So there we have it. Three practically identical guided tours of Fantasy Island, courtesy of the main London parties.
Now that the manifestos are out we can see that the all-pervading theme of this election is that the sins of the bankers are to be visited upon the users of public services, even unto the tenth generation. The current budget deficit is £167 billion; the cost of bailing-out failed banks and building societies comes to exactly £167.5 billion. Neat.
To do something about the deficit, the London parties agree, it is necessary to cut everything that matters to us (definitely not what matters to them). We will have “deeper cuts than Thatcher” (Darling), “painful and extensive cuts” (Osborne) or “savage” cuts (Clegg). It’s refreshing to know all three are in favour of more choice in politics. And while we’re busy making our minds up, we'll not notice the stench of corruption rising from the waters of the Thames.
Things that won’t be cut include the £5 billion annual cost of fighting a war of choice in Afghanistan on behalf of the oil companies. The £9 billion annual budget for building schools, hospitals, etc. in ever-richer competitor economies – such as India and China – will actually be increased by all three parties, while schools and hospitals here are being closed. Not only is this money we borrow to give away but the countries that save most and therefore have the most to lend include China. We borrow their money and then we give it back. And then, we give it back again, with interest.
Labour suggest that the way to improve public services is through yet more centralisation, with successful schools, hospitals and even police forces taking over failing ones. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that merging a small weak organisation with a small strong one is as likely to produce a big weak one as a big strong one. The Lloyds/HBOS merger is not so long ago that policy-makers can have forgotten that.
The police proposals are particularly worrying, a revival of Charles Clarke’s plans for forced mergers, creating regional constabularies to match the meaningless ‘South West’ and ‘South East’ zones. These in turn would be merely one step on the road to a single national police force under the political direction of a Labour Home Secretary.
We’re told the public sector hasn’t enough management talent to go round and so mergers are the only way forward. How about creating more talent by empowering all those junior managers crushed by a top-down bureaucracy? And making schools, hospitals and police properly accountable to local people through their locally elected representatives?
That’s a thought that ought to appeal to the Tories, who talk up the idea of empowering local communities. Yet nothing that is said by the Tories on this issue is to be believed, especially when it seems believable. The strings are as obvious as Pinocchio’s. To take one example, planning. Local communities are to get back the planning powers stolen from them by Labour. Hurrah! But in the same breath all their current planning powers over the siting of new schools are to be taken away, lest they be used to thwart Tory education policy. The Tory manifesto talks about developers having “to pay a tariff to the local authority to compensate the community for loss of amenity”. Wouldn’t we rather not lose the amenity in the first place?
The Liberal Democrats are no more believable. Didn’t Lib Dems collude with Labour and the Tories in blatantly trying to increase the disparity between the London parties and the rest by televised leaders’ personality contests? If we followed their advice to never vote for what we believe in but always ‘tactically’ then there’d never be choice, ‘real’ or otherwise. The Liberals would never have recovered from those days in the 1960’s when all six of their MPs could fit into a Mini. The Labour Party wouldn’t even have got started.
Nil out of three. And mention UKIP at your peril. That party of twisted paranoiacs have such an acute grasp of financial detail that they’re calling for a 25% cut in public spending while at the same time proposing to spend an extra £12.5 billion a year, double what they reckon they’d save by pulling out of the EU. Their plans include a 40% increase in defence spending with 25,000 extra troops, presumably to shoot those demonstrating against the loss of up to 2 million public sector jobs which have "no useful purpose whatsoever". Since a quarter of UKIP’s MEPs in the last Euro-Parliament either left or were convicted of benefit fraud, expenses fraud or false accounting it seems they are pretty indistinguishable from the rest that London has to offer.
In fact what we are seeing is the unedifying spectacle of a political class who, for all their sound and fury, signify nothing, having long ago stopped communicating with their voters. Not one of these manifestos has anything to offer Wessex. Not one will end Westminster diktat, returning power where it belongs – rooted deep in Wessex and its local communities. Only the Wessex Regionalists are now left to fight for that.
A vote for the Wessex Regionalists sends a signal to the London parties that alternatives do exist. Support for ‘others’ in the polls is running at a consistent 12%. This is 4% higher than it was at the equivalent stage in 2005, when in the event ‘others’ did better then than the polls predicted.
In seats without a WR candidate this time, our advice is clear-cut. Take a thick felt pen to the polling station. Spoil your ballot paper by writing ‘WESSEX REGIONALIST’ right across it, then underline this thrice. When the boxes are emptied, such papers are shown to all the candidates. Give them a message they won’t forget!