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Thursday 21 November 2019

General election 2019

Our election diary: Week 3

From Bristol to Belfast, eight brave Tortoise members share their thoughts as the election campaign unfolds

Throughout the election campaign, a group of brave Tortoise members – spanning the country and the political spectrum – will share their views as the campaign rolls on. This week, they reflect on the political promises made so far.


Funding the NHS made a predictable return to the centre-stage.

Paul, from London, believes everyone is still missing the point when it comes to the NHS.

“One thing that can be guaranteed in any British general election is a confected ‘row’ over NHS spending, followed by a series of meaningless pledges from all sides about how much additional cash will be pumped into the rickety old system. Last week produced exactly that. The ensuing shouting match left me entirely disengaged, because it’s perfectly clear that what our healthcare model needs is deep systemic and structural reform, not a few extra billions throwing in its general direction.

“Reality check for all – the NHS is a system from the 1940s with chronic inefficiencies which delivers nothing better than middling healthcare outcomes, lagging far behind systems across Europe and Asia. What we should be debating during this campaign is how to rebuild the NHS for the 21st century, and considering fundamentally different models to cope with our changing demographics. But we’re not – the religious fervour that surrounds the NHS has led to the usual narrow one-upmanship of spending commitments, which will do nothing to improve healthcare outcomes. Not good enough from all sides.”

Local campaigns

Several Tortoise members are feeling the shift in tactics hit their local election campaign.

Mike, from Blaydon in the north east, laments the demise of the hustings:

“Clearly the art of electioneering has changed dramatically over the years. Previously, people would have candidates’ posters pinned up on their windows, with some erecting placards in their front gardens. To date I have seen not one placard or poster.  I can’t say I particularly miss them, but what I do miss are the old public meetings/hustings. They gave us the chance to look candidates in the eye and ask them the questions we wanted the answers to. But, like the posters and placards, I have seen no sign of any such meetings or opportunities. Digital electioneering may have won, but I fear the victory is at the expense of the quality of our democracy – putting further distance between voter and politician.”

Lydia, from Belfast, suggests the absence of posters in Northern Ireland merely reflects the absence of a sitting political assembly at Stormont…

“The DUP were really quick to get their posters up in all areas. Sinn Fein has a strong presence in North and West Belfast. Alliance party leader Naomi Long seems absent from posters in her constituency (which happens to be my own, Belfast East), opting for words only. There is a noticeable divide in where the DUP have put their posters and Alliance have put theirs in this constituency.

Beyond the initial announcement of candidates two weeks ago and a few posters, there is little going on here to indicate an election is happening at all. Do parties think people have made up their minds already? Are they going to concentrate all their energies and efforts into a hectic final fortnight? There is a strong desire in Northern Ireland for Stormont to be up and running again and I think this sentiment overshadows further engagement with politics.”


Labour’s big internet announcement, in which they pledged to nationalise superfast broadband, got mixed reviews across the country.

Lydia from Belfast wonders who the policy is trying to woo?

“Where did the broadband commitment come from? Seems a bit left field. Improving broadband network and coverage to rural areas or making internet more accessible for low income neighbourhoods I would understand but free for everyone including businesses? To whom is that appealing?”

Joel, from Bristol, questions the longevity of the investment:

“My first thought was it was an interesting and original (left field) thought. My second thought was … would Fibre Optic still be the latest thing in a few years, and wouldn’t it be sensible to look at investing that money (or some of it) in 5G as surely we will be wireless in due course?”

And Paul, from London, thinks it’s “barmy”:

“Elsewhere, I was staggered by how much media traction was gained by Labour’s barmy idea to nationalise broadband provision.  The BBC even sent out a mobile news alert when the policy was announced, which seemed a bit of an over-reaction. In truth, the idea is little more than theft of corporate assets, giving the state a huge future liability for a technology which will likely be obsolete within a decade.  But the ‘we like free stuff’ crowd will no-doubt jump on board with Comrade McDonnell. Madness.”

Further education

Corbyn’s announcement about investing in lifelong learning caught the eye of Mwenya, from London:

“It’s hard to argue against the concept of supporting lifelong learning, especially as technology works many of us out of jobs.

“Common sense says that driving parity between degrees and apprenticeships could go a long way to improving social mobility. The real proof can only be in the execution of this vision.  Labour have positioned the New Education Service as key to driving the UK economy, yet the Lifelong Learning Commission, tasked with generating ideas, features no business people. This feels like a significant omission, as businesses have always been pivotal in driving innovation and well, hiring…”

Tactical voting

On Brexit, tactical voting decisions aren’t getting any easier.

Martha, from Richmond Park, London, is hopeful that the Lib Dems will benefit:

“Tim Walker, the Lib Dem who stood down in Canterbury, made a significant step towards blocking a Conservative, Brexit majority. In response, I think the Labour Party should have made some concessions of its own. For example, I live in the super-marginal seat of Richmond Park. Our Tory MP Zac Goldsmith beat the Liberal Democrat Sarah Olney by only 45 votes in 2017. In the same election Labour came in over 22,000 votes behind, but the votes they did have would have been more than enough to push the Lib Dems over the line.

If Labour are serious about keeping Boris out of Downing Street, they should have stepped down where their candidates are splitting strong Lib Dem support. This is an election that will pivot on swing seats and tactical votes; hopefully places like Richmond Park, Westmorland and Lonsdale, and Layla Moran’s Oxford West & Abingdon will be sporting yellow garlands in December, but there’s danger in these narrow margins. Perhaps Labour fielding an Oxford University student in this latter seat is an unofficial tactic of stepping aside.”

The candidates

Despite the generous policy announcements, personalities continue to prove challenging…

Janet, from Edinburgh, is unconvinced by Boris’s show of compassion.

“Observing the unedifying sight of Boris Johnson rushing up to flood-affected areas to exude belated and false sympathy. Was anyone convinced? Isn’t that worse than not going at all? I’ve noticed that he gets parachuted into Scotland for about five minutes at a time, then airlifted out. No-one I know is under any illusion that he would throw Scotland under the bus if it suited him. Just ask the Irish….”

Down in Bristol, Joel is feeling similarly disheartened.

“In most elections, one votes for the person you like, who most represents your views and direction. It seems to me that in this election the choices are widely disliked, if not despised! And I find myself just disbelieving so much of what the various party representatives say.”

Finally, ‘a geezer in an anorak’ at the Labour campaign launch event at Manchester Apollo gives Piyush pause to reflect on the promise of Corbynism.

“I plodded through the pouring rain to join a queue, which snaked around the corner, down the street and into a car park. One bearded geezer in an anorak was selling the Socialist Worker. He addressed the queue, ‘The BBC’s been trying to take Corbyn down for years. That’s why I trust him.’ I’m pretty used to ignoring this kind of thing, maybe smiling if I make eye contact. Three people that looked a little younger me than me groaned when they heard him, which jolted me to the bizarreness of what he’d said. People say Corbyn’s Labour has left many people behind. What about the wide range of people that do consider Corbyn’s regeneration of Labour as representative of their values and politics? It reminded me of something Professor Ray Tallis once said: ‘When you have progressive ideas, you fall into some terrible company.’”