To everybody’s surprise apart from, possibly, his own, George Galloway has been returned as the Member of Parliament for the constituency of Bradford West. In a couple of weeks time, London will vote on who it wants as its Mayor, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that the citizenry are going to plump for Evening Standard-botherer and scourge of the “Zionists”, Ken Livingstone.
These two defeats for the comrades – okay, so the fat lady hasn’t sung on the Livingstone result but I’ve got two quid riding on BoJo cleaning up so I’m fairly confident of this one – will mean only one thing for the Labour Party: a “listening exercise”. It’s started already; last week Ed Miliband press released his trip to Bradford “to hear from voters first hand about the reasons for Labour's defeat in a parliamentary by-election two weeks ago”.
Oh dear. Must we go through this charade?
There are various reasons why listening exercises are a bad thing. Mainly because it looks patently insincere. Because it is. The sight of party leaders being papped chatting with the locals is a mere whisker away from being pictured kissing a baby at election time. Also, it smacks of a desperate sackcloth-and-ashes attempt at self-flagellation following an embarrassing defeat and, let’s face it, a 37% swing is pretty damn embarrassing. Why draw attention to it? It’s the political equivalent of yelling “It wasn’t me!” on a crowded tube train after a suspicious smell wafts around the carriage.
Let’s be honest, it’s not about “listening”. It’s about demonstrating that you’re really sorry that you arsed up. And, realistically, what would you get out of hearing the inevitable script, “You’re all the same, out of touch, don’t understand what’s happening in the real world,” while nodding along humbly? Are you really going to head back to the office and say, “Right team. Apparently we’re all the same, out of touch and don’t understand what’s happening in the real world. Let’s get this sorted!”
In my view, it’s just not true that politicians are out of touch in any case. These days, the constituency takes up a huge amount of any MP’s time (as, arguably, it should) and politicians of every plumage are in constant contact with thousands of their punters on issues as varied as domestic abuse, re-housing applications, to the latest campaign by 38 Degrees. Frankly, your average MP is more in touch with what is going down on the constituency shop floor than a journalist on a six-figure salary who’s never ventured north of Finchley but still feels qualified to pontificate at length on the failings of the political class (I’m looking at you, Toynbee).
The cause of the Galloway Spring is still the subject of furious debate, with some putting it down to a badly-run campaign, others to the apparent unpopularity of the Labour Party, to the Iraq War, as suggested by Diane Abbott – although why this should have manifested itself in 2012 when the former Labour MP increased his majority in 2005 is a mystery to me. One thing, however, I think we can all be sure about is this: George is not the type to sit down for a nice cup of tea and a “listen.” My view, for what it’s worth (hopefully two shiny sovereigns) is that really, what the voters want is a choice. Galloway may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but fair to him, he has his views and he expresses them extremely well.
If Ken doesn’t pull off a victory in the Mayoral, it won’t be because he hasn’t listened.
These pointless publicity stunts exist in order that politicians can claim to be all things to all people whilst actually being none of them to anybody. Let’s call time on this humbug: if you want a chat about your feelings, go to a psychologist. If you want a politician, vote for one.