Monday, 12 May 2014

Battle of the election leaflets

It is one of the inevitable chores one must address after returning from holiday; sifting through the mounds of post. It wasn't all bad news, there were a few birthday cards, a couple of books I had ordered and a hat, replacing the one currently keeping a very small patch of land dry in a field somewhere in the Lake District. The rest were bills (quickly binned), circulars (swiftly following the bills) and a raft of campaigning material from various parties, all gearing up to the local and Euro elections later this month.

In many ways, the Conservative Party's leaflet was the most interesting. Groovily lower case and called 'intouch', its top headline proclaims 'Time to Turn Penge and Cator Blue: Vote Conservative'. It describes Penge as an 'up and coming area with a vibrant and thriving High Street' and claims Tory councillors would be best to 'resist over-development and protect the unique character of Penge', accusing other parties of being 'obsessed with building more and more cramped housing' in the area.

To describe the High Street as 'vibrant and thriving' is generous to say the least. Apart from some noticable pockets, Penge is proving mightily hard to gentrify. When Woolworths closed it was replaced by a gargantuan 99p shop (followed by a smaller and mercifully short-lived 98p shop). In recent months, at least two banks have closed (the Tory leaflet acknowledges a shortage of banks), along with a Caribbean restaurant. There are several pawnbrokers - always a depressing sign of an area's economic health. The street is frequently strewn with litter, a blight which afflicts the whole neighbourhood and isn't addressed once by the Conservative literature.

As for their claims that they are best placed to protect the character of the area, this seems hard to reconcile considering Bromley Council features just three Labour and three Liberal Democrat councillors; the Conservatives have more than 50. Do these six councillors really impose over-developments upon a cautious council?

A consequence of the make-up of the council is that it is hard for opposition candidates to pledge anything at all in their literature. Indeed, we have received nothing at all from the Liberal Democrats and Labour's leaflet is understandably timid. They acknowledge the litter problem and want to improve local parks and the environment of the High Street. But while they claim they have pushed for more affordable housing, campaigned against the bedroom tax and called for a living wage for council employees, their efforts have either been blocked or ignored. Labour councillors also claim the blocking of an application to turn our local pub into a hostel was 'thanks to campaigning by Labour councillors', forgetting to mention the dozens of well crafted letters of opposition by worried local residents. Ah well, ho hum!

The only other pieces of election literature received were regarding the European elections, one from Ukip, the other from the Communities United Party (CUP). The Ukip one, somewhat disconcertingly addressed to my wife, was predictable enough, with a pledge to 'help you get our country back' though from whom wasn't entirely clear.

As for the CUP, led by Kamran Malik - described on the party's website as 'Legend Leader' - they claim to represent individuals who feel 'at best disillusioned and at worst betrayed by the Coalition government and its predecessors, The Labour Party'. The leaflet said it challenged public authorities on issues such as council tax costs, parking charges and local government spending; indeed, so persistent, or 'truly hopeless', have their challenges been, it was recently issued an injunction from future civil cases with a judge's permission in Newham. Sadly, though, while Mr Malik promises to 'ensure that the voice of the citizens of the United Kingdom is heard at home and in Europe', and some vague comments on taxes and business rates, the leaflet is remarkably light on actual policy.

Judging from these efforts, then, it would seem that the last few days before the election provide partyies with plenty of opportunity to affect opinion.

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