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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Liberalism and Leyton Marsh

Is it Leyton Marsh or Leyton Marshes? It seems to be known as both. So, I have no idea what stance, if any, has been taken by Liberal Democrats in Hackney regarding Olympic construction on Leyton Marsh(es) ( I write about this as myself and not as a Lib Dem. I am not a fan of anything that involves the Occupy movement. I understand that the Olympics will bring great pleasure to millions of people and will doubtless be a great success. Working in the past for a utility company, I often sought planning permission to do things on green spaces, often offering the same promises on improvements and restoration that the ODA is now offering. I'm sure it's all true. But 'my' applications were for essential projects to prevent people's homes being flooded with sewage. The Leyton Marsh scheme is for an inessential sporting bonanza from which a few people will make a lot of money (and from which millions more will derive enormous pleasure).

For how many centuries have local people been tending and enjoying these marshes? And now a bunch of people like me descend and tell them that the site is to be 'developed' (temporarily or otherwise) and that it will jolly well be better afterwards and so people must accept this.

And as a liberal, that makes me think that, actually, people don't always want all this stuff like the Olympics done to them and for them. Sometimes people just want to be left alone to get on with it, the 'it' in question often including uninterrupted enjoyment of ancient open spaces.

Do improvements always actually improve things? I don't doubt the veracity of what the ODA says about this site. But, a generation or two ago, people like me, and various well-intentioned public bodies, sincerely told slum-dwellers that they'd be better off if we demolished their houses and moved them into tower-blocks. Were we right? That's why I don't really like any project (however well-run and however well-meaning) that requires people to move house, etc, for the greater good of society.

It is, of course, too late to oppose the Olympics, which will, I imagine, be a great success, yawn. To oppose it would, in any case, be an affectation, like lighting up on No Smoking Day, or pretending not to have heard of Simon Cowell. In the mid-noughties, I stood with other grinning gizmos for group photos demonstrating London Lib Dems' support for London's bid to host the Olympics. Why do Liberal Democrats imagine that a photo of a group of people smiling and waving is in any way a vote-winner? The mind boggles. Loads of people will enjoy the Olympics and my moaning about it will merely poop the party, so what's the point?

London's Mayor acknowledges this in his line about securing the "the best-value possible Olympics for London" - supporting the Games while also reaching out to those people who are sceptical, many of whom are worried about the Games' financial cost and many of whom vote Tory. This line appeared in the Conservatives' London Mayoral Election Broadcast on television yesterday. It pains me to say it, but it was a well-made broadcast that set out very simply what the Mayor considers himself (rightly or wrongly) to have achieved since 2008, also outlining what he imagines that he might be able to do in the next four years if he is sadly re-elected (an outcome that I do not favour, as I want Brian Paddick to win).

The broadcast was slow and unimaginative enough to appeal to precisely the sort of people who might actually spend five minutes watching a Party Election Broadcast; it made no effort to appeal to that majority of people who would never watch such a broadcast in the first place. It is that sort of unimaginative approach that, you know, actually won the Conservatives the 2008 London mayoral election, with my party last having won an equivalent London election in 1904.

As the third party in a two-party system, Lib Dems often feel the need to undertake 'imaginative' campaigning in order to get media attention. Hence, in previous London mayoral elections, candidates photographed in motorcycling leathers, candidates walking down every London high street in yellow dock martins, and candidates coming either a poor third or fourth. And this with excellent candidates, all three of whom would have made an excellent mayor, as Brian Paddick will continue to demonstrate over the next few weeks.

But what do I know? I speak as the man who imagined that a photograph of a past mayoral candidate in Bloom's Restaurant on the Golders Green Road would, in and of itself, win the votes of readers of the Jewish faith press - why? OK, that isn't all that I've ever contributed, and some of my ideas have been more substantial than that, but it shows that I am as prone as anyone to suggesting stunts and photo-opportunities.

On second thoughts, one such stunt - involving a senior Lib Dem MP going out on the pitch at half-time with the owner of a local football club - once helped us to win a local council by-election. So stunts do sometimes work, as long as they are actually about something, rather than being purely symbolic - they have to have an underlying message if they are not to be a patronising, failed attempt to engage with the masses. Fortunately, the Paddick campaign has avoided such stunts, focusing instead on what is the central question in any election campaign: "So, what would you lot do if you lot got in, then?" One Lib Dem once told me that she had never been asked such a question and that I was completely wrong on this. Okay...

It is that question that Boris Johnson's broadcast very simply answers; the Conservatives' willingness to answer 'the question' explains why they do quite often unfortunately win a few of these election thingies (although it is this month twenty years - twenty years! - since the Tories last actually managed to win a General Election outright, so let's not stretch that point too far. By the way, when did the Republicans last win an election to succeed a Democratic President, while also being ahead in the popular vote? It was 1980, which strikes me as being quite a long time ago).

As a "Liberal Democrat blogger", I would get drummed out of the Brownies if I actually linked to a Conservative Party broadcast in the middle of an election campaign, so I shall not do so. Instead, here is a video that I found on Brian Paddick's website: or maybe if you are not reading this on a mobile). "Well," I thought, when I saw this video. "Well, well, well." Since it is out there, it is obviously intended to be distributed, so I am sharing it with you here, so that you too can watch it and - well. What can I say in response to this video? "Vote Liberal Democrat", I suppose.

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