Candidates will have to watch their language

JUST under a week of campaigning and the public is still giving politicians the run-a-round and indicating that if polling day results in a hung parliament, so be it.

The reason is obvious - there is still deep anger on the doorstep at the brazen behaviour of politicians in pocketing expenses and allowances to which they may have been entitled, but which was a gross insult to voters struggling to cope with the recession.

Candidates are quickly discovering that it is the issue of expenses and “money for old rope” MPs is confronting them on the doorsteps, rather than National Insurance hikes or the quality and quantity of combat helicopters in Afghanistan.

Dr James Raven, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats in the new seat of Harwich & Essex North, says he is not actively campaigning on the expenses issue, but has been “astonished” at the number of voters who are deeply angry over the housing payments to his Tory opponent, Bernard Jenkin.

There is a major difficulty for candidates who exploit the expenses issue because all political parties have been caught up in the expenses manure. While moat cleaning and duck houses would seem proper ammunition with which Labour candidates can pepper opponents, the party has to remember that a number of its MPs are facing trial on criminal fraud charges to do with mortgages and other expenses.

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Voters disgust with MPs ought to ensure that some of the more vicious put downs between party leaders are modified.

Then Tory leader Michael Howard went campaigning across the UK at the 2005 General Election proclaiming that Tony Blair was a liar.

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This was greeted by voters as if it was a ton of year-old porridge and probably ensured many Labour MPs in marginal seats were re-elected.

Howard badly miscalculated the mood in the country - but his legacy lives on in the posters which are being plastered on billboards around the country.

Labour has commissioned posters featuring an airbrushed Cameron, while the Tories have responded with a grinning Brown alongside words which he clearly has never uttered.

The Prime Minister this week was widely seen as attempting to draw a contrast with David Cameron’s wealthy background when he augmented his announcement on the date of the election with the comment that he came ``from an ordinary middle class family in an ordinary town.”

He insisted: ``I have made no personal attack on David Cameron. I am not prepared to do so.’’ In mentioning his upbringing, he said he was “telling people who I am and the values I represent. Background doesn’t matter. Values do. What you believe in matters.”

When the 14th Earl of Home became Prime Minister in 1963, Harold Wilson promptly declared himself “the 14th Mr Wilson.

Home - he renounced the title and served in Downing Street as Sir Alec Douglas-Home - was Britain’s last Old Etonian Prime Minister.

Gordon Brown’s attempt to tarnish Cameron and a Tory candidate in Cheshire with the Old Etonian brush by authorising a Labour campaign against “the Tory Toffs” backfired so spectacularly at the Crewe & Nantwich by-election in 2008 that he was forced to abandon what was a personal attack, the kind of which he now says he eschews.

In 1997, many people who regard themselves as “high Tories” were so appalled at the “Demon Eyes” Tory campaign against Tony Blair that they broke the habit of a lifetime and either abstained or voted Labour.

That should be a salutary lesson for them all.

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