Stood in Bradford Brewery surrounded by politicos of every hue, an odd feeling of being duped overtook me. Maybe it was because I’d just, in a small way, pushed myself into the politics of Bradford West during a campaign that was easily one of the dirtiest, meanest, vilest contests in recent history; maybe it was because of the frenzied attack of that campaign that the participants were so glad it was over; maybe it’s because I’d wolfed down a couple of the brewery’s delicious ales a little too quickly. Whatever the reason, I felt like a member of the audience who had willingly suspended disbelief but is confronted with the actors in the bar after the show and is unable to comprehend that it was all just a show; or, perhaps, the ‘victim’ of one of those hidden camera shows who, to the delight of the audience, is taken further and further into the extremities of farce only, at the last moment, for a mask to be lifted, the truth revealed, and, cue microphone, hilarity to ensue.
What had hoodwinked me? Politics. Like, I suppose, it does most of us every 5 years.
Forget the Battle of Bradford West for a second and take a look at the national picture. For months – months – the Tories had been shouting that Labour would ruin the economic recovery, bring the country to its knees, move the country towards a leftist, neo-Marxist position (OK, maybe that was just the Daily Mail), open the borders to allow anyone in and, generally, turn the whole shebang into a dog eared, pig’s breakfast within seconds of Milliband entering Downing Street. On the other hand, Labour said the Tories would sell the NHS, sell education, sell, well, everything, cut social security (fuck ‘welfare’, let’s call it what it is), end human rights, punish the poor for being poor whilst rewarding the rich for giving them lots of money to win an election and, in general, turn the whole shebang into a dog eared, pig’s breakfast within seconds of Cameron re-entering Downing Street.
The right-wing Tory press (ie most of it) screamed about Red Ed’s inability to eat, think, count, write or breathe (without the permission of the unions). The left-wing press, such as it is (ie the Daily Mirror, Polly Toynbee, Deborah Orr and Owen Jones), screamed incandescently about inequality, injustice and income. From “Save our Bacon” and “save us from Red Ed” to “Five more damned years”, Osbourne’s “bone-chilling” vision of a “brutish future” and “where will your children live?”, this was not just a competition, this was a battle for the economy, morality and spirituality of our nation. The left was so wrong, its winning would be the death knell of any form of prosperity ever by anyone and we would live cold, hungry and shivering. The right was so wrong that the poor, elderly and infirm would be immediately be pushed on to the streets and left to rot.
So, on the back of this, I went to the pub to meet a few people I’d been tweeting with about the election but, as we’re in Bradford, mainly about George Galloway. At the pub were some of the vanquished. Not Galloway – though he would, I have been assured, have been welcomed. Naz Shah didn’t make it down but, I would imagine, there was probably a media person or two to speak to about her victory. Putting media before constituents was the downfall of the last chap so I’m sure she won’t make the mistake again, but this once could be explained away easily enough.
George Grant – looking, sounding and acting every inch the Tory (and there are quite a few inches to him) – beamed, grinned, shook hands and was enjoying the freedom of not being on the campaign trail. He was, much as I and most others expected him to be, pleasant, entertaining, thoughtful and a decent enough bloke to have a pint with (until he started on the whiskey sodas – yes… in a brewery!). Celia Hickson, the Green candidate, was chatty, smiley, lovely and everyone’s friend. Harry Bootha, UKIP’s candate, shook everyone by the hand, chatted pleasantly and seemed as at home in the Brewery as he did at the hustings – meaning he said little of substance but you were jolly glad he was there. Alun Griffiths (LD) was working and had said he’d come later; James Kirkaldy (independent) didn’t make it; and the Eng Nat was, well, who gives a fuck?
Also around were Labour & Tory councilors, including Simon Cooke (Cullingworth) who I finally got to meet, however fleetingly, in person; defeated local candidates, including Dave Ford, who I disappointingly didn’t get to meet; activists and supporters from all the parties; and anti-Gallowayers, like me. Any way, suffice it to say, it was a group which spanned the political divide: from the right of Tory & UKIP to the left of Labour and Green, all were present. And they got on brilliantly. The bastards.
George Grant did so well in his campaign that, possibly, another party will be writing him a letter of recommendation. Celia Hickson – petite, delightful, lovely – was taken warmly and, in an act of camaraderie, ardently embraced by George Grant – tall, posh, and no-less lovely. Bastards! There was little these two agreed on in the campaign: from Grant being a A-bomb-addicted, war-mongering, poor-bashing Fascist to Hickson being a tree-hugging, economically-incontinent, give-our-nation-to-the-Commies hippy, these two were diametrically opposite. And here they were, buying each other drinks, sharing jokes about the campaign and reminiscing about hustings past. Bastards!
They told us to hate the other when, in the end, they get on well enough. Bastards!
This disparity was shown in all its vulgarity a couple of times: Simon Cooke and friends, in their Conservative rosettes, were briefly but loudly accosted by a passing drinker; another drinker seemed about to come to blows with Harry Bootha over UKIP’s (in the drinker’s eyes) racist policies. The public cared more, were more outraged, were more passionate about the differences in policy and their reaction showed the policies meant more to them than the politicians. I saw myself in those drinkers. I didn’t call Simon Cooke a c*** – though, in my head in front of Twitter, I probably have. I wasn’t the guy threatening Harry Bootha and his “racist” party – in fact, I stood between the two when, were it Nutall or Farridge and on the TV and not my local, I’d probably have been happy to see them decked. People don’t behave like this generally in Bradford’s independent quarter – it was politics that had brought out the worst in us.
Hearing the hype, listening to the news, reading the papers, I’m one of those that leaning towards the Tories being poor-baiting fascists and you might be one of those who believe Labour are the commies who let all the paedos into the country. In reality, they’re two sides of the same coin… and it’s a very thin coin used to buy our votes.
I saw then that politics, really, is just a con. The politicians whip us up into a frenzy, promising the Earth if we vote for them and hell on Earth if we don’t. But, at the end, they all go to the same pub, slap each other on the back and buy each other a drink – like they’ve just played a game of 5-a-side on the rec ground: it was loud, passionate, meaningful during the match but, in the end, counts for nothing.
So, who’s to blame? Is it the politicians for whipping up our fears, the media for whipping up our hate or us for believing that they believe what they say and that our vote makes a difference?
At the end of the day, when all the votes were counted, the politicians politely disagreed on a few things, and positively agreed on most things, including that a) the world isn’t going to end because of an election and b) George Galloway is a twat.
Galloway had gone and it should have been an unadulterated happy moment, even if Cameron was going back to number 10. It wasn’t: the curtain had been lifted; the magician had slipped and shown me the trick. The hate and the hubris were just for my benefit and I felt duped I’d cared about the outcome of the election thinking it was a crusade for the just, not a theatrical bun fight.
But I bet I’ll get taken in again in 5 years’ time.