If voting could change anything…

There we were, walking past the Baths of Caracalla in Rome when the Evening Standard phoned, asking for a critical comment on today’s leader which recommends David Cameron. So in rather a hurry I sent them this. We’ll see if they publish it. At least Anne Gray, our Green candidate in Haringey, should like it.

Your leader coming down on the side of David Cameron really is the wrong advice for the country, and especially for Londoners. You write exclusively about the three main leaders, but we are not electing a president. We are electing a party, so let’s look at them.

Certainly the choices are hard, but for many of us that’s because all three of the main parties are seriously wrong about how to recover from the crisis, and all of them are wrong in trying to get back to how the economy was before. After a brief flirtation with Keynesian ideas—that expanded state spending would lead us back to income growth—we now see all the parties switching back to ‘sound finance’ and proposing massive spending cuts. That’s how the recovery of the USA through the New Deal was brought to a halt in the 1930s and it threatens to do the same in Britain and the rest of Europe now.

Londoners were severely hurt by the way the economy worked before the crash: poor people squeezed between low wages and high rents and the middle classes afflicted by housing costs which – per square metre – are the highest in Europe after Monaco. Even quite rich people agonised about how their children would ever afford to buy a place to live. Does anyone, other than the very rich, really want to go back to that sort of world?

Looking at the choices from the three main parties, one could say that Labour got us into this mess. Indeed they did, acting in unison with other governments. But at least labour has some chance of delaying the cuts, and might even recover its Keynesian heritage with a whole swathe of new MPs and mounting pressure from the grass roots. But we know for sure that the Tories will cut and cut viciously in the Thatcher tradition. And London’s economy is so dependent on state spending on infrastructure, transport subsidies, housing and key benefits like housing benefits and tax credits that we’ll suffer really badly from a Tory period. Nothing could be worse for London.

From this perspective, Londoners should vote in whatever way makes a Tory government less likely. This means different things in each constituency. Where I live, in a very safe Labour seat, I’ll vote for the Greens who are good on the economy, are the only ones who are serious about global warming and the more votes they get the sooner we’ll get a serious PR system and thus end the monopoly of two or three parties.

Michael Edwards

This was their article:

Cameron: the Prime Minister that London now needs, leader column, 5 May
The new Evening Standard has been determined to approach this election with
an open mind — open solely to what is best for London. And tomorrow’s
General Election, more than any since 1997, represents a real choice about
Britain’s and London’s future. We need a party and a leader with the steel
to take the unpopular decisions that undoubtedly lie ahead — yet with the
compassion to address the inequalities exposed recently in this paper’s
Dispossessed series on London’s poor.
The choice has become much clearer over the past four weeks: that is the
value of election campaigns, democracy at its most frenetic. Party leaders
have been tested to the limit, both in the TV debates and on the campaign
Labour wants us to stick with them, as this paper did in the past three
elections, endorsing Tony Blair. But by any measure, Gordon Brown has had a
wretched election. He looks exhausted. The choice he represents has become
more explicit than ever: more of the same, sticking with the devil we know
for fear of change and instability.
We should not be too quick to discount the appeal of stability, after two
years of recession. Labour’s record in many areas is respectable. Crime is
down; there has been investment in transport; there have been important
constitutional reforms, such as a Mayor for this city, and civil
partnerships for gay people; and there has been improvement in the NHS and
schools, albeit at enormous cost. Indeed, voters may not end up being quite
as keen on change as they tell pollsters they are, especially since the
biggest change ahead, whoever forms the next government, will be savage
spending cuts.
But even for loyal Labour voters, another five years of Mr Brown can
hardly seem an appealing prospect. It is not simply that Mr Brown looks
tired and careworn, the face of the past. The inevitable riposte to any of
his promises is: why didn’t you do it years ago? Labour has had 13 years to
reform the economy: instead, as Chancellor, Mr Brown let the banks rip. He
had years to repair the public finances. Instead, we now have the biggest
peacetime deficit ever. On issues from immigration to schools to soldiers’
kit to welfare reform, Mr Brown could have acted for real change years ago
— but did not.
The Prime Minister should have used this campaign to present a compelling,
fresh vision for Britain and a renewal of his party’s purpose. He was
unable to do so. Labour appears utterly exhausted, without either new ideas
or the energy to campaign for them convincingly.
The Conservative alternative is far fresher. Since taking the party’s helm
almost five and a half years ago, David Cameron has wrought huge change.
There are those both inside his party and out who deride his commitment to
the environment and to fighting poverty as mere spin. But people said the
same of Tony Blair’s embrace of business — and it turned out that, at least
under him, Labour had changed. Mr Cameron has shown flashes of steel that
belie those critics who doubt his commitment to that modernisation.
He has campaigned on the centre ground and that has made the Tories look
like a party of government again, for the first time since 1997. He has a
decisive ruthlessness that Mr Brown does not — and it showed over crises
such as the MPs’ expenses row.
And this is the most important revelation of the past four weeks. Mr
Cameron has grown in this campaign. If the point of British elections
nowadays is largely to test the characters of the would-be premiers, Mr
Cameron is the clear winner. Despite the challenge of Mr Clegg, he stuck
with it and learned from his mistakes. Few could now doubt that he has the
strength and clarity of vision to lead the country.
The Conservatives have as yet not given enough detail about how they would
reduce the deficit, but we can take seriously their promise to do so faster
than Labour. And while Labour has claimed that too-early cuts would damage
the economy, it is hard to see how the extra £6 billion of cuts promised so
far by the Tories would seriously undermine the recovery. At the same time,
they promise a return to an approach of empowering individuals, in part
through holding down taxes — for example through their pledge to cancel the
planned National Insurance increase — and partly through devolving power to
This is Mr Cameron’s “Big Society” idea. Whatever the inevitable gaps in
the plan, it represents a far more comprehensive and compelling vision of a
changed society than Mr Brown’s big state. It is an idea with personal
responsibility at its heart, rather than reliance on government: to many
people, that instinctively makes sense. After 13 years of an encroaching
state, it has an appeal that transcends party lines. And Labour has no
equivalent vision.
The Lib-Dems, meanwhile, are every election’s wild card; this time,
“Cleggmania” has fuelled a heady campaign. In fact, they have deserved
serious attention since the start of Mr Clegg’s tenure as leader, in 2007,
and this paper has paid it to them. Mr Clegg has done much to modernise his
party’s policies — the policy to raise tax thresholds so as to remove the
poorest workers from tax has real merit. The Lib-Dems have been more honest
than the other two parties about the tough fiscal choices ahead, refusing
to ringfence NHS spending. Mr Clegg has freshness and can claim to
represent real change from the big party duopoly. His party has won the
right to greater respect and status in the next parliament.
Yet the Lib-Dems still do not look like a party of government. Partly it
is the residue of unrealistic policies such as support for British
membership of the euro. Partly it is their dearth of serious talent: after
Mr Clegg and shadow chancellor Vince Cable, they have few other
heavyweights. And they cannot expect to win an outright majority. They will
instead hope for a hung parliament, most likely led by the Tories.
A hung parliament might look an attractive option for many voters
alienated from politics. Yet it would be a recipe for bickering and drift
at a time when, even more than usual, the nation’s dire economic straits
demand clear leadership.
The stakes for London in all this are high. On Heathrow expansion, Mr
Cameron has opposed a new runway. That should prove a popular promise, in
west London especially. Meanwhile this paper’s series on London’s
dispossessed has highlighted the extremes of wealth in the capital and the
way in which the very poor have continued to suffer under Labour. The
Government now offers them nothing convincingly new; tackling deprivation
would be the greatest test of David Cameron’s Big Society.
Today, we believe that only the Conservatives can offer Britain — and
London — the possibility of real change and firm leadership.
Their offer is incomplete. If they are elected, we will watch them closely
and critically to see that they serve this nation’s, and above all this
city’s, interests. We will not hesitate to call them to account if they
fall short of their promises.
But the Conservatives are ready for power: they look like a government in
waiting. They have a charismatic leader in David Cameron. He has proved
himself under fire in this campaign. And he now emphatically deserves a
chance to succeed where Labour has failed.

The dozen deciders that could swing it in London, 5 May
Labour majority: 12,183
Labour since 1945. Mostly white working class, with only 20 per cent ethnic
minority voters. Four out of 10 residents live in council housing.
Regeneration hopes pinned on Crossrail and Thames Gateway projects.
Highly symbolic battle between minister for tourism Margaret Hodge and BNP
leader Nick Griffin. The BNP may have picked the wrong seat here, compared
with the more winnable Dagenham. Boundary changes strengthened Hodge, but
BNP did well in the 2006 local elections. David Cameron hopes Tory Simon
Marcus can kill off BNP challenge even if Labour vote collapses.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: N/a

Labour majority: 7,649
Although the magnificent new Wembley stadium and Hindu temple in Neasden
dominate the skyline, the area is made up of huge social housing estates.
Harlesden and Stonebridge have some of the worst deprivation in London.
Dogfight between two neighbouring MPs pitched against each other by
boundary changes. Labour minister Dawn Butler and rival Sarah Teather, the
Lib-Dem business spokeswoman who won Brent East in a famous by-election,
claim the other milked her expenses. Classic Lib-Dem surge territory and
real test for Labour.
To kick out Brown: Vote Lib-Dem
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Labour

Labour majority: 3,633
Archetypal London seat made up of rich and poor areas, from comfortable
Chiswick to poorer Brentford and Heston. Jobs boosted by GlaxoSmithKline HQ
and ribbon of development along the M4.
Dubbed “Mrs Expenses” after the disclosure of second home claims, health
minister Ann Keen, is facing the fight of her life. Boundary changes have
reduced her majority. A Tory seat before 1997, Tory hopeful Mary MacLeod, a
former policy adviser at Buckingham Palace, campaigning hard. But Lib-Dem
Andrew Dakers is not far behind and could provoke an upset. A real
three-way fight.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory/Lib-Dem
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Labour
Labour majority: 328
Most of seat is white, lower middle class and suburban. Huge council estate
of New Addington in south, north more ethnically mixed. United Kingdom
Border Agency HQ is big employer, though council hopes to build new
theatre, shops and offices in regeneration.
Usually one of those straight Labour-Tory battles that seems almost 1950s
in its lack of Liberal history. Although nominally a Labour seat due to
boundary changes, Tory Gavin Barwell, an aide to Lord Ashcroft, expected to
do well. But Labour’s Gerry Ryan could pull off a surprise if there is
resentment at previous Tory MP Andrew Pelling who was forced to become an
independent after leaving his wife for his office assistant. Mystery
ingredient is whether the Clegg surge will kill Labour’s hopes or restrict
Tories in equal measure
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: N/a

Labour majority: 6,372
With the enormous Ford car factory the main employer, historically a white
working class heartland for Labour. But boundary changes have chopped off
deprived wards in the west and added leafy Tory wards from Havering.
Previously an unheard-of target for the Tories, their candidate Simon Jones
could pull off a shock win if Labour’s core vote collapses or shifts in big
numbers to the BNP. Sitting MP and Left-winger Jon Cruddas is battling hard
to convince voters he recognises fears over housing and jobs. If he loses,
he could become Labour’s 2012 mayoral candidate. If he wins, he could end
up deputy Labour leader.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: N/A

Labour majority: 3,673
Brand new constituency encompasses Westfield and BBC developments in
Shepherd’s Bush with big companies in Hammersmith. Cheek-by-jowl poverty
and affluence as big housing estates mingle with Victorian housing favoured
by middle classes keen on swift transport links to central
Target seat number 78 for the Tories, it could be one to watch for Tories
becoming the biggest party in Parliament. Self-styled “street” campaigner
Shaun Bailey is hoping to depose former MP Andy Slaughter. Bitterly fought
contest has focused on housing. Tory council, which has low council tax but
controversial plans for council homes, looms over the race. Libs distant
third but could upset this knife-edge battle.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: N/A

Labour majority: 474
The spiritual home of Labour’s chattering classes, long before Islington
was a glint in Blair’s eye. But boundary changes mean Highgate and Primrose
Hill have been stripped out and replaced by grittier Brondesbury, Queen’s
Park and Kilburn.
Former minister Glenda Jackson is in real danger from the Lib-Dems and
Tories, who jointly run Camden council in a former Labour heartland.
Lib-Dem Ed Fordham could benefit from Clegg surge if enough Tories realise
he’s in second place. Yet Jackson has always benefited from three-way
nature of seat splitting her opponents. Anti-airport campaigner Tamsin
Omond could turn it into a four-way split.
To kick out Brown: Vote Lib-Dem
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Tory or Labour

Labour majority: 484
Stretching from Farringdon’s lofts to Islington’s new Labour heartland in
Barnsbury, it has large areas of council housing and unemployment near
Barrister Emily Thornberry is up against it defending what was a safe seat
under Cabinet minister Chris Smith. Local Lib-Dem council has chipped away
at Labour over the years and Tories now marginalised. Lib-Dem candidate
Bridget Fox often on Twitter announcing her latest bout of campaigning.
Looks like a repeat of neighbouring Hornsey and Wood Green, which fell to
Lib-Dems in 2005.
To kick out Brown: Vote Lib-Dem
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Tory or Labour

Labour majority: 3,823
Formerly twinned with Canning Town, it has now been shrunk so that
Shadwell, Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs form its main areas.
Concentrations of affluent riverside homes yards from traditional council
housing. Clement Attlee cut his teeth in Limehouse.
The big question is whether Respect’s George Galloway can have as dramatic
an impact as he did in neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005. With a
high Bangladeshi population, he could cause minister Jim Fitzpatrick big
problems by splitting Labour’s vote and allowing Tory Tim Archer a chance
to run through the middle. The Lib-Dems are not in contention. Gordon Brown
and David Cameron have campaigned here.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory or Respect
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg:N/A

Lib-Dem majority: 3,613
Although famed for wealthy Richmond Hill and its green, professional
families living in Barnes and suburban north Kingston have over the years
turned this into a Lib-Dem heartland.
One of the classic contests of the night, with its high-profile largely
stemming from Tory environmentalist Zac Goldsmith’s celebrity status. Armed
with local roots, green zeal and an expensive Lib-Dem council, Goldsmith
seemed to be cruising to victory. But revelations about the millionaire
Tory’s non-dom tax status — plus the Clegg surge— could help incumbent
Susan Kramer hold on to the struggling middle class families who determine
the outcome. Kramer’s defence of Kingston Hospital’s maternity unit could
also swing things her way.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron:Vote Lib-Dem
To stop Clegg: Vote Tory

Labour majority: 2,120
A hugely varied seat, from the Bengali families in Harrow Road to the more
affluent St John’s Wood. Boundary changes have meant that Tory wards were
One of those key seats Cameron needs to form a majority government in the
Commons tomorrow. But the battle between Tory barrister Joanne Cash and
Labour incumbent Karen Buck seems to be zig-zagging all the way to the
finishing line. Pregnant Cash was damaged by her decision to quit — and
then reinstall herself — as candidate after a feud with her local Tory
chairwoman. But she has wisely spent time cultivating more deprived parts
of the seat and the Conservatives believe she will benefit from being a
clear symbol of Cameron’s modern Tory party.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Tory or Labour

Labour majority: 5,169
Although it takes in leafy Wandsworth Common, poorer Earlsfield and Tooting
areas have meant it has stayed Labour since the Seventies. Made up of
Thirties semis and big council estates with high ethnic minority
This could provide London’s “Portillo moment”, as victory would mean the
Tories are close to an overall majority and transport minister Sadiq Khan
would lose his seat in the process. Mark Clarke, a former chairman of
Conservative Future could benefit from the increasing colonisation of the
area by middle class professionals priced out of central London.
Traditionally, the Lib-Dems are nowhere near but again the Clegg effect
could upset calculations, particularly among younger affluent voters.
To kick out Brown: Vote Tory
To stop Cameron: Vote Labour
To stop Clegg: Vote Tory or Labour

Author: Editors


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