Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Vote Rod!


It suddenly occurred to me that I need to stop dressing like a radical lesbian bag lady if I am going to ingratiate myself with the voters in the constituency in which I am, perhaps unwisely, standing for the SDP. ‘Always look better than them’ is the injunction made by Steve Martin in the underrated film Leap of Faith: he plays a charlatan evangelistic preacher, which is not a million miles away from standing for parliament, although probably rather more fun.

Logically, you might assume that as far as the polls are concerned, Labour’s lead can only decrease

It’s a tall order – at least five people in my Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are lithe and under the age of 50. I suppose I had better stop comparing myself to a radical lesbian bag lady as well, just to forestall any offence. But then there is literally no simile or metaphor to describe my appearance which would not offend somebody somewhere. I resemble a sack of dead cats? Nope. ‘I am not very well turned out’ is about all one is left with.

That is the problem with politics – it dredges the colour and fun from our lives and imposes in its place lies and insincerities and cant and a deadened language – just read the party manifestos when they come out. That was cant by the way – heaven forefend, etc. So, no jokes, no allusions, no adjectives which might be misconstrued by an idiot, nothing but corporate bollocks. My next bunch of days will be consumed by the absurd bureaucratic rigmarole of filling in official forms to prove that I exist and getting the necessary signatures that allow me to stand, and queuing at the local council office for validation, unless I can get my agent, Kev, to do it for me. That, by the way, is the full extent of my team – me’n’Kev. I bet Westminster is quaking in its collective kitten heels.

If it is not quaking, then it is perhaps marching with quiet determination towards the booby-hatch, certainly on the Conservative side of the divide. I’m sure the notion of reinstating national service will commend itself to three or four hundred Reform supporters who were in favour of the Enclosures Act and supported the Corn Laws. But what was it supposed to signal to the rest of the population, bunged into the mix after CCO seemingly spent a night on the piss?

It’s not so much that I disagree with the idea – it’s more the case that in its sudden arrival from nowhere at all it had about it all the rigour and conviction of a Labour frontbencher insisting that they were not going to raise taxes. Rishi Sunak had already enraged his party by calling the election when nobody was ready for it; now he left them rolling about with laughter. What’s next, capital punishment? He had made the decision of 4 July, I have been told, because he considered that his party was ‘ungovernable’, which I suspect is close to the truth, although it shows scant confidence in his own abilities that he would consider it more ungovernable the longer he remained in office.

But there may be a certain political sense in what he has done and, unlike those Tory MPs streaming for the exit with their lifejackets in their paws, I do not consider that this election is unsalvageable from a Conservative point of view. I am not suggesting that they might actually win – that would be going too far. But logically you might assume that as far as the opinion polls are concerned, Labour’s lead can only decrease – and the question then becomes how far it might decrease.

‘Can you tell me what the money will be used for?’

The first thing the early election did was scupper Reform. Richard Tice’s party had big ambitions for this election – rightly so, considering their impressive polling. More defections, plus the undoubted bonus of having Nigel Farage wading back in to stand again – if that had been allowed to happen, the Reform vote might have mortally wounded the Conservatives. But now they do not have an adequate time to prepare, they are not awash with money, the Farage business isn’t going to happen and already their vote is slipping a little in the polls.

It was ever the case that Reform would not poll anywhere nearly as high in an actual election as their figures suggest – at Rochdale, for example, they polled just over 6 per cent. But an early election suggests that even 6 per cent may be a fairly large overestimate. Without the hoop-de-doodle planned by the party and the swell of publicity, you might expect an awful lot of Reform votes to return to the Tories. How many is the question that may determine whether we do indeed see a Labour landslide or instead the possibility of a hung parliament.

Next, Labour’s approach to the election has been vacuous and disingenuous and this has been registering with the voters. On Question Time last week, Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, was flayed alive by a Labour voter in the audience who berated her for failing to answer any question she had been asked. Her interlocutor was quite right and drew a warm round of applause from the audience. If the Labour strategy of saying absolutely nothing – in order not to frighten, offend or be held hostage to any promise – remains in place for the duration of this contest then the party will not commend itself to the voters.

Labour has other serious problems too, which I’ve detailed before. It is at grave risk of losing seats in constituencies where the proportion of Muslim voters is above 30 per cent – there are about 20 of these. Labour has votes to lose to the non-Muslim left, as well – especially to the Greens among the younger voters. In short, the polls look likely to narrow, and the more they do so, the greater an impetus builds for the government. It’s not quite over yet.