The Guardian – Our Man In Blackburn:I obviously haven’t got the hang of electoral politics yet. I keep meeting people and hoping they’re not going to vote for me. I was watching Jack Straw give one of his soap box orations outside Marks and Spencers when the man standing next to me turned and said ‘He’s talking rubbish, isn’t he’. I agreed, genuinely. ‘And you can tell he’s Jewish’ he added, ‘Look at his bloody nose.’
I argued but he wasn’t listening. ‘I’m not voting for him, anyway’, he said; ‘I’m voting for that Craig Murray’. I tried to persuade him not to, though I don’t think I got through to him who I was. This politics stuff is pretty confusing.
Luckily I have a witness to this next incident, or you wouldn’t believe it. I was being interviewed by Deborah Haynes of AFP, a journalist so beautiful I have only just recovered the power to breathe normally. As she was interviewing me, two old ladies came in. They looked like saintlier versions of the Queen Mum, with their white hair, twin sets and handbags.
Ada was 82 and Mabel 83. They had come to offer their support. My gratitude suddenly froze. ‘That Jack Straw, his wife’s a Paki’ said Mabel. Ada backed her up. ‘She wears a lot of makeup and keeps her face covered. But I once saw her hand, sticking out of her sleeve’. Ada managed to say this as if sticking out of a sleeve was a particularly sinister place to find a hand. ‘And’, Ada concluded triumphantly, ‘Her hand were black’.
Mabel than added that she intended to go buy a hammer and kill all the Pakis with it.
I had thought that I had lived an unusually full and varied life, but nothing had prepared me for the sight of these two grannies full of hate. I asked them why. The results were interesting. The immediate grievance was that Mabel’s Asian neighbour had built a massive home extension, blocking the sunlight from Mabel’s garden, which was her pride and joy. The workmen building the extension, which came right to the boundary, had trampled and destroyed it, leaving it strewn with concrete and rubble.
They had been to the Council to complain and discovered that there was no planning permission; but, Mabel alleged, the neighbour’s father was a ‘Big man at the mosque’ so the Council had done nothing.
Probing further the story gets more interesting. The neighbour the other side of the new extension, a Mr Khan, had also had his garden destroyed and had complained to the Council, without avail.
‘So you like Mr Khan.?’
‘Oh, yes, Mr Khan’s a real gentleman, very polite.’
‘And he’s Asian?’
Mabel conceded this, reluctantly. I suggested that the problem was not the colour of people’s skin, but this was a question of rich, influential people trampling on the rights of the poor and vulnerable. The challenge to their way of thinking was too much for Mabel and Ada, who left. ‘We’re still buying that hammer’ said Ada.
Race relations in Blackburn are at worst dreadful and at best non-existent. I have yet to see a single mixed race social group just chatting together on the street. People work together and transact business, but they don’t mix. I met a pleasant lady of Tanzanian origin who told me she has white friends and Asian friends, but not together. Both sides say to her ‘You don’t mix with them do you?’
The big story of this election is vote-rigging. A Blackburn councillor was last week jailed for three and a half years for vote-rigging in the council elections. There are an astonishing 16,000 postal votes registered in Blackburn, and still rising by two hundred a day. One feature of this fraud mechanism I find most sinister. Postal ballots are mixed in with other ballots before they are counted, so there is no way you can tell if it is rigged. If one candidate loses the main ballot but gets in on eighty per cent of the postal ballot, there is no way you could know. I strongly suspect this might happen in Blackburn now.
I have had, to date, nine people come separately to see me, all from the Asian community, to complain about intimidation in the current election. One shopkeeper told me that he had been visited by the local Labour councillor who had demanded that all eight of his family must apply for postal ballots, and must show them to the councillor before they are posted. In a rotten borough like Blackburn the council can do a lot of harm to a small shopkeeper.
The Green Goddess is up and running as my campaign bus. It is an alarming vehicle. We have it plastered in posters and going round town blasting out our campaign song ‘Hit the road Jack Straw’ by The Rub. Martin Bell took a ride in it and declared it scarier than anything he had done as a war reporter.
Martin did a campaign launch for us. About ninety people attended, which for an election meeting nowadays is quite good. The local paper said fifty, and devoted three times as much space to Jack Straw’s refutation than to what I said. Some nuts are tougher to crack than others. But I am now ready to make a prediction; Jack Straw’s vote will be down to 15,000. He is looking very beatable.
[NB – This is the unedited version of the piece that appeared in today’s Guardian]
If you can’t wait for the Green Goddess, click here to listen to Craig’s campaign song, “Hit The Road Jack Straw”