In readiness for a stroll along the campaign trail, some Red Guitars.
One of the truly great indie bands and a favourite of the late John Peel. Check out the wonderful, updated site at www.redguitars.co.uk and, while there, the typically topical lyrics to Steeltown:
“It doesn’t matter how I vote, the same confederacy of fools get in.”
Which puts me in the mood for a bit of electoral mischief as I wander into the centre of Cottingham, maybe the biggest population centre in Haltemprice and Howden, currently held by former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.
It’s market day, the last one before the General Election, so the village should be buzzing with politicians and public, maybe even press and pollsters.
Having met Ricky Knight (Green, Bristol West) a couple of days earlier I’ve promised to pass on his best wishes to his colleague Shan Oakes. I’ll also thank her for the leaflet that came through my front door. Apart from Oakes, only the Tories have bothered to do that.
So I want to see the Lib Dem candidate to ask if a vote for him is really a vote for David Cameron, and the Labour candidate to ask whether it’s worth voting for him at all. Apparently we’ve also got the BNP and English Democrats, so I’ll ask them whether collectively they can compensate for the absence of a Monster Raving Loony.
Cottingham claims to be the biggest village in England. It’s got more than 17,000 people, three or four opticians, a few chemists and bakers, two butchers and too many charity shops. And nine pubs, most of which are not very good. The electoral profile is shaped more by the army of elderly from the various sheltered housing developments than the hordes of students from the University of Hull’s halls of residence.
The old dears shuffle with their bags on wheels between the Sense, Red Cross, Oxfam, Dove House Hospice and British Heart Foundation shops, all the time vulnerable to a smarmy, smiling candidate armed with a wet kiss. If the students have registered to vote it’s either not for this constituency or it’s from a long forgotten address that they haven’t occupied for months.
Early signs are promising. Remember the old adage: “Where there’s a TV camera there’s a politician.”
Walk past the fruit and veg stall, the place selling loads of stuff for old ladies’ cats, the lady with a table creaking under the weight of some rather substantial cakes and pies, the take-away food trailer and at last there’s the first sign of a candidate.
A Green Party placard is propped against a tree. And there, clutching a mug of tea and chatting to someone in the bus shelter, is Shan Oakes.
As I pass on the message from Ricky Knight, the only politician in the village is distracted. She’s spotted the TV crew and is off, only to return moments later: “It’s the weather girl from the local BBC. They’re asking people whether they’ll vote if it rains on election day.”
We discuss, briefly, the merits of engaging in debate with a TV weather girl. Where is Lembit Opik when you really need him?
Then I ask what’s happened to the other candidates. Not surprisingly Oakes doesn’t really care. It’s a nice day and she’s got the market crowd to herself.
David Davis though is known for avoiding the competition. Devious or just serial scaredy-cat? If you find him please ask him.
In 2008, when he prompted a by-election over not having a big enough milk monitor’s badge, Davis reportedly declined the challenge of addressing a youth assembly alongside the Greens, who were his closest rivals in a field of 26 shorn of Lib Dem and Labour but comprising everything else from racists to Elvis impersonators, Miss Great Britain and David Icke. Then he tiptoed off and organised his own event.
During this campaign he’s said to have ducked out of a hustings organised by two vicars, claimed he hadn’t been invited in the first place, and then prodded the preachers as if to emphasise that his boss is bigger than theirs. I’d wanted to ask David Davis about all this but he was nowhere to be found.
Maybe his former service with the Territorial Army SAS enables him to sneak into the constituency undercover, kiss a few pensioners and sneak out again. Or maybe SAS means he only works on Saturdays and Sundays.
A plummy adolescent with a blue rosette sought permission for Davis to visit one of the local pubs last week, though not of course before checking there was absolutely no danger of falling into a debate with another candidate.
The licensee declined, but later temporarily lifted the ban on political discussions to consider the trustworthiness of politicians against…
Vicars: “Well obviously a vicar is much more likely to tell the truth.”
Burglars: “They do say there’s honesty among thieves.”
Terrorists: “At least most of them have the courage of their convictions.”
It was the former Prime Minister John Major who told the House of Commons during the 1990s that he was “putting an end to the ‘something for nothing’ society.” In doing so he was supporting the expansion of the “what’s in it for me” society.
Now the Tories are pinning their hopes on people backing their “Big Society.” Round here it looks more like a “Big Secret Society.”