PARTY CONFERENCES: The art of getting what you pay for

elecfraudBuying votes isn’t new, just more overt than it used to be

It gets funnier, sillier and lots of other comparatives ending in er. Like, er, dafter, barmier, nastier and cynicaller. Shame about cynical, there’s no way you can inflate it…although David Cameron is trying hard.

I will say this about the Conservative Party: they don’t do spin. They attempt spin, but as on the whole they’re a mixture of stupid, sloppy and arrogant, it comes out like, well, not to put too fine a point on it, corrupt showboating.

So it was that Osborne’s Help to Buy turned into Housing the Bubble, Cameron’s EU Under Budget became Miles over Budget, and the Treasury’s No more bailouts produced Lots more bailins. Now the Prime Minister has announced “my package to help struggling families”. His overt personal ownership of The Plan almost suggests that the struggling is a result of some random factor like bubonic plague or a biblical flood, whereas its content suggests otherwise: Dave is going to cut their taxes and help them get on the housing ladder. But if he needs to do that, doesn’t it hint vaguely that, call me a irreverent, Mr Osborne’s policies might be implicated here and there?

Like Christmas, electioneering starts earlier and earlier at Westminster Prep School these days. Here we are, 18 months away from the General Election, and already families are being wheeled out like a politician’s kids when he’s been caught shagging around. Under Labour they were Ordinary Hardworking Families, now they’re Young Struggling Families. My theory about this is that the OHFs are now three years older – and wiser, having voted Tory last time and realised it didn’t make any difference. So now it’s the more wide-eyed YSFs turn to be given The Package. If you’re in any way extraordinary or getting on a bit, clearly you’re doing just fine and don’t need any help. But if you’re young and struggling, you qualify for The Package.

There’s a very good and logical reason for this: if you’re knocking your nuts off and still struggling, chances are you’re going to vote Labour. So you have to be bribed to vote Conservative, after which you can get back to the task in hand, which is, basically, working hard, struggling, and wondering why the f**k you thought anything might change.

I do laugh out loud when this obvious relationship between taking away and giving back is treated by the media as if it was non-existent. The current government has turned it into an art-form, and nobody gives them more support for their brass neck than the Maily Telegraph. Today the Torygraph splashed with ‘The foreign beggars that Britain cannot stop’, a well-deserved crack at the Romas whom (I have to tell you from increasing experience of them) are up there with muggers when it comes to nuisance value. Yet once again, the DT suggests that this is nothing to do with Whitehall and Westminster, and everything to do with Brussels.

Bollocks. A few months back, some idiots at the Immigration Service along with fluffy charity helpers gave 20 Romas free tickets for flights and coaches to Romania. They went willingly – just long enough to see their rellies, and come straight back. It didn’t seem to occur to the ‘authorities’ that, as it’s perfectly OK under EU law for them to do this, that’s exactly what they’d do. I’m surprised they didn’t give the buggers return tickets from the start. The only question to ask here is why did they get the tickets – not why are they back.

The answer again is straightforward: they were begging in a posh W1 borough, and so some jolly well-heeled folks with nice shoes and posh watches kicked up a fuss. Trust me, had they been doing it in Hallam, they’d never have been given the joy-ride to home and back.

Do you recall that scene in Apollo 13 where Mission Control spreads a pile of capsule bits and pieces out in the Houston meeting room, and the boffins have to sort out a way to join them up so the astronauts can survive? It’s a good job the task wasn’t given to politicians. The modus operandum would be first, announce that the capsule fault was approved by the previous government; second, tell the astronauts to do physical jerks without breathing; and third, call the ensuing astronaut mortality “a tragic accident that nobody could have foreseen, although of course the previous government should’ve done”.

One person who’s been remarkably frank about the previous Government is Ed Miliband. In fact, he has piled so much ordure on some of its policies, you’d never believe he was actually a Cabinet Member in it. But Ed is now in the business of trying to be the next Government, and so he too is looking for ways to buy votes. One of his ideas is to simply print more of them, by giving the vote to kids aged 16 and 17. This offers the prospect of electors being immature and helpless enough to be In Care, but somehow old enough to pass judgement on political policy. However, as it won’t get him any more votes in 2015, Ed plumped for a Rotten Borough classic by guaranteeing to freeze energy prices for two years. All over Britain, ordinary families took a break from the hard work of struggling, and raised a loud cheer.

The right-wing press immediately labelled Miliband a poisonous spawn of Stalin, but one suspects that their rabid attack on what will be a very popular policy reflects just how effective they think the backhander sorry promise might be; equally, one fancies their views helped shape The Dave Package. What Ed plans to do about the likely rise in the price of middle-eastern oil in the meantime is anyone’s guess – frack the entire county of Surrey perhaps – but then hey, this is politics kid: what you see is almost never what you get.

I suppose the bottom line here is that politicians and bureaucrats never solve anything. Instead, they postpone, they promise, and they bodge. They only react to pressure to do more than this when somebody influential (like a major-league donor or a focus group project) says they need to do some repair work if they want to get more money/votes next time. Repairs are too bulky to sweep under carpets, and so the grudgingly performed repair has to be presented as an astonishing miracle of forethought. After that, everyone moves on to next year’s problem, which spookily enough turns out to be the huge leakage from last year’s repair job. (See Fukushima et al)

Major league donors, as it happens, were clearly on David Cameron’s mind last week. As the IoS reveals this morning, donations to the Conservative Party have slumped, and the main beneficiary is none other than our old mine’s-a-pint friend, Nigel Farage. Now of course, what one does with that hard-earned post tax half million is entirely a matter for each individual briber, but I’d have thought that moving your cash from the Tories to UKip is the act of somebody switching from shifty eyes to swivelling eyes.

Most probably it’s a vote for leaving the EU and cutting taxes; or, said with one chapel-hatpeg eye on the future, from Camerlot to the 1922 tendency. Hence Dave’s rapid deviation from austerity to hardworking strugglers. It still looks to me like we could have a Gove-led Conservative Party incorporating UKip after 2015.  I still think Nige would make a jolly good Minister of Sport. And I’m sure there’ll be a place at top table for Jeremy Hunt. Once he’s Chancellor, struggling families will abolished, and replaced by Starving Families.

In summation then, it’s all about buying votes, buying privileged money, and buying time. We aren’t financially, fiscally or economically bankrupt just yet, but British politics has been trading insolvently for decades. I think we should declare the system broke.

Yesterday at The Slog: The sorry State of Nations