by Chris Proctor
When it first polluted our street, the Lib Dem poster in the window opposite vaguely annoyed me. After a week, it irked me. Shortly after that, it started to get seriously on my nerves. Something had to be done.
Orange, it was. ‘Winning here,’ it said.
See, that’s what annoyed me. It was hugely, mega, outrageously untrue. Offensively so. The Lib Dems were no more ‘winning here’ than fly. Even Thomas Scripps, who stood in our patch for the Socialist Equality Party, had more chance: that is, he had none.
I fussed and fretted and decided upon a course of action. Naturally, the first tactic to spring to mind was the launching of a late-night missile, probably of brick nature. I refrained from this activity because of high moral considerations, including a fear of getting caught.
Accordingly, I found myself early one evening on the neighbour’s doorstep, rapping firmly. As I did so, I mulled over two possible approaches, dependent on the size and demeanour of the person answering my call. If they proved muscular and belligerent, I had it in mind to ask for my ball back which I thought had gone over their wall. If the resident was weak and bony, I would deliver a blistering political tirade.
A rather average-sized person appeared, male and wearing an apron. This unsettled me to the extent that I abandoned both ranting broadside and pathetic retreat. Instead, I pointed at his poster.
‘This is not true,’ I told him. ‘Lib Dems are not winning here. They are losing. They are losing so badly that even if they get lucky, they’ll end up with minus.’
‘No, we’re winning.’
‘No you’re not.’
‘Here. Here in this house, we are. We’re both voting Lib Dem.’
‘But it looks as if you are claiming that you are going to win the constituency.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ he chuckled. ‘Don’t you know anything about politics?’
He had stolen all my thunder. This latter remark was the core sentiment behind the invective I had intended to hurl upon him. And he had thrown it over me. I stood, mouth opening and closing, but soundless.
‘Anything else?’ he asked.
‘Have you seen a football in your garden?’
I was still smarting from this exchange when I came upon a statement from Clive Lewis, MP, a gent for whom, in general, I have a considerable amount of time. Not a man to waste words, I thought. Until I witnessed him in action.
He almost outdid the Orange lot with his explanation of why he was not putting himself forward as Labour leader.
‘In the spirit of pluralism, diversity and generosity that I’ve promoted throughout this campaign,’ he proclaimed, ‘I’m withdrawing from the leadership contest so that those who’ve supported me can recast their nominations.’
Very nice of him, I’m sure. But a tad breathtaking considering that there was a further, and more blatant cause of Clive not continuing with his ambitions. That reason is that he wasn’t allowed. He was ineligible. He was excluded by rule. He needed 22 votes from MPs and he could only muster five.
He was not, in short, ‘winning here’. Unless we mean within the electorate housed within the confines of his shirt.
And look at Tom Watson, who decided that he would not re-stand for the West Bromwich East seat he had held for the previous eighteen years. Why was this? Tom explained to Jeremy Corbyn that his decision was ‘personal, not political’, and his selflessness was applauded by the likes of Jess Phillips (‘so very, very sad’) and Sadiq Khan who positively eulogised.
Other observers will have noticed what Tom cannot fail to have spotted prior to the vote: that there was going to be a huge swing to the Tories (it turned out to be 8.5%) so the result was not difficult to predict. Labour was going to lose badly. Tom was going anyway; the reasons were political and not personal; and some distance from Tom’s claims.
I know candidates for posts are supposed to project a confident and positive air, but there are limits; and when you are patently in line for a fat lip, there is no point putting on a macho swagger. No one’s fooled and you look rather silly, like Monty Python’s limbless knight itching for a fight.
I have a vision of the three of them - the neighbour, Clive and Tom - flattened on the floor, worn out, exhausted and severely done over: with a ragged flag fluttering above them bearing the legend: Winners!
I really wouldn’t care to see the losers…
Chris Proctor has been head of communications at ASLEF and the Communication Workers Union, written for the Sunday Times, The Guardian, the New Statesman and Tribune, and is a columnist for the NUJ’s magazine The Journalist.