“‘Labour Party’? Dictatorship Party more like!”
I am standing in the street with a couple of other local party members and the local Labour MEP. We are armed with highly explosive balloons. The person ranting at me is about 22, has a whispy blond goatee, multiple piercings and a grating, sneering, estuarine voice. He is telling me why he will never vote Labour again. Iraq, apparently, is radioactive as a result of our attacks with depleted uranium shells and yesterday the US marines killed 600 people, most of them women and children. I am, to my shame, losing my temper. The switch flipped when he said “If he [Saddam] wants to be a dictator it’s his business. It’s not for us to go and kill thousands of people.”
Another tells me that she voted Labour once, but cannot support Tony Blair now because of his “sickly smile”. She does not want to support any of the other leaders either because they are “not statesmen”.
And, of course, there is the surreality factor: Cambridge is a place of deep and perpetual strangeness.
One potential voter juggles a melon and a giant box of cornflakes while confiding in me interestingly and at length about his crisis of political conscience. He has been reading a biography of Churchill. It has increased his sense of the importance of the individual and now he is finding it difficult to reconcile this feeling with his traditional Left-wing affinity for collective action.
Later, I am approached by a woman who has individual strategies for her votes in the council, general and European elections. “This is going to sound mad,” she begins at one point, “but I was sitting next the Lord Chancellor at dinner last night”.
“At Pembroke College?”
“I was at that dinner too.”
She is momentarily thrown.
“I was sitting next the Lord Chancellor at dinner last night and I spent half-an-hour telling him why I can no longer vote for a Labour government.”
Her reasons are very good. I can’t argue with them, but I still ask for her vote.
The MEP, Richard Howitt, has to deal with a refugee from Chile who fled Pinochet and still bears a deep grudge against Bush Snr (as former head of the CIA). She has transferred her resentment to Bush Jr. Howitt doesn’t stand a chance. This morning’s front pages are full of pictures of this meeting between Blair and Bush.
Don’t be misled by my choice of snapshots. On the whole, campaigning in the street in Cambridge today is simple and pleasant. So many punters happily take a leaflet, chat politely, and often people claim to be life-long Labour supporters, but occasionally I see what a bloody awful business politics can be.
As Howitt’s lift arrives, a drunk on a bike shouts “MPs! Fuck off!” and continues to abuse him as he puts stuff into the car before he is driven away.