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The Columnist Manifesto - The painting 'Chairing the Member' by William Hogarth
Last updated April 2015

The Columnist Manifesto

Dominic Fox considers the outcome of the General Election – but does not tell you how to vote.

To your intense disappointment no doubt, I am not going to tell you how to cast your vote in the general election. But lord knows, everyone else wants to, constantly going on about the hard-working people who populate the fabled middle ground of politics.

200 business leaders wrote to the press demanding their say. They represent a lot of jobs and investment and they want a Conservative government. No doubt they are busy planning to offer voters advice in the upcoming referendum on UK membership of the European Union just in case their team wins on May 7th. Meanwhile, independently-minded peer Norman Tebbit is advising Tory-inclined voters in Scotland to vote Labour to keep the nationalists out.

These well-meaning interventions are significant in that they capture the acute sense of insecurity felt by the political class. Without a clear winner in sight, it has become a question of who do you want to lose? The poor dears read the polls obsessively and a number of disturbing things emerge. Despite wanting a strong government, the polls consistently point to a hung Parliament. Hung in this context does not mean being left in the shed for a week until you can't stand the smell anymore. Oh actually, maybe it does.

The first time I voted was a long, long time ago in 1974. We were spared the 24 hour news cycle in those days and had to rely on outright ignorant prejudice in deciding who to vote for. The general election of February 1974 was the first of two United Kingdom general elections held that year, and the first election since the Second World War not to produce an overall majority in the House of Commons for the winning party. Instead there was a hung parliament, which lasted six months.

A barely credible thought for politicians is that a large number of registered voters don't follow their election antics that closely. Name-recognition of local MPs and manifesto pledges barely register. They recognise Boris Johnson because he fulfils their expectation that politicians are figures of fun. 

This election has almost unanimously described as one of the most exciting ever by political columnists, mainly because it is so hard to call. So your vote really does count.

Personality does exert some influence. The leader of the opposition? Crikey, what's his exact name again? Oh yes, Ed. That's easy to remember because there are two of them. Anyway, the transformation of Ed Miliband from a man barely able to eat a sandwich into political hot stuff, crowned by the image of an adoring hen party demanding selfies, will, if he becomes our next Prime minister, deserve a chapter in the history of political campaigning.

I will venture why those uninterested sceptics have a point. It has not been a terribly exciting campaign. Worst of all, it has not connected with the public. Our leaders are stalked by rival factions in their own parties, David Cameron had not learnt from his mentor Tony Blair that announcing one's retirement years in advance is like throwing fuel on a fire. Ed's brother David, the king over the water, may gain some useful campaigning experience in the coming US presidential election. 

Returning to my first point, no I will not be offering you advice on how to vote. And for a very good reason. If I did foolishly tell you, the Charity Commission would come down on me like a ton of bricks. Despite the savage cutbacks in staff and resources, the regulator is scouring the internet looking for foolish and naïve charity interjections that might tip the vote decisively for one party or another.

They have to. The suppression of lobbying act only applies to charities and our bosom buddies the trade unions. This problem is so serious it required special legislation and promises stringent penalties for offenders. Politicians can sleep easy in their beds however; there is little appetite from charity chief executives to become martyrs. No Joan of Arc am I. Having said that, I quite like the look of the position on social finance taken by the Raving Monster Looneys.

Two problems seem to have evaded our political masters.

The obsession with austerity is all very well but voters want to know about the economy. They need to be reassured that the Government is there to protect them and their families and community. They need to know that their interests will be represented and that any call on charity comes after the state has offered them a helping hand when they need. Condescending references to hard workers is not enough.

The other thing that seems not to be directly addressed is how to tackle inequality, the yawning gap between the very rich, the very poor, and the vast group of hard working citizens in the middle who are struggling to make ends meet.

As far as I can tell there is no prescription in the Lobbying Act against charity Chief Executives calling for revolution, so here goes. Hard workers of the world unite!  You have nothing to lose but your chains!

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