The phoney election is now over
The real business starts today
Some MPs and staff were involved in Parliament’s wash up period before it was dissolved on Friday afternoon, the party leaders had already left the Westminster village to shake a few hands, take a few photo opportunities, and generally feel each other out, much like boxers during the opening round of a contest. For the majority though the real business of the general election starts today, Labour launches it’s manifesto with promises of no more rises in Income Tax (but you can bet there will be lots of rises in other taxes, including National Insurance, that won’t be announced in the document), whilst the Conservative Party will launch its manifesto tomorrow with some initiatives already trailed in the Sunday papers.
Here in South Shields we’ve seen more of David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, in a weekend than perhaps we have since, well the last election to be fair. He put a full day in on Friday with the local Labour Party reacquainting him with the Town Hall, Harton Nook, Asda in the town centre, and the Al-Azhar mosque at Laygate to talk to the lads at they left Friday prayers.
The South Shields Asda opened in May 2009. A thousand people applied for 140 new jobs, which gives you a flavour of the local economy. On King Street, the town’s main shopping drag, the number of empty shops has doubled in a year. Swirling around everything are the ghosts of South Shields’ industrial past: the last shipyard closed in 1984, and the sole surviving colliery was shut in 1991. Today, the people here face a pretty awful prospect: by far the largest local employer is the public sector, and the austerity to come threatens a public-services body blow to follow all that pain in the private realm.
You hoped that it might be different after thirteen years of Labour government and over sixty years of Labour domination in South Shields Town Hall, you might have hoped that they’d look after their own, but it’s difficult to know just who their own are right now. However as Miliband was soldiering on with customers avoiding him like the plague in Asda, Conservative candidate Karen Allen was already taking the more direct approach by hitting the streets and hitting on front doors as she personally started to deliver her first leaflet, she’d already done a stint occupying King Street with Miliband and the Green’s Shirley Ford (who really needs to update her blog).
Haven’t seen or heard much from Steven Psallidas, the Liberal Democrat candidate this past weekend, but you never know, he might have been out and about in Marsden or Biddick Hall, worryingly though there was a large presence of BNP supporters in Jarrow town centre on Saturday morning, but they refused to declare their hand when asked if they were going to fight the general election, they were there to to try and wring more votes out of the Primrose ward in the local elections.
As for me, I’ll be finishing off delivering the Conservative’s initial message in the West Park ward today and tomorrow, the time has now come to get the feet marching and put in the hard miles, the daft part of the campaign when the big guns just limber up is now over and the likes of David Miliband will be hauled away from South Shields to back up Gordon Brown in those marginal seats which will decide the outcome of the election (it is quite amazing how we will be taken for granted in South Shields again). The local volunteers will be left to look after the safe seats and similarly even in the other parties some volunteers will be travelling to neighbouring seats such as Tynemouth or Stockton to do what they can to cause an upset. This is the period when the boys and girls get down to the nitty gritty of selling their candidates to the electorate. as the party leaders fight a much more presidential style of election.
This will also be the first general election where the internet, blogs, and social networking sites take a more prominent roll, as politicians feel their way around the modern information highways of broadband connectivity (and thank heavens that the 50p a month telephone tax has been dropped), Tim Montgomerie has drawn up a list of useful links on Twitter for right wing thinkers, MPs, pollsters and journalists. Even in South Shields I don’t think we’ve ever experienced such a plethora of places on the web devoted to local political material and thought, I wonder what the likes of Arthur Blenkinsop or Dr. John McKee would have made of it all?