By 'Eck

by Quinn

Meanwhile, here in Cheadle, the by-election campaign is drawing to a close. I have survived it all fairly unscathed, having fortuitously avoided Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy on their sojourns to these parts. The nearest I have got to the party machines has been studying the ground as I walked past Conservative candidate (and former MP) Stephen Day in Massie Street car park, and having to cross the High Street while pushing my son in his pushchair because Liberal Democrat Mark Hunter and his entourage were blocking the pavement outside Hampson’s bakers. Thanks.

We have been fairly inundated with leaflets, however, up to five a day, including one from Les Leggett of Veritas (currently, unbelievably, having their own leadership squabble (via NoseMonkey)) and one from John Allman of Alliance For Change (who say they put “human rights, dignity and freedoms first”, which is nice of them). What of the three main parties, though? Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrote that the Conservatives were concentrating of this issue of whether the Lib Dem candidate was an outsider, and they have continued in this vein. I don’t know if they are incredibly insular or simply trying to deceive the electorate, but Marple, where Mark Hunter lives, is local enough for me (although I think the Stephen Day tag-line of “Living Here”, based on the Lib Dem slogan “Winning Here” is quite clever).

One leaflet from the Tories lists some “Lib Dem council failures”; a fair point as Mark Hunter is leader of the council. The three specific failures the Conservatives charge the Liberal Democrats with are

1.Schools Closed
2.Council Tax Rises
3.Pavement Disgrace

Pavement disgrace? And they say the great ideological battles have all been fought out! It’s not exactly “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” is it? But the state of the pavements is brought up again and again in the Conservative leaflets, even quoting “one pensioner from Gatley” as saying

The pavements are a death trap and if you survive them then the traffic has to be seen to be believed, it seems to have got worse in the last four years. On top of all this the Council Tax seems to go up and up under this Lib Dem Council.

Surprised she didn’t mention that the weather has been crap since we last had a Tory MP. The Conservative leaflets have been almost entirely negative and nasty, making some dubious claims (that Cheadle Hulme police station was closed “as a consequence” of council cuts in funding to the police authority, when it was actually closed because a new police station was opened at Cheadle Heath; that to tackle that “horrendous traffic” the Lib Dem council could introduce congestion charging that could cost an extra £2000 a year) and some horrible tactics (associating the “Shocking Crime record of Mark Hunter”, because of the council’s record on issuing ASBO’s, with a Stockport Express headline “Police Warning After Rape – woman attacked in Cheadle Hulme)”.

We have only received a few Labour leaflets; the first also concentrated on the ASBO issue, the front page including a four paragraph passage from candidate Martin Miller calling for the council to make more use of the legislation the Labour government has introduced. It seems this passage was so good that it was repeated in full on the reverse…and that was about all that leaflet said. Since then Labour have also joined in with the negative campaigning, calling Mark Hunter “unfit to be our MP” and “Wanted for Crimes Against Cheadle”, even that he is a “Grave Wrecker?” as he was council leader during the “Stockport cemeteries scandal” ( a scandal that I confess has passed me by; there’s nothing on Wikipedia). Stephen Day meanwhile escaped unscathed, which seems odd for those like me who still see politics largely in terms of being for or against the Conservatives (even if I acknowledge how silly it is to hold such a position).

The Liberal Democrats have issued by far the most leaflets, as is usually the case. They started off being more positive, concentrating on their own policies rather than just slagging off the opposition, but recently they have been issuing leaflets stating “Residents blast Tory ‘tactics’” as “Stephen Day’s Tories deployed negative American style campaign tactics”; which is, of course, just a negative campaign tactic itself. Some of the Lib Dem attacks seem fair enough – for example pointing out that Mark Hunter won the election in his council ward, rather than coming third as the Conservatives stated – but overall it is sad that they have appeared unable to just rise above it. The low point for me was when we received a letter from Clive Calton, widower of former MP Patsy Calton, urging support for Mark Hunter; I guess he is entitled – and may feel obliged – to get involved, but that left a pretty bad taste in the mouth.

I generally vote Liberal Democrat out of instinct, and I will do so again; whatever my criticisms of their campaign they are nothing compared to the Conservatives’ tactics. The shame is that during the years that Stephen Day was our MP, I generally though well of him. I figured if you had to have a Tory MP then he wasn’t all that bad; but I have changed my mind now. I want him to lose tomorrow, because of his shabby campaign that the Lib Dems and Labour seem to have responded to.

Most of all, though, I will be glad when it is all over. Today I got a letter from Charles Kennedy saying “You’re no doubt fed up with all the leaflets about the by-election following the tragic death of Patsy Calton six weeks ago”. You’re not wrong, Charlie; spot on.

Update 15/7/05: Lib Dems win Cheadle by-election