Don’t stand as a candidate if you can’t stand the constituents
Much has been written on both the inevitability of the Barnsley result, and of its role as a harbinger of doom for the Lib Dems. The result itself just isn’t that interesting, nor is the lack of time and money the Lib Dems spent on it. However, within these constraints, I’m not at all impressed with the way the Lib Dem candidate has chosen to handle it.
As Jonathan Calder points out, Dominic Carman (Lib Dem PPC for Barnsley Central) seems to have a very dim view of the people of Barnsley. Here’s a selection of phrases from throughout his Daily Mail character assassination:
.. the town that political correctness forgot .. his eyes menacingly warningly warning me to keep my distance .. the bile flows fast and free .. most comments being spiced with expletives .. one woman rants at me for five minutes .. “you’re all bloody foreigners,” says one woman .. diversity and difference are not welcome here ..
In contrast, here’s his opening line from a piece on Lib Dem Voice while he was campaigning just seven days ago:
What has pleasantly surprised me in Barnsley is the number of voters who are genuinely open-minded about who they will support.
This stark difference is exactly the kind of two-faced attitude that people don’t want to vote for. You know, Lib Dems who say one thing before an election and completely different things afterwards. Or maybe an old school Tory who sneers at the badly expressed frustrations of the poor, struggling constituents that he was offering to represent in Parliament.
A once upon a time friend of mine was a Barnsley lad. I’ve been to a couple of their home matches. Like any town, it has a mix of characters. Not all of them nice people, just like any town. A political campaign at a time of economic hardship is going to provoke many displays of hard speech as a way of expressing anger. It’s always easy to paint a deeply negative picture if you look for the angry ones.
One of the more cringeworthy references is to being Manchester born and raised. Well, assuming Dominic is making some kind of claim to northern solidarity, I’ll join him by saying I’m Glasgow born and raised. Also like him, I went to an independent, fee-paying school that sent most of its kids to a good university. But I would never bullshit anyone with disappointment that if I wandered from the West End down to the Gorbals, I might not be immediately taken into the hearts of all I met, every step of the way. Not even with a cost cutting government rosette in my lapel.
If you’ll forgive the misogynist vernacular (see? fancy schooling, that is) I’ve got the balls to take the odd sweary word on the chin. Maybe Dominic has kept restricted himself to the more refined atmospheres he grew up in at Manchester Grammar and Durham Uni. Otherwise he might have learnt that, right or wrong, expletives are a form of punctuation and practically an art form in the right hands. Don’t stand to represent a deprived area if you’re the kind of delicate flower that goes running to the tabloids to cry about the nasty words the mean man said to you.
It’s not wise to draw too many conclusions from a run-of-the-mill tabloid hatchet piece. Dominic’s style is reminiscent of a paid-by-the-word hack, and maybe that’s all I should take from it. But I am nonetheless tempted to conclude that political wannabes should not be allowed to use opposition safe seats as crusading platforms and verbal punchbags. At best it just looks like amateur politics – when you’re guaranteed to lose the election, putting up a sore loser is a bad bet.
More seriously, at worst it provides excellent campaigning material for parties like the BNP. Supposed liberals sneering at the poor for swearing during a bad recession and deep cutbacks is raw meat for the likes of Nick Griffin.
Dominic Carman has set himself up as the white knight of the Lib Dems, charging about from Barking to Barnsley to save us all from the dark forces of racism. Well, on the evidence I’d rather he didn’t. The biggest vote winner for the racist politician is not racism, but economic deprivation and feeling of exclusion. Having a grammar school boy painting Barnsley as a town of ignorant, foul mouthed bigots just doesn’t help.
As long as Dominic is in the mood for forming snap judgements, here’s mine: he has progressed from joining the National Front to piss off his father, to obsessively railing against onetime fellow member Nick Griffin to make up for it. He is fed up with standing in his father’s shadow, and so now repeatedly stands for Parliament. Not to represent Barnsley, but to bolster his own self-esteem.
OK, so perhaps an unnecessarily harsh snap judgement. I’m sure he’s a good man. From what I’ve read today, a childhood with a drunk and violent father gave him good reason to have a chip on his shoulder. But if he wants to be a Member of Parliament, he needs to take on board that the job is about standing up for the people – including the racist, bigoted, ignorant, and foul mouthed ones. It even includes the people who only live next door to the idiots, and don’t get the same attention because they don’t play into the convenient political narratives of the day.
I should say at the end of all this that there are far worse things in life than a politician who is driven by a need to prove himself, or lets a bad election result get under his skin. Here is Dominic again, this time keeping a clearer head back during his Barking campaign:
I listen to those people who speak most strongly against immigration and tell me how wonderful the BNP is and I will listen and listen, not criticise, not condemn, not tell them they are bigoted, not tell them they are wrong but try and understand what the causes are underneath. More often than not they are not inherently racist, people who just don’t like foreigners. There are concerns like housing, a central issue here.
Maybe that was just for show. Or maybe the Barnsley campaign and the second electoral loss has simply taken its toll. Either way, he should either listen to his own, calmer advice – that, or not seek to stand again.
As for the Liberal Democrat party itself? The Barnsley by election was a guaranteed loss. Therefore the party is judged by how well it handles that loss. In this case, it performed extremely poorly. I’ll bet you that Barnsley doesn’t forget Dominic’s op ed, and that Labour politicians will find ways to use such mistakes to reinforce messages of elitist Lib Dem betrayal that resonate deeply with the people.
There have been many accusations of Lib Dem complacency regarding Barnsley. That article is one that no sane Lib Dem is going to talk about publicly – may it rest in peace in yesterday’s news. Hopefully someone is having a little chat with the man, however. He has now stood twice; this suggests the kind of determination that applied well can achieve great things. Complacency would be a great shame.
Update: Here’s an excellent example of what gets written when prospective MPs lose their head. George Potter’s reaction: “the only decent article ever to appear in the Daily Mail .. he’s my new hero .. the people of Barnsley (or the majority) are fucking stupid .. to put it bluntly, they don’t deserve a Lib Dem MP.” How inspirational. An aspiring Lib Dem who only wants to represent people smart enough to deserve it. Yet he lacks the nonce to realise that a loser’s bitter revenge piece is not to be taken at face value. Oh, the irony.