Our campaign is pretty well on the move now, except for continuing telecom problems. It is 10 days since I applied to BT for landlines for our campaign HQ. They called yesterday to tell me an engineer will be available on April 7. I spent much of the day fuming hopelessly at various BT officials, but still no line.
I buy, at great expense, an Orange mobile office card to try to solve my internet problem in the meantime. Rather than wait for pages to download, it would be quicker to travel to the addresses of the websites and ask for a paper copy. I make more irate calls. Orange blames overload on the network, as opposed to its network being no good. It would function perfectly if nobody used it.
We had a minor drama on Maundy Thursday. Our campaign HQ used to be the borough council’s information office. They moved out in November, leaving their sign above the premises. It had grown very mucky, but was still legible. The windows are now full of anti-war and anti-Straw posters. The council woke up to this matter the day before the Easter break.
Two officials stood outside looking important and making calls on their mobile phones. Then they asked me to take the sign down, to which I replied: “It’s your sign.”
An Ealing comedy ensued with lots of people arriving, looking at the sign, and speaking to me. A man from Capita told me that the council had instructed them that the sign must be down that day, before the Easter holiday. After the flood of officials, two painters arrived, having been pulled off work on housing. They proceeded to take down the sign, and I made them a cup of tea. They promised to vote for me.
Capita is an interesting privatised body. It seems to do public works less efficiently than the government used to, and with the senior management getting paid huge amounts of cash – so much that Capita’s chief executive is sponsoring a city academy for Blackburn.
This is the government’s wonderful new scheme. If you put in less than 10% of the capital cost of the new school, you can have it named after you, and you get a big say in choosing the staff and the curriculum. In the north-east these schools are actually teaching creationism – which, of course, pleases the spooky-eyed religious types on the Blair/Bush axis. Goodness knows what the one in Blackburn will teach. That the Iraq war was legal?
Blackburn is getting a new hospital under the private finance initiative. It seems to me incredible that it can be argued that providing a cash return on capital to the private sector works out cheaper than not doing so. In practice, the result in Blackburn as elsewhere is that the levels of service and facility provision continually dwindle as the project progresses. Can anyone explain to me why we could find ?4bn at the drop of a hat for the war in Iraq, but not public money for a hospital in Blackburn?
The campaign slog continues. On Monday my girlfriend and I leafletted 1,300 houses between us. My pedometer registered 27 miles, much of it up and down steps. Not wanting to ruin good shoes, I bought a pair in Vienna last month for ?20. They are made of good leather, but have a most unfortunate two-tone effect. A family member told me they make me look like a Russian pimp. I had seen that danger, but rather hoped the effect might be confined to my feet. I can imagine Silvio Berlusconi saying that at a cabinet meeting: “Bring me the feet of that Russian pimp.”
There is a real flaw in our democracy, with the odds heavily stacked against independent candidates. On the ballot paper, thanks to a wonderful bit of New Labour Orwellianism, you can no longer choose how to describe yourself. A description such as “Save Kidderminster Hospital” or “No to George Bush” would remind voters of what you stand for. But now you are allowed only to enter the name of a registered political party or the word “Independent”.
In each constituency there are strict limits on what you can spend, but no limit on what the parties can spend nationally. So Blackburn hoardings are all plastered with Labour party advertising, which doesn’t count against Jack Straw’s limit, but any I put up will count against mine. On top of which, flyposting has been made a specific offence. Well, I think civil disobedience in the name of democracy is called for here. I am off to flypost Blackburn’s many boarded-up buildings.