As is so often the case, it’s the little things one should watch out for. The nature and effect of seemingly insignificant or passing incidents can so often provide a more accurate insight into the political topography of any country than the sweeping op-eds of the mainstream press.
A good example is provided by Stephen Pollard who has just attended a Conference of Head Teachers in Brighton:
I have seen no more apposite comment on the state of the Conservative Party than this: one of the speakers this year was Damian Green, Shadow Education Secretary. Not only was he relegated to one of the break-out sessions; there were just 19 people present – out of some 300 – at his talk. Even at a meeting of public school heads, most of whom one might reasonably assume are Conservatives, almost no one gives a damn what he or his party thinks.
This is exactly the kind of nugget that speaks volumes about the reality of life on the nitty-gritty ground and yet is not controversial or glamourous enough to inspire editorial column inches. And, in response, I can only agree with Stephen. No-one giving a damn is quite the most damning indictment of the British Conservative Party. Contempt may be damaging but indifference is surely the killer.
Whilst the great and the good still ruminate about the future of the Conservatives in the broadsheet stratosphere, down on planet Earth they are in danger of dropping off the political radar screen.
A more tangible examination is 24 hours away. Tomorrow, May 1st, Britain goes to the voting booths in nationwide Local Council elections. Ostensibly, this is all about local issues such garbage collection, street lighting, libraries and the such. No ‘big policy’ stuff. Still no-one seriously believes that it is not, at least to some degree, a reflection of political support at the macro level as well.
The Labour Party is anxious to see if they benefit from ‘Baghdad bounce’ or ‘Baghdad backlash’ and, realistically, they will lose some seats but probably not enough to seriously dent them. Likewise, the Conservatives will pick up some seats but probably not the several hundred they need to fix the impression in their own minds, as well as everybody else’s, that they are a serious party of opposition.
In other words, business as usual. Except for angry, buzzing little fly-in-the-ointment; the British National Party. Although still a very marginal movement the fact remains that they have been doing alarmingly well in local and mayoral elections across the North of England and the Midlands, thus proving that their plain-talking, tub-thumping brand of whites-only socialism has a certain resonance in the working class heartlands where the ‘cafe latte elitism’ of New Labour is the source of growing irritation and disillusionment.
Tomorrow, the BNP will be fielding a record number of candidates; over 200. They are full of beans and righteous froth and earnestly believe that they are on the verge of some sort of breakthrough. I think that is probably and overstatement but I am disinclined to bet against them doing well.
Come the end of the week, it will still be ‘politics as usual’ but perhaps the wearyingly familiar mummery of the settled consensus will be underscored by the distracting backbeat of a whole host of panic pulses.