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UK General Election 2010: the chicken and the Clegg

May 6, 2010

Avian: David Cameron with his feathered nemesis from The Daily Mirror (left); available: Nick Clegg (right) open for business – but with whom?

My name’s George, and I’m a political junkie. There, I’ve admitted it. Truth be told, though, I tend to oscillate between finding the whole Westminster farago fascinating and finding it a pathetic nonsense that’s merely all about power-play. And, let’s face the facts, the seeming¬† failure of Gordon Brown’s tenure as Chancellor under Blair and his time as PM at the head of a knackered government, the little difference, when you boil down to it, there seems to be between Labour and David Cameron’s Tories, and the expenses crisis that seems to have eroded trust among the electorate in politicians all combined and pointed to a fairly unwelcome, rather dull and uneventful election campaign. And now, with just hours to go until the big vote, is that what we’ve had?

Is it eccers like. This general election campaign has been the most interesting and unpredictable since 1997 when smiley Tony’s New Labour made mincemeat of Major’s Tories on a daily basis and swept to a sensational victory. Since then we’ve had two non-event elections that saw Blair easily returned and now we’re left where we are in 2010. It’s a choice between Big Gord and his reddish troops, Cameron the toff and his blue charlies or Nick Clegg’s yellow Lib Dems. Wait a tick, Nick Clegg, who he?

Shock horror: the moment Gillian Duffy discovered Gordon Brown’s slip of the tongue really has been this campaign’s second biggest talking point

Yes, that would have been a reasonable question for many folks a month ago, but now The Cleggster is more instantly recognisable to students than the cast members of Glee and a more discussed figure in Middle-England than either Jonathan Ross or Russell Brand. It was, of course, the first leadership debate what done it (which was branded in capitals by broadcaster ITV as The First Leadership Debate, just in case you weren’t sure whether Alistair Stewart and co. had got there first). Standing on a set that oddly but rather comfortingly looked like it belonged to a 1980s sports show, Clegg appeared less nervous than his two foes and spoke clearly, politely and emitted doses of charm and charisma. And, literally overnight, he was a national superstar (frankly, the fact he wasn’t already, given he’s the leader of the ‘third party’, must say something about this country). His approval ratings following his hour-and-a-half in the primetime telly limelight soared – some say it proved he was the most popular leader since Churchill (impressive considering he’s not even Prime Minister) – and the Lib Dems spread their wings and set flight like liberated liberal free-birds.

It’s a good question, though, whether ‘Cleggmania’ has actually been real or whether he’ll be remembered, reminsicent of winter 1988, as an Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards-style comfortable curiosity but ultimately glorious loser. Yup, he’s likeable, sort of handsome, a bit like a cuddly bank manager, so he’s clearly not Barack Obama – he’s as British as a cup of tea. However, for us over here at least, he’s stolen Cameron’s thunder by seeming to represent genuine political change. At least, among some. Or many. The truth is that with this election nobody really knows.

The Lib Dems’ surge in the polls has been so surprising, it’s incredibly difficult to predict what will happen on Friday – or perhaps even in the days following that. Now, 12 days after the first debate – a long, long time in politics; an eternity in an election campaign – the third party’s position in the polls is standing pretty firm. Are we heading for a hung parliament then? Or a minority government? Or a Lab-Lib coalition? Or even a Con-Lib coalition? I have my own thoughts, but considering I could be completely wrong don’t want to set myself up for a fall – or tempt fate – by predicting anything. Talk about excitement, this is genuinely the power of democracy at work here – or at least it’s potential power. Because what actually matters, of course, is what happens at the polling stations up and down the country today.

Has the balloon gone up?: Big Gord looks down in the mouth, but after the last three years amazingly he may not yet be down and out

Mind you, as is always the case when it comes to politics, this campaign hasn’t been without its distasteful moments. Nobody will forget – the right-wing press certainly won’t allow you to – Brown’s blunder in branding a lifelong Labour voter from Rochdale a ‘bigot’. Frankly, methinks he was really searching for an appropriate word with which to describe her and found the worst possible one instead. I mean, let’s be grown up about it, politicians make the same unseemly mistakes we all make; the real big mistake he made was forgetting he was still wearing a radio mic. Talking of being grown up, or rather being the opposite, there’s also the scrap going on down in Barking between Labour, the Lib Dems and those genuine bigots the BNP. Indeed, the scrap became real today as the London campaign manager of the country’s most xenophobic, nay most racist, party was caught on film in fisticuffs with a group of Asian youths. The BNP’s popularity in that particular constituency makes me genuinely uneasy and whoever gets in – or back in – to Downing Street surely, with the rest of society, has to address the worrying flirtation with right-wing extreme politics some of us seem happy dabbling with.

And, on a lighter yet unquestionably unseemly note, this election has also made us endure the sight of Peter Mandelson ballroom dancing with a pensioner. Didn’t see it? Trust me, you lucked out there. All the same though, for me, it’s been a campaign that’s felt, for a change, like it’s flown by, rather than gone on week after week. And it’s strange that, given that unlike the last US Presidential election, the ‘Net hasn’t played a very big role in events, and probably thanks to the domination of the three debates it’s felt far more telly-dependent, retro and a bit end-of-the-pier-like tacky than modern and swish.

Yup, I’ve enjoyed it, but I appreciate few of you out there may be with me on that one. In which case, maybe the best sign-off I can give here is to reaffirm the point that, despite whatever you think of ’em, in the end it’s all about strolling down to the polling station today and putting an ‘x’ next to one of the politicians’ names. After all, having to endure/ enjoy the campaign as we all have for the last month or so, if we don’t do that, what’s been the point of any of it…?

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