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Election Section Week 2

Dazed witnessed the onset of ‘Cleggmania’, was given a lift aboard George Galloway’s election bus, and travelled to the West Midlands to see some candidates doing things the old-fashioned way

This week, we have seen ‘Cleggmania’ thundering into everyday usage[1], which deserves a brief mention before we tell you about our time on the campaign trail. It is worth mentioning, because it came about with the revelation of a man on a television screen looking people in the eye (or appearing to look them in the eye when in fact he was staring into a camera), charmed them when he addressed questioners by their first names, and bedazzled cynics with scripted attacks on the “other two”. To make things even better, you could watch an on-screen “worm”, which monitored people’s instant reactions to it all, thereby removing any need to think for yourself because you could see exactly how you were meant to be thinking on a multi-coloured line graph. It was virtual-reality politics that took the election another step away from the people whose consent it seeks, by flying it one step higher into the stratosphere of mass marketing and digital communication, where success is determined by the ability to boil down any message into the simplest, most emotive terms possible.

After having our brains fried by the complexity of TV debating, the next day we were being ferried around East London in an open-top bus courtesy of controversial politician and cat impersonator George Galloway. It came as quite a surprise to see Mr Galloway in his constituency campaigning, although the weeks before elections is generally the most common time to spot them here rather than, say, leading a convoy to Gaza, fronting a radio show about football, appearing on Celebrity Big Brother, or whatever else some of the more elusive MPs choose to spend their five years in office doing. To make up for a dismally low attendance record in parliament, Mr Galloway decided to give his supporters their money’s worth by standing on an open-top bus every day for three weeks, being driven around the streets and instructing people to vote for him again, with the aid of some Glastonbury-sized speakers[2]. A Ray-Banned Mr Galloway didn’t get around to the ins-and-outs of why people should vote for him, because you don’t have time to say much more than “Vote Respect, vote George Galloway on May 6th,” before you’ve careered past a street full of constituents at 20mph.

After ending up quite a long way from home and partially deaf thanks to Mr Galloway, we made it up to Wolverhampton on Saturday to meet some of the lesser-known candidates doing the leg-work for their campaigns[3]. There is an apparent significance to the Conservatives fielding a non-white candidate in Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell’s old constituency, but this kind of symbolism is lost on Dazed. The man in question is Paul Uppal, who told us on the phone that he wouldn’t be out campaigning this Saturday. It was surprising, then, that one of the first things we saw after getting off the train was Mr Uppal sat in the town centre, handing out balloons to children and canvassing for votes among the Saturday shoppers. He had already lied to us, and we hadn’t met him yet. He didn’t seem to be drumming up much support, either. Wolverhampton local and Dazed tour guide Alex Oaten explained why: “He’s standing where all the grebos and morons hang out. They’re not going to vote. It just proves that he doesn’t really know the area.”

We encouraged some of the grebos and morons to approach their Tory candidate and put his people skills to the test. 19-year-old Sam (pictured) confronted Mr Uppal with her concerns about not being able to get a job, to which he replied with the standard Conservative policy of cutting taxes to encourage enterprise. If he was elected, he would give young people a free pitch at the market to sell things. His answer to the recession appears to be inspired by Steptoe and Son. He also looks like Apu from The Simpsons, and doesn’t like people who take notes while he’s speaking, as Dazed was. Like Emily Benn, whom we met last week, he seems comfortable talking to people who aren’t very inquisitive about how he can help them, because they just let him drone on, but you can see the shutters go up as soon as he is confronted by a notepad and pencil.

Two other people in the vicinity of Mr Uppal expressed their support for the British National Party (BNP). Alex Hirst, 19, said: “Britain should be right for the white people,” despite being of mixed race himself. Mr Uppal was disappointed by Alex’s party allegiance, and delivered a personal narrative that didn’t change his mind. Another guy, drinking cider, said: “I support the BNP because of all the immigrants coming in on the back of barges.” We left Mr Uppal with the grebos and morons, who would probably be more enthused by Enoch Powell than they were by him, for which you have to feel pretty sorry for him. But he did have one supporter, a 16-year-old kid who said that if he were eligible to vote, he would vote for Paul Uppal because he and his friends had gotten high off the helium balloons he was giving away.

Out in the suburbs, the incumbent Labour candidate Rob Marris was campaigning door-to-door, which apparently is how people used to do things before the internet enabled politicians to get their message out to people without actually speaking to or meeting them. It’s also a lot less arrogant than shouting ‘vote for me!’ from the top of a bus, and less cynical than handing out balloons to children. He has a great record as an MP, as he claims to have helped 24,000 of his constituents in the past five years through his casework. He’s a bit like the Jim’ll Fix It of politics; write to Rob Marris with a concern about, let’s say, damp in your council flat, and he seems to get it sorted out. It’s what politicians are supposed to do, especially backbenchers who aren’t in government and all that entails, such as taking the country to war or thinking up costly schemes to spy on people. He wandered from door-to-door in his shirtsleeves with a team of seven activists, making people aware that he is standing on May 6 and would appreciate their vote.

He stopped to get some free Indian food from a local supporter[4], and said that his campaign isn’t emphasising the fact that he was labelled a ‘saint’ by the Telegraph due to his meagre expenses claims. “I don’t think it’s a great basis for asking people to re-elect you, to say, ‘I didn’t have a moat.’ That’s a bit like saying ‘vote for me, I’m not a mass murderer.’” There is a fear, however, that some clean MPs will be thrown out with the dirty dish water because people just don’t bother to find out if their MP is good or not. A general apathy towards politics has been replaced by a widespread disdain for politicians, as people assume they’re all on the make. This means politicians really need to get out there and engage with voters face-to-face, and not just every five years when they’re up for election either. Marris’s campaigners claim they canvas all-year round, which seems rather unbelievable even by his standards, but quite a few of his constituents seem to know who he is and what he’s done for them.

“People are not as tribal about politics as they used to be. In some ways that’s a good thing because it means they think more before they vote. But am I going to do loads of strange things to get them involved in politics? No, I’m not,” he says. And that seems fair enough. If you’re willing to engage with him, he’s willing to engage with you. And not the phony kind of engagement that many modern politicians favour, ultimately because it makes their lives easier, like announcing what they’re doing on Twitter instead of door-knocking. What gets the best instant reaction on the “worm” from Dazed is politicians doing their job and interacting with people as humans, rather than shouting slogans at them from a bus or TV screen.

[1] As much as mephedrone was never referred to by real people as ‘meow meow’, ‘Cleggmania’ is a term entirely fabricated by media outlets, who relish the novelty of printing the phrase often, and can therefore proclaim its use to be widespread.
[2] It all had the feeling of a man financing his own delusions by taking a victory lap around his hometown after convincing himself that he had just won the World Cup, when in fact he had just beaten his cat at Subbuteo.
[3] Meeting the ‘Great Unwashed’ in the ‘real world’.
[4] We didn’t ask if he declared it in the Register of Members’ Interests, although he probably did.