The Spectator's Notes

Six weeks is too long for an election campaign

7 December 2019

9:00 AM

7 December 2019

9:00 AM

The number of parties represented in national election debate multiplies. There are now seven crowding on to television podiums and local hustings. Yet this impression of diversity is, like the current public policy use of that word, misleading. Five of the parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru — are essentially the same. They see achieving Remain, growing the state and destroying the Tories as the most important causes. The Brexit party is merely an epiphenomenon of Tory Brexit weakness and is therefore passing into history. So it is the Conservatives vs the rest, and ‘the rest’ includes all the broadcast media. This was particularly apparent in the preposterous Channel 4 News climate change ‘debate’ when the absent Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were replaced by melting ice sculptures. We were left with five leaders vying only over which was the most virtuously, lividly green. Despite quite often voting for it, I have never much liked the Conservative party, what with its smugness and inertia. But when I see those five leaders wagging their fingers at the British electorate and telling us what bad people we are because we want to be an independent and prosperous country, I find myself quite passionately wanting a Tory victory. Faced with this chlorinated wash of puritan priggery, I want bad old Boris much more than ever I thought possible.

Dave Merritt, father of Jack, who was murdered last week by Usman Khan, writes that Jack ‘would be seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate’. Mr Merritt’s ensuing paragraph seems to see this agenda of hate as embodied in Boris Johnson’s remark about locking up the criminal and throwing away the key. He does not seem to be referring to Usman Khan’s violent act. Surely the only agenda of hate is that pursued by Khan and his fellow Islamists: it is about as plainly hate-filled as it is possible to be. Jack believed, says his father, in ‘the inherent goodness of humanity’. He should be lauded for that, but there is an inherent badness too, and he was its innocent victim.

Climate alarmists and Corbynistas (the former increasingly a front organisation for the latter) often put the word ‘Big’ in front of industries which they dislike — Big Pharma, Big Oil. Those of us who do not share their views should copyright a comparable concept — Big Uni. Universities now compose an absolutely vast interest group, determined to increase their fee-paying student numbers almost regardless of qualifications or their own capacity to look after them properly. They are constantly on to the government for money. The salaries of vice-chancellors are huge and the wages of lumpen-academics are low. These impoverished workers feel little responsibility for their students and so go on strike during term time. As universities grow larger, and their average intake therefore dimmer, they become more intellectually uniform. Almost no one in British academia, except for emeritus professors whose careers cannot be damaged by their frankness, speaks in favour of Brexit or dares challenge any assertion made about the dangers of climate change (green research projects, after all, attract stupendous sums of public money). Those universities — Britain has many — which have long and proud traditions increasingly scorn them, removing portraits of their dead benefactors and thinkers, deciding that a Latin grace is offensive, a student debating society with a paying membership (such as the Oxford Union) elitist. Throughout the election campaign, BBC Radio 4’s Today is travelling the country, presenting the programme from university premises. This means that the audience and subject matter are automatically skewed against the Conservatives and (much more important) against any plurality of view on anything. Big Uni is probably the largest cartel in modern Britain.

Sometimes one hears people saying that Labour’s spending plans are ‘incredible’. So they are, but I wonder if you have to be moderately old to recognise the accurate, negative, traditional meaning of the word. It is far more often used positively nowadays: ‘What an incredible guy!’ ‘Thanks. That’s an incredible offer.’ ‘She’s incredibly beautiful’ etc. What if most first-time voters, on being told that Labour’s policies are incredible, welcome them excitedly?

The Labour manifesto says a Labour government will ‘decriminalise abortions’. At present, the criminal sanctions against abortions relate to the maximum number of weeks during which abortions can be performed, the need for two doctors to sign off on an abortion and the need for them to be carried out by qualified practitioners. Are these restrictions to be removed under Prime Minister Corbyn? Will ‘back-street’ abortions be permitted? What about abortions at full term? Might a heavily pregnant woman be free to claim Labour’s new, improved period of maternity leave, give up work just before birth, have an abortion, and then stay away from work, paid, for a year? Anything seems possible.

One of the many faults to lay at the door of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is its decree that a general election campaign must last six weeks. Such a long period means that the ordinary business of government and, to some extent, of life, is unprofitably suspended. The early days of the campaign are aimless, the later ones fought by exhausted troops whose presence is ever less welcome to voters. On 7 February 1974, Edward Heath called a general election. It was held exactly three weeks later. This was quite long enough for him to ask his famous question ‘Who governs Britain?’ and for the voters to decide that they resented being asked. Now six weeks is the law of the land, ensuring boredom and disruption for all — another example of the pointless rigidity of legislation rather than the flexibility of custom.

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