It’s a bittersweet day for me today. I’m off to David Cameron’s constituency of Witney, to attend a key speech. I have a book deadline, so will be writing in the back of the cab. In the morning I’ll be doing the laundry and getting the children off to school; my eldest needs to do his reading practice. All in all, for a candidate it’s just another Thursday.
It might have been different. Wednesday night, when I’m writing this, might have been the most sleepless since the night before my wedding day. We would have started with a dawn raid in the constituency, been out knocking up pledges all day long, talking to tellers, co-ordinating an election day campaign. By the end of the day, my life might have changed; as a Tory PPC in a marginal seat, I might have been elected to Parliament.
On Yellow Saturday (it seems like yesterday, doesn’t it?) I was election planning all day long with my very able young agent. We were on the phone to each other planning an election event when the texts started coming into the Blackberry – from Tim, from my Campaign Director, my regional director, various friends. As you were. Brown’s bottled it.
My reaction at the time was elation. It was such an obvious political misstep. Every candidate I knew had come to the conclusion that Brown did not want to fight, but had painted himself into a corner; how could any politician take such a hit to their credibility? And yet, rather than face the music in the marginals, Corby being one, that was exactly what Brown chose to do. We stopped planning; we started to stand the activists down. I was thrilled to realise I had a few more months to deliver my book, and wouldn’t have to fight an election in half term.
That was the first reaction. But not the last. Over the subsequent weeks, a tremendous disappointment has set in. My grandmother lived in David Cameron’s constituency and I spent long periods of my childhood there; it’s one of my favourite places in the world. But I would so much rather have been spending today in Corby.
Why the disappointment? Principally, I think, it has sunk in that we have two, possibly two and a half, more years of this. Two more years of immigration chaos. Two more years of total fiscal incompetence, of the sort that has seen the recent U-turn on CGT. Two more years of the Tories setting the agenda for a Labour government that can only implement it poorly; IHT, a border police force. Two more years of a politicised and toothless police force, which is a national scandal I will talk about in a future column and a live issue in Northants. Two more years of public service strikes. Two more years to see Lord Darzi, Labour’s health minister’s, promise come true – “The age of the district general hospital is over”. Two more years to watch local maternity units shut. Two more years where this government allows sentences for rape and domestic violence to dwindle to insignificance. Two more years to watch Brown attempt to sign away our rights to the EU without our permission.
The government lately has looked shambolic. We had the U-turn on CGT. We had the U-turn on IHT. We had the U-turn on school surpluses. We had the U-turn on immigration figures – two in quick succession, in fact. This government is making so many u-turns it’s starting to look like Torville and Dean. There is a sense of malaise, a stench of death, about the end of New Labour. The dreadful thing is that Gordon Brown proposes to make us suffer it until the bitter end. He risibly told the assembled press corps that the polls had not featured in his decision, that he wanted time to set out his vision. What is that vision? Anybody? Answers on a postcard, please. All Mr. Brown seems capable of doing is nicking Tory policies (air passenger duty), chortling on the front bench, and hiding from Jeremy Paxman. I understand that he wanted to be Prime Minister. But why, other than the title? What is his political mission? We may have hated Tony Blair’s, but at least the world knew what it was. Mr. Brown, as Michael Gove so aptly argued, is Moore after Connery; second best.
But today, I don’t have the opportunity to fight that election in the trenches with my team. I don’t have the chance to make the change. Instead, because of Gordon Brown, this is just another Thursday. And that’s more bitter than sweet.