I should at least provide something of a service for those Englishmen (and yes, I have checked, it is plural) who may be interested by events west of Offa’s Dyke. Our first point of call, as they’ve just finished the first round of them, is the party election broadcasts, which as ever provide an intriguing view of the mindsets of those involved.

  • Labour – Sioned goes to primary school (this has little to do with anything, but it’s the only factually accurate element of the entire piece so let’s at least recognise that it’s there) and she thinks her country’s wonderful. To prove it, she visits Swansea waterfront (redeveloped by a Lib Dem-controlled council), the National Museum in Cardiff (free admission pushed through by Culture Minister and Lib Dem Cardiff Central AM, Jenny Randerson), the Wales Millennium Centre (again, pushed through by Jenny Randerson) and finally the Senedd itself, where she gets to sit at a big table with Rhodri Morgan (who opposed the Senedd’s construction). The message is clear, however; “You’re Welsh, you’ll vote Labour!”
  • Plaid – The man from London is down in Cardiff meeting with senior policy officials of what we shall call an “unnamed party”. Played by a scary voice actor in the Joss Ackland mould, the man from Lab… from the “unnamed party”, rather, is dismayed to find that all the good ideas in Wales (or at the very least two of the ones they can claim to have had) come from Plaid. He leaves telling them they should fight on the basis that “Whitehall knows what’s best for Wales”. In other news, subtlety has died; it was 94.
  • Tories – A victory for voice-over man here, as for two-and-a-half minutes a mixture of idyllic landscapes and vox pops about how awful things are dominate proceedings. Only at the end do we discover why; namely that the Welsh Tory leadership are exploring bold new frontiers in political obscurity. Meanwhile, we are left in no doubt that the Tories are “listening”, or in other words, “this Manifesto is a work of fiction, and any resemblance with persons past or present is entirely coincidental”…
  • Lib Dems – Voice-over woman takes charge now, giving a matronly tone to the proceedings. There’s lots of policy on display, and just to reinforce the message you get a real… actor doing a supposed vox pop in an oversized photographer’s studio. It’s the only one of the four to have any sort of policy, but it wastes time with the vox pops and is still using the music and logo design from time immemorial.

It’s a difficult round to judge, in that there’s no sense of internecine warfare yet and each party’s aims are very different at this stage. The only truly embarrassing broadcast is Labour’s, but given that the level of media analysis is no higher in the Butetown Village than the Westminster version, no-one will have noticed.

Still, next week should be more interesting; under Assembly election rules, any party with candidates in all five regional lists gets a PEB, and that means the Communists are getting one…