Those who recall the Second World War speak of the “Phoney War” – the months after war was formally declared in September 1939 before there was any observable evidence of hostilities. There was a spooky sort of calm in England.
We now seem to be experiencing the exact opposite. No political war has been formally declared – and yet you could be forgiven for thinking that we were in the middle of an election campaign. Small explosions are going off in hospitals up and down the country; politicians do helicopter tours of the country, rallying the troops, spraying slogans at each stop-off point and crying “Forward not Backward.” Armchair pundits tell us which party has captured which key political bridgehead; and what are the disputed territories that need to be captured for victory.
Every speech is scanned for a gaffe or a mutiny; every opinion poll for evidence that the previous week’s tactics have produced a small dividend;
But is this the way, I ask myself, to bridge the gap between electors and elected? What percentage of the electorate has an appetite for week after week of this diet? Have we really got to put up with this for another two months? And, having bored the country to tears for months, politicians will then ask why the shell-shocked electorate didn’t venture from their bunkers to go to the polls.
I recall my first General Election in February 1974 in Ealing Acton - a constituency of beauty and contrast, with all the beauty in Ealing and all the contrast in Acton. The background then was a worsening situation in Northern Ireland coupled with atrocities on the mainland. Then there really were bombs. The candidates were summoned to Ealing Police Station by the Chief Superintendent and warned to take sensible precautions. When, a few days later, a large and unsolicited package arrived at my Headquarters, we asked the police to remove it. They obliged, and we heard no more until after the election was over. The package was brought round, with a large label attached to it, declaring the contents to be harmless. Inside were thousands of copies of my Party’s manifesto.
To revert to today, I take a strictly constitutional approach to these matters. When I see the Prime Minister heading with a nervous smile on his face towards Buckingham Palace after meeting his Cabinet, I will pick up my pen to address my electorate. When he tells me that, along with my Parliamentary colleagues, I am going to be dissolved then I shall mobilise myself for the battle. Until then, it is business as usual.