fter the hustle and bustle of the past few weeks, perhaps it’s time to reflect on Election 2010, the national vote which gave us Cleggmania, Gillian Duffy and The X Factor (oh, sorry, apparently they are called “TV leader’s debates” in the Radio Times).
The three televised debates became the central planks of the election campaign, focusing all media and party minds on 90 minutes of political jousting, days before and after the event. One of the most insidious scenes of the whole campaign was witnessing the scrum in the media centre after each debate. Rolling news channels would interview Peter Mandleson and expect him to give a balanced view on proceedings as if he’s going to say “Gordon struggled tonight, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to pick David Cameron for my boot camp”. (Oh, wrong show again, sorry. This is all jolly confusing).
William Hague was paraded around the news channels as much as possible, presumably to buffer the clipped Southern Etonian tones of his boss by offering a Yorkshireman unafraid to use his flat vowels. Elsewhere in the Tory camp, George Osborne seemed to be under curfew, only appearing at strict, pre-ordained times, like for the Chancellor’s Debate on Channel 4. With Vince Cable walking the contest, it should have been made interesting by using Come Dine With Me as a template, later seeing Alistair Darling hold a placard in the back of a taxi with the number “5” on it. “I like Vince, I like Vince a lot. But he makes me look bad, so I’m giving him a five”.
The election seemed to have been based mostly around the economy, with the early jostling for position over the National Insurance rise a clear indicator of things to come. Having asked everyone to tighten their belts and get ready for tough times ahead, the Tories then promised to cut the increase, finding the £6bn in revenue somewhere else. Like round the back of David Cameron’s sofa.
“The Big Society” was Cameron’s main selling point to convince skeptical floating voters that his party really had changed. Although when Chris Grayling, Shadow Home Secretary, (later demoted to work under Iain Duncan-Smith in the Work & Pensions Department) announced he supported discrimination of gay B&B clients, Cameron presumably had to halt the printing of his new batch of leaflets to win the pink vote: “Hug a homo”.
As with much political language nowadays, much of the talk was gobbledegook. We had something called “progressive austerity” from the Liberal Democrats, while the Tories seemed hell-bent on peddling the “change” line, even if they couldn’t see the irony in a centuries-old party promising “change” despite being in power for more than half of the past two hundred years.
Then came the torpedo that was Gillian Duffy, a worried voter who confronted Gordon Brown on the Rochdale campaign trail. She was worried about the scale of immigration, answering her own question as she said “where are all these Eastern Europeans coming from?” Brown should have just said “Narnia, where do you think”, giving her a sarcastic look in the process. But as he entered his car he called her a “bigoted woman”, not knowing that a Sky News microphone was still attached to his lapel. It was a rookie mistake, one which should have been accompanied by a “wah, wah, wah” sound.
But Labour won Rochdale with an increased majority, which would be like Boris Johnson winning the mayoralty of Liverpool after saying the city had a “victim culture” or Osama Bin Laden pledging “death to the infidels” before taking Basildon from the sitting incumbent. I’m not sure what the people of Rochdale thought. Maybe they agreed with Brown, believing she was indeed a bigot. Or local businesses had such a boom in sales due to the media activity surrounding the incident that they decided to reward the party which bought so many media tourists to the town.
The TV debates were of national importance, with 9.4m viewers tuning in for the first ITV debate, hosted by Alistair Stewart, who seemed to have been inhibited by the spirit of Lassie, barking the leader’s names at short intervals and swiveling 360 degrees to find the camera every time a question ended. ITV bosses said there were no adverts during the show to demonstrate how seriously they take the debate, but it would be entirely inappropriate for all three leaders to say they are the best man to run the nation’s military, economy and infrastructure, before Barry Scott introduces a new Cillit Bang product.
Adam Boulton hosted the Sky News debate, looking as ever like the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine bought to life with the help of Roy Hattersley’s plastic surgeon. He was accused by some viewers of favouring Cameron and being harsh to Nick Clegg, with complaints lodged to Ofcom. But Adam Boulton batted away such suggestions of bias from the likes of Ed Balls, before losing his rag live on television a week after the election with Campbell, who had accused Boulton of being unhappy that Cameron hadn’t won power. Boulton started shouting “don’t tell me what I think” as Campbell won numerous brownie points by saying “calm down, Adam” before hilariously just repeating one word: “dignity, dignity, dignity”.
Boulton’s co-presenter then accused Campbell of being “provocative”, which is like saying the antelope in a wildlife film deserves to be ravished by a horde of angry lions because it looks so tasty. As the camera cut away from Boulton’s increasingly beetroot face, he was heard saying in an angry strop “I care about this country!”
What happened to Cleggmania? After winning the first leader’s debate, with one opinion putting him at 61 per-cent his increased significance was best shown by his stepped-up security, with men following him around, talking secretively into walkie-talkies. A satirical news show discussed how Clegg would be delighted that “people finally know who he is”. The Sun’s daily YouGov poll had the Liberal Democrats in first place for two consecutive days, an event so mind-blowing it still seems ludicrous.
Despite doing well in the remaining debates, Clegg was up against much of the media who derided his immigration policy, whilst The Daily Mail was busy calling Clegg a “Nazi”. Although when you consider the Mail’s support for Hitler during the 1930s, this is largely like the pot calling the kettle black. If Clegg won the keys to No.10, there would no doubt have been a Richard Littlejohn article expressing his joy that a far-right loon had won the highest office of power in the land. “Hurrah for the Cleggshirts!”
Despite the polls, which remained buoyant for the LibDems even after the novelty value had begun to wear off, their vote went up a measly 1 per-cent, and they actually lost a number of seats. This seemed so inconceivable that Jonathan Dimbleby, usually an unflappable figure, discarded the exit poll when it predicted the LibDems would lose seats. The exit poll proved to be eerily spot on.
As the coalition slowly came into being, there was a debate raging in the press at what a Liberal Democrat-Conservative government should be called. After Cameron and Clegg’s oddly homoerotic sideshow in the gardens of No.10 Downing Street, in which they set out their plans for government, some wanted a fusion of the PM and Deputy PM’s name. Cleggeron? Cameregg? Clemeron? Clameron? It was like seeing the world’s worst two Countdown players trying to make sense of a crap set of letters.
The Daily Mirror seems adamant that we are living in a “CON-DEMnation” while many simply describe it as a “Lib-Con” coalition. Others prefer variants like “Liberative”, “Conservocrats” or “Democons”. It shows you how much newspapers take politics seriously, when the principal argument is over what to call the coalition instead of the things it actually does. Furthermore, the only time Theresa May is mentioned is to slag off her choice of shoes, with little mention made of her role as Home Secretary and Equalities Minister. (Although with May’s record in anti-equality laws, we will stand a better of chance of getting equality under the stewardship of Pope Ratzinger.)
Ultimately what has characterised this election is a severe bout of tension. No-one really knew what was going to happen at any point and even when a coalition agreement was agreed, no-one knows how long it may last. How long is a piece of string?
This worried the elites, who all seemed to back the Tory bandwagon, only to see it swerve violently off-road. Not even Michael Caine and Cilla Black could save the Tories, despite showing how hip and down with the kids they have become. It was a fascinating and hugely enjoyable campaign. Even better, we may get to do it again within a year.
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This post was written by Chris Mason-Felsing