So far, so very boring, and only ten days or so to go. The general election campaign here in Britain has proved to be dull, and there is little chance of it catching fire in these last few remaining days.
There is a reason for this: both our potential Prime Ministers, Miliband and Cameron, are campaigning inside a bubble. They never go near members of the public, they never meet crowds that have not been hand-picked, and they keep to a script that has been carefully written for them by their spin doctors. This is understandable, in that an unscheduled encounter with a member of the public might well spin out of control. Remember the heroic and formidable Gillian Duffy? That sort of thing simply must not be allowed to happen again. Did Mrs Duffy lose the last election for Gordon Brown? Perhaps not. But the risk of another Mrs Duffy moment is not something either of the prospective Prime Ministers want to risk.
While Cameron and Miliband stay resolutely on message, the two politicians who are not going to be Prime Minister, Mr Farage and Ms Sturgeon, can get on with politics as of old: walking down streets, speaking to people, all the sort of things that politicians used to do once upon a time. And this is why these two (one of whom is not even standing for election) are the undoubted stars of the campaign. They are interesting, and they have “something to say”, as we love to call it – that is, a clear and simple message.
But the popularity of the Farage/Sturgeon shtick should not allow us to forget that both of them are promoting messages that, while simple and catchy, are also simplistic and (in my opinion) mistaken. Scotland’s problems will not be resolved by separation; Britain’s will not be cured by leaving the EU. Both Farage and Sturgeon are proponents of magic-wand politics. The best way to smoke out the fantastical nature of their policies is to examine the one thing that should give us pause: the financial implications. Both Scottish separatism and Brexit represent a financial risk that it is difficult to quantify.
The counter-arguments to Ukip and the SNP involve a barrage of facts and figures, a sure-fire path to boring the electorate. But it would have been good if the campaign had focussed on some of the great moral questions of our time. Here are just three of them.
First of all, do we want a big state, or do we believe that the state’s role should be shrunk? No one seems to be willing to confront the dragon of statism.
Secondly: what are we going to do about the threats to our country represented by ISIS and similar groups? No one seems interested in facing the dragon of Islamism, a creed that is committed to wiping Britain off the map.
And thirdly: what are we going to do about poverty? This surely is the single biggest internal threat to national well-being. Ever since Mrs Thatcher made the mistake of allowing herself to be photographed in a post-industrial wasteland on Teesside back in 1987, politicians have kept away from such eloquent images that raise this pressing question. They will talk of unemployment, but they refuse to confront the underlying evil – poverty. The few politicians who have tackled the question of poverty have often suffered blighted careers as a result. One notices how little coverage Iain Duncan Smith has had of late. Is he even out there campaigning?
We have a general election on May 7th, but a campaign that is skirting what really needs to be talked about. Not only has this made for a tedious campaign, but what a missed opportunity!