I’ve been leafing throught the combined pile of Euro- and local election leaflets slowly building up on the windowsill. Perhaps on the back of early poliing, the Greens seem to be nervous about losing their one Euro MP in the South East of England, although the latest polling suggests a surge in their vote on the back of public disgust about mainstream parties’ MPs’ dubious expenses claims.
The leaflet of the pro-withdrawal from the EU UK Independence Party – now predicted to repeat their impressive 16% national poll share in 2004 and seemingly the second party in this part of the world – features Winston Churchill, as does a UKIP billboard outside the local hypermarket. Odd, as Churchill was an early advocate of European union. The far right British National Party goes for a similar leitmotif. Its leaflet has with a picture of a Spitfire and some stuff about a new Battle of Britain and a bloke dressed in a doctor’s white coat telling us that immigrants are wrecking the National Health Service. Again odd, as the NHS is more or less kept afloat with immigrant label and the BNP’s leaders all cut their political teeth of neo-Nazism and would probably have been locked up during the real Battle of Britain. This, of course, doesn’t matter a jot, as they they are tapping into something else: a Churchillianism’ that less historical fact is a distinct brand English/British nationalism that permeates the national culture – ably analysed by Anthony Barnett way back in the 1980s in Iron Britannia.
However, the BNP leaflet does have a certain political sophistication, recycling Gordon Brown’s ill considered ‘British jobs, for British workers’ tag and – in trying to project the party as a ‘normal’ party just like the others – going in for some classic ‘dog whistle’ politics. Everyone knows the the party is xenophobic and racist, so there’s absolutely no need to upset us by to mentioning it, is there?
This alas eludes the Liberal Democrat leaflet for the local elections which follows a mind numbing and predictable ‘pavement politics formula, which is almost a parody of itself: a dodgy bat chart claiming the Lib Dems are breathing down the necks of the Tories plus some photos of local Lib Dem candidates posing various parts of the town to convince us they have been campaigning on every conceivable issue and project in the community backed up by some scepticism-inspiring claims to have personally brought about every minor bit of tree planting and road resurfacing in the locality that has gone on in the last six months.
The local Tories deliver an almost identical leaflet the next day which is in colour and ever so slightly more convincing as they do actually run the council. Indeed, sensationally, I am canvassed by the local Tories the next day when putting out the recycling , having mistaken their balding clipboard-in-hand activist for a gas meter reader and not ducked into the house and returned to my exam marking quickly enough. I tell him I never vote Conservative. “That’s fine” he says amiably and ticks me off his list.