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September 16 2011

Cornelia Parker selects spectrum of Government Art Collection

Whitechapel Gallery's choice of government-owned art includes works by Andy Warhol and Grayson Perry

A video of a man hanging precariously from a ladder seems somehow appropriate for a collection intrinsically linked to politics and politicians, as does the portrait of Elizabethan statesman William Cecil which recently hung in Ken Clarke's office. A phallic geyser bursting out of the earth may be less obvious.

"People will make their own links," said the artist Cornelia Parker about a new exhibition she has curated, choosing 70 works from the Government Art Collection (GAC).

The show is the second in a series of five at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in which different people are let loose among the 14,000 works in the collection.

Parker said the experience had been fun. She trawled through books and printouts before she decided that she was going to display the works according to colour. "I went through lots of ideas and this one about colour is the one that stuck and it gave me permission to be very eclectic," she said.

It means Old Masters are hanging next to modern work. A portrait of Elizabeth I by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, for example, is near to Brews, a strikingly orange work, by pop artist Ed Ruscha and a big photograph in Liberal Democrat yellow by Jane and Louise Wilson which recently hung in Nick Clegg's office.

Other works in the show include Grayson Perry's Print for a Politician, which George Osborne personally chose for his office, a Peter Blake screenprint of the Beatles, previously in the residence of the deputy UK representative at the UN in New York, some colourful William Turnbull screenprints last in the ambassador's residence in Panama and an Andy Warhol portrait of the Queen from 1985.

Parker has also chosen one of her own works, which was one of a suite of six that for 10 years hung in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's wood-panelled dining room while Gordon Brown was there – a feather from the pillow of Sigmund Freud.

Spending cuts means the GAC is not buying anything for two years, the first time it has been forced to stop collecting since the second world war. It has been acquiring works for 113 years and around two-thirds are out on display at government buildings and embassies worldwide at any time.

Next at the Whitechapel after Parker's choice will be the selection of historian Simon Schama, and after that staff from 10 Downing Street will be making the decisions.

GAC selected by Cornelia Parker: Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain is at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, 16 September-4 December.


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May 05 2010

General election 2010: your questions answered

It's the most exciting and perplexing race in ages. From dead heats to Afghanistan to Nick Clegg's hair, our experts tackle your posers

Election night

Is it worth staying up on election night to see Hazel Blears lose her seat?

davidabsalom

No – if that's your only hope, there's no point turning on the TV. First, she'll probably win: she has a 10,000 majority. Second, the result isn't due until 3am – any joy you feel will be crushed by other results by then. Third, she doesn't deserve to lose. There are many worse MPs (see question "why is this election so male?").

Does anyone take any notice of the number of spoilt ballot papers in an election?

davidabsalom

Yes – and they get counted. 188,000 people cast them in 2005. A quarter were disqualified because people voted for more than one candidate, and two-thirds because they were blank. Britain's top seat for wasted votes was Gloucester, where more than 1,000 were cast. And no – if you write a rude limerick about Gordon Brown, they won't read it out at the count.

What happens if Labour and the Tories get exactly the same number of seats? Does it go to a coin-toss?

lairoflard

Individual candidates draw lots if they win identical votes, but there is no provision for a coin-toss between the leaders where the number of seats is tied. The cabinet secretary's draft rule book for forming governments makes plain that whenever the parliamentary arithmetic is uncertain, the serving prime minister is entitled to make the first attempt to get a Queen's speech through. And if, when the crunch votes come, the votes are exactly tied, then the Speaker by convention casts a deciding vote in support of the government of the day.

The politicos

What, Labour and Lib Dems, if any, is the ideological difference between your parties?

wengerball

All the difference in the world. Labour is a collectivist party; the Liberal Democrats are liberals. Both believe in social justice, but see different routes to get there. If you like the state, you'll love another five years of Labour rule. If not, better go Lib Dem.

What qualifies George Osborne, a man who had two jobs before moving to Conservative central office, to be chancellor of the exchequer?

pov1

The cheap answer is that he is a friend of David Cameron. The fair one is that he's very bright. Don't rule him out just because he looks annoying on TV. Rule him out, if you like, because you fear his economic policy. And on a wider point: what qualified Gordon Brown to be chancellor, apart from years as a student political hack and about 25 minutes as a TV researcher. Oh – now I see your point …

Is Nick Clegg's hair actually ginger?

Viscountbiscuit

Look, it's not just about brown hair and darker brown hair. That's the old system and, I don't know about you, but I'm tired of that system. It doesn't work. Last week, I met Jackie in Stockport and she said: "I work, my husband works, and at the end of the day we want to relax by making jokes about the PM's hair. Is that too much to ask?" No, Jackie, it isn't. People are looking for a third way. It's time for the auburn way.

Why is this election so MALE?!

Helenoftroy

Because the party leaders are, and because most journalists are, and because local parties – full of women activists – keep choosing male candidates. Plus Gordon Brown alienated his women ministers. Plus some Tories are sexist, and the Lib Dems haven't changed their selection system. It's everyone's fault.

The economy

Is it fair that public sector workers should face cuts to pay for the devastation wrought on the economy by the private sector?

Kovgos

Of course it's not. But when it comes to taking an axe to the public sector, all the main parties sound pretty bloodthirsty. The Conservatives want to make the biggest cuts, while Labour would spread the pain slightly more fairly between that and raising taxes on the better-off. The Lib Dems are – surprise! – somewhere between the two. Yet none go as far as John Major in the 90s who split the bill between spending cuts and tax rises fifty-fifty.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. A significant proportion of our population live below the poverty level. How can you not support the unilateral introduction of the Robin Hood tax?

playnicely

There are two questions here. One, would a tax on bank transactions reduce the wealth gap? To which the answer is: probably not. Two, would more taxes on the banks be a good idea – and it sounds like we agree that it would. The Lib Dems and the Tories have plans to go ahead and impose such taxes. Brown says he needs other countries to join in to make a tax worth it. He may be making the perfect enemy of the good.

Was there ever ANY credible alternative to pouring in billions to recapitalise, and thereby save, the banking system

partlucid

Ah, hindsight. Gordon Brown could have guaranteed all savings in the banks, then let the weakest collapse. But that would have been a trillion-pound gamble. What he should certainly have done is take full ownership and control of the banks and forced them to direct lending to sound businesses and strategic industries. What we have instead is a massive stake in high-street banking, but very little say. Hardly a bargain.

Foreign policy

Which party is committed to military withdrawal from Afghanistan and has drawn up a detailed, costed plan? Does this plan include a commitment to: a) work with any local partners necessary in order to leave a stable political settlement, and b) pressure the US to do the same?

Stiller 1980

None of the three main parties is committed to a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, though all say they will leave once the "job is done", whatever that means. None has gone as far as President Barack Obama in setting a de facto timetable for a withdrawal in mid-2011. Presumably, though, Britain will follow. If any of the main parties has a detailed, costed exit plan, they have not published it (just as they did not have a detailed, costed plan for Britain's increased involvement when it began under the then defence secretary John Reid). The BNP supports immediate withdrawal.

What are the parties' policies likely to be towards Zimbabwe and other developing countries who need aid, but who this government is currently at loggerheads with?

subversivefreak

The three main parties have condemned what they see as the misrule of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. The current policy of channelling British aid through non-government organisations, charities and UN agencies, rather than through the Mugabe regime's ministries, is likely to continue, whoever wins the election, and as long as power sharing with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change remains largely a fiction. There is broad agreement that any British assistance to other "countries of concern", such as Sudan, should normally be channelled via NGOs.

Have any of the potential leaders a clue what they would do about Israel/Palestine?

Tagalong

They all agree on the preferred outcome, an Israeli and Palestinian state living side by side, but they are vague on how to get there. Arguably, the onus on them is not all that great as Britain on its own has limited influence in the region. The Lib Dem manifesto points out that Britain has a stronger voice on the issue when it works within the EU. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have been the most outspoken in their outrage over Gaza.

I would like to know the interest each [party has] in clearing up the mess of the last 13 years re: foreign policy, civil liberties, human rights violations, etc, starting with Guantánamo.

MorallyUnambiguous

All the parties say they will clear up the mess, including Labour, whose mess it has been. All are in favour of staying in Afghanistan, though again all three say they would do it better. Guantánamo is declining as an issue, as the US internment camp steadily empties and no one now admits to thinking it was a good idea in the first place. The Lib Dems have been the most outspoken about the damage done to the UK's reputation, and point out they were the only one of the three main parties to oppose the Iraq invasion, declaring it illegal.

Home affairs

What plans, if any, have each of the three parties about dealing with worrying numbers of police officers acting outside the law and being immune to the law?

Mutspeak

None of the parties addresses the question directly. Lib Dems say they will restore the right to protest by reforming the Public Order Act and curb aggressive police tactics. Labour set up the IPCC, but their manifesto contains no further plans. Conservatives say only that it is vital that policing tactics have the support of the public.

Are there any pro-immigration parties?

NotUnreasonable

All main parties say they are pro-immigration, but the Conservative policy is to reduce the numbers to "tens of thousands" a year through an annual quota. Labour policy is to limit non-EU immigration to only those with the skills needed in Britain. The Lib Dems say they will introduce a regional points-based system to ensure migrants go to areas of greatest need.

What does each party promise to do about making sure that getting a conviction for rape is easier? What are they going to do to ensure rape victims are safe and protected?

brusketta

The Lib Dems have promised 15 more rape crisis centres and more money for centres that provide medical care and counselling for sexual assault victims. Labour has promised to set up these sexual assault referral centres in every area by 2011. The Conservatives say they match the Lib Dem pledge to deliver 15 more rape crisis centres, but will also ensure existing rape crisis centres have stable, long-term funding.

Other policy

Do any of the parties have credible policies to improve access to social housing for those in housing need?

jforbes

Labour are ahead on this one. Yes, they have had a mostly terrible record in government of relying far too much on private developers to provide housing; but in the last year or so they have ramped up investment in affordable homes and now plan to reform the system by which councils fund the building of houses. The Lib Dems talk a similar language. The Tories are hopeless.

Which parties are actually opposing the Digital Economy Act as their party line?

Topperfalkon

None of the three main parties opposes the act in its entirety. Labour pushed the legislation through as it stands in the final days before parliament was dissolved for the election in early April. The Tories are backing it, but have said they may overhaul internet piracy measures if the legislation turns out in practise to be "flawed" or have major "unintended consequences". The Lib Dems voted against the act becoming law, while backing most of the contents, because the party believes that parts of the anti-piracy legislation have not been given time to be worked through in a "fair and proportionate way". If elected, the Lib Dems would undertake a year of further research and consultation on this issue before taking action.

Will the British public have to fork out for a Sky subscription to watch England in the World Cup if the Conservatives win?

DisobeyMurdoch

No. The BBC and ITV have the rights to the 2010 and 2014 football World Cup finals. The World Cup finals are on the list of sporting events reserved for free-to-air TV. A Conservative spokeswoman told the Guardian yesterday there was "not a chance" that the party would take the World Cup finals off this list and allow other broadcasters – including Sky – to bid for them.

Will teachers ever be allowed to just teach?

webbysteve

All three main parties have promised to give teachers more freedom, but the profession doubts that any will really allow them to do what they do best – teach. The Lib Dems have pledged only one education act in five years of parliament and talk of reducing central control on schools. The Conservatives talk of extra freedoms for some schools and a slimmed down curriculum. Labour has a record of highly prescriptive controls over teachers, which some say has turned those in the profession into bureaucrats. Teachers say abolishing Sats tests for 10 and 11-year-olds would be a good start in allowing them to "just teach", but none of the three parties will agree to this.

Do any of the parties have any policies that deal specifically with the challenges facing single occupancy households?

SE26lad

Bad news: none of them mention it in their manifestos. In fact Nick Clegg even suggested in the last leaders' debate that single bedroom yuppie flats should be turned into ones for families. And the Tories want everyone to get married. Time to join that famous political standby, I'm afraid: the "hardworking family".

The voting system

If I vote for, say, the Lib Dems and it becomes a hung parliament, what happens? Do I really end up with a Labour or Conservative government and either Gordon Brown or David Cameron running the country?

wmissenden

Yup. Sorry. But that's the way things are. Vote Lib Dem and you might – if you live in one of about 80 places in Britain – get a Lib Dem MP. But if more people vote for Labour or the Conservatives, you won't get a Lib Dem government.

Why is the established media, including the Guardian, not explaining to people how the first-past-the-post system works massively in favour of the Liberal Democrats once they get past 38% of the popular vote? At 41-42%, they have a majority and are on their way to a landslide.

beauchampkid

The Lib Dems suffer as their vote is relatively evenly spread, so they do respectably in many places but rarely well enough to win. With enough extra votes, however, there would indeed come a point when they would creep over winning lines in all sorts of seats. The magic number is close to 40%, and if they hit the 43% Blair achieved in 1997 they would win a majority even more crushing than his. In terms of why we've not covered it much, I guess the only answer is that few of us expect it to happen.

Why did we end up with first-past-the-post in the first place?

justinpickard

The House of Commons was designed to represent distinct communities, not individual commoners. With no formal parties, individual candidates fought it out in individual constituencies and it seemed fair enough for the man with the most votes to win. Rotten boroughs and two-member constituencies have since been abolished, but the basic rules remain in force for no better reason than that they have never been changed. In 1917 and 1931 the Commons twice voted for variants of electoral reform, but the House of Lords and events intervened, and the proposals fell.

The current electoral system is clearly outdated and bordering on undemocratic. Those arguing for reform seem to be proposing proportional representation, which in effect means a permanently hung parliament. Is there another way to reform the system?

Evsie

We could form a society of Greek city states and try participatory democracy. But Greece is currently out of fashion. Or we could elect a president, except then everyone who didn't back the winner gets to lose. Or we could go some half-way to reform and use the alternative vote: Australia does that and governments get a majority.

Are any of the main three planning to address the issue of a second elected house to replace the House of Lords? And are any of the main three planning to have a referendum on the monarchy?

Cusacker

Sorry, the Queen seems safe. The Tories and Lib Dems don't mention her in their manifestos. Labour just says: "Our constitutional monarchy is the source of deep pride and strength for our country." Labour promises a majority elected Lords after two more general elections; the Lib Dems want one sooner; the Tories don't say when.

Media and polling

Why do so many of the media outlets, the Guardian included, persist in the mistaken reference to the opinion polls having a margin of error, typically plus or minus 3%? These polls are carried out using quota sampling. As such, they do not have a margin of error.

BigEd

You are right. To statisticians, margin of error can only apply to pure probability theory. And polls don't work on pure probability. The term has become shorthand in the British and US polling industry as a way of explaining that there is a chance the results are slightly wrong. This matters when all parties are close and the order and share affects how they are seen at an election. The Guardian has only used the phrase five times in the last two years. We'll stop, I promise.

Why do you consistently, on the daily liveblog and elsewhere, include without caveats predictions of 'seats won' based on a uniform national swing, a crude system which is untested in conditions such as those predicted by current polls?

jamesch

Because so far there isn't a better and tested theory for translating vote shares into seats. We always do put caveats in reports of our ICM polls – and most of the time give a range of outcomes, not an exact figure on uniform swing. But you're right: the model is broken. Got a better one?

In an election where voters choose a member of parliament for their constituency rather than a leader for the country, isn't it nonsensical to have televised debates between three candidates who are standing in three different constituencies and whose names, even collectively, will be printed on less than 1% of all ballot papers?

Cymrodor

Ah, a parliamentary romantic. Burke would have loved you. It's not nonsensical at all: the party leaders are competing for the job of prime minister, not local MP. And most people vote for the party they like, not the candidate. But you are perfectly free to do otherwise.


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Roy Greenslade: The Sun recruits Simon Cowell to its pro-Tory campaign

At last, The Sun calls in the nation's real leader to assist in its campaign on behalf of the Conservatives. "I have always hated celebrities lecturing people on politics," says Simon Cowell. But what the hell? I'm going to do it anyway.

His message, strangely, echoes that of the paper. A hung parliament would be bad for Britain. Gordon Brown is past it. Nick Clegg has worrying policies. David Cameron, wouldn't you just know it, "has substance and the stomach to navigate us through difficult times."

Cowell has met "David" twice and trusts him on "gut instinct" because "he was very quick to commit to helping with a serious funding deficit for a children's hospice charity I am involved with."

It appears that Cowell is more of an expert on politics than his modesty suggests. A hung parliament, he writes, "ends in months of stupid arguments and then a dull compromise, which means nothing ever gets achieved."

He does not reveal how he came by this insight. So what? It must be worth a splash if Cowell is saying it.

And if that doesn't get Sun readers worked up, then the Page 3 picture of 16 topless models will surely do the job. They will be on the dole, says the paper, if the Tories do not get elected.

Why? Because Labour's Harriet Harman and the Lib Dems' Lynn Featherstone want to change the law to "ban Page 3 forever."

To underline this assault on our liberties, The Sun introduces its readers to "the radical ideas of 17th century philosopher John Locke" who, it says, "helped shape our freedoms."

So that's it. The election is decided. Cowell plus Locke plus 16 Page 3 girls equals certain victory for Dave.


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Why is the US mocking our 'Harry Potter' election? | Hadley Freeman

British voters and politicians have been treated to quite extraordinary levels of condescension from American commentators

There have been many irritating elements to this election, not least the unignorable, looming realisation that this country's finances are about to be put in the hands of a man whose only qualification in the study of money seems to be that his wallpaper-designing family has a lot of it.

But perhaps most trying of all has been the degree of curious condescension British voters and politicians have been treated to from American commentators: "America's Deadbeat Older Brother, the United Kingdom, is holding an election for Best Wizard! Or Prime Minister, or something," snarked the reliably snarky website Gawker. Only four weeks long! No smear campaigns! And those cute accents!

Even Saint Jon Stewart slipped into this all-too-easy mode on The Daily Show last week, when he amusingly yet not entirely fairly managed to reduce the UK election down to a little squabble about bus passes. "You all know you used to rule the subcontinent, you do know that?" he asked, while unscrewing a salt shaker and slicing up some lemons.

To characterise America as the Champions League and England as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final suits both American self-aggrandisement and British self-deprecation, and is an easy source of lazy laughs. It's the Grumpy Old Nations approach to international relations, and as someone who is lucky enough to pay taxes in both the UK and US, I try to avoid this cheesy stance. However, there are times when it's hard not to think that, yup, we Americans sure do things bigger and better

Last week, something happened in Rochdale that you may have heard about. A pensioner demanded that Gordon Brown inform her of the origins of eastern Europeans, Brown muttered in his car that she was "bigoted", the pensioner huffed to the Mail on Sunday (reportedly for £80,000) that she was more outraged that he referred to her as a "woman" than a "bigot", and the UK media dubbed this ripple in a teacup "Bigotgate". You want Bigotgate? I'll show you Bigotgate.

The same week that the UK rightwing press was crowing that Brown's "gaffe" proved that "immigration is this country's most incendiary issue", America was facing the prospect of it being illegal to not be, if not racist, then let's say race-ish, in one of its states, Arizona. Read that again, slowly.

Thanks to the passing of a law – known officially as SB1070, and unofficially as "nazism" by a Cardinal Roger M Mahony, as quoted in the New York Times – police are now not only required to demand documents from anyone of whom they are "reasonably suspicious", but Arizona citizens can sue the police if they think they have failed to harass a "suspicious looking" person.

As several politicians, Democrat and Republican, have pointed out, this sounds distinctly like racial profiling. Arizona's governor Jan Brewer has denied this, but has failed to specify quite what kind of looks count as "suspicious". And Gawker's accusation on Monday that the Arizona State Senate majority leader and proponent of SB1070, Chuck Grey, was following not one but two white supremacist groups on Twitter doesn't exactly help Brewer's claim. Nor – as Frank Rich pointed out in last Sunday's New York Times – did Rush Limbaugh's recent linking of the birther movement and SB1070 ("I can understand Obama being touchy on the subject of producing your papers. Maybe he's afraid somebody's going to ask him for his." Um, if memory serves, they did, Rush and he produced them). Not that Brewer seems to give a damn what people think.

If I have failed to convey the true nature of this bill, maybe this will help: the Bush family finds it offensive. Perhaps SB1070's supporters should use that as a tagline: "SB1070: the law that's so rightwing, it makes the Bushes look moderate."

One person who does like it, though, is the politician formerly known as Maverick John McCain. Again, this is an example of America doing things on a much larger scale than the UK. If you think Labour has lost its moral compass over the past 10 years, meet John McCain, the man who three years ago said that America needed to find a "humane, moral" way to deal with illegal immigrants. Two weeks ago he told – Fox News, who else? – that these "illegals" are "intentionally causing accidents on the freeway", a statement that manages to make querying where eastern Europeans flock from sound intelligent.

The setting for McCain's announcement is telling. The engine that has moved America's Republican party to the right of the Bushes has been Fox News, home of Glenn "Obama's a racist" Beck and Bill "I just wish hurricane Katrina had hit the UN" O'Reilly.

Where America has highly partisan TV and neutral broadsheet newspapers, Britain takes the opposite approach, and Fox News's equivalent in this country is not, surprisingly, a Murdoch product but the Daily Mail. There are many, many complaints one can make about the Mail but, so far, the Conservative party has managed to resist having its policies dictated by it (it remains to be seen for how long Cameron resists being dictated to by Murdoch), and, reluctant as I am to defend the Mail, at least that paper speaks out explicity against the BNP – unlike Fox News which actively champions looney pockets such as the Tea Party movement.

So yes, Britain, we Americans may recently have been mocking the "laughable tameness" of your political system and election. We might make jokes about the election being decided by Harry Potter's sorting hat. But the truth is, we're just jealous.


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Video: Gordon Brown in Manchester

Labour leader delivers powerful testimony to party's achievements and appeals for undecided voters to 'come home to Labour'



Digested election: Ganging up on Gordon

John Crace finds David Cameron grateful to Tony Blair and Manish Sood and Ed Balls and ...

Tony Blair Have you seen the papers? They say Gordon has found his voice.

Cherie Well you'd better stop that.

Blair Gosh. (Picks up phone.) Hello there, Manish ...

Manish Sood, Labour candidate for Norfolk North-West Gordon Brown is a total disaster. The worst prime minister this country ever had.

Peter Mandelson Who the hell chose him to be a Labour candidate?

Brown It was you, you fool.

Ed Balls I'd better tell everyone to vote Lib Dem.

David Cameron I'd just like to say thank you for that little intervention, Tony.

Blair I've always given Gordon my full backing.

Cameron The peerage will be in the post anyway.

George Osborne So what do we do now, sir?

Cameron I'm going to roll up my sleeves again, because they keep falling down. And then I'll stay up all night on Wednesday.

Osborne and Boris Johnson Top hole! It will be just like that night at the Bullingdon when we were off our faces with the topless Polish waitress and set off the fire alarm!

Clegg Alarm bells are going off all over the place right now.


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I believe! Rock god Gordon's travelling salvation show

Simon Hoggart joins the prime minister at his Granada studios rally in Manchester and finds him a changed man

I don't know what they're putting in Gordon Brown's cocoa – malt whisky, monkey glands, 97 octane V-power unleaded – but it seems to be doing the trick. If he is heading for an almighty crash tomorrow, he's so high he may not notice.

Today he was at a rally in the Granada studios, Manchester. It was supposed to be Gordodammerung, the twilight of the grump, but it was more like the Sheffield rally of 1992, when Labour thought they were going to win. He was performing in front of 500 crazed Labour supporters. He was a rock god!

Celebrities, some not from Coronation Street, lined up on video to razz up the audience even more. Bill Bailey! Tony Robinson! Prunella Scales! Someone else you'd vaguely heard of! Jo Brand explained things Labour had done had made her angry. But it didn't matter, because "Cameron is a knob!" (Or possibly a nob. It's the new politics. "Mr Attlee, will you tell the voters why they should vote Labour?" "Because Mr Churchill is a knob.")

Our MC was TV's glamorous Gloria de Piero, Labour candidate for Ashfield, an old miners' seat. Her accent grew flatter and more northern by the minute, as if it was being steamrollered. "Wurr not Tories, an' we doan't tekk people for grunted," she said, to huge cheers. It was getting like a revival meeting, or possibly Alcoholics Anonymous. Voters were wheeled out to confess that in the past they had voted for other parties. But they had been saved. By Jesus! Sorry, by Gordon! The audience cheered and whooped, like drunken Texans at a rodeo.

Connie Huq of Blue Peter testified she had voted for other parties too. But she'd seen the light. They went berserk. Then she began to meander. She had trained as an economist. "I saw Iceland go down, I saw on the news, all those banks collapsing, and I thought 'oh my gosh!' and I was expecting Armageddon, I couldn't afford to live where I'm living with interest rates at 15%!" If it hadn't been for Gordo, she'd be living in a Toshiba box. Ms de Piero re-appeared on the platform, possibly to cover her mouth in sticky-backed plastic.

But nothing would stop the audience. When Brother Brown arrived, the climax of the travelling salvation show, they gave him a standing ovation. Then, thinking it wasn't enough, they gave him another, before he even opened his mouth. He was "following the commands of conscience," like a hell-fire preacher. He recited a litany of Labour's achievements, 55 of them, but nobody could hear more than a handful because congregation was praising the Gord so loudly. They were washed in the blood of the Gordo. One or two could be made out, including "the right to book into a bed and breakfast." Presumably he meant gays, but it sounded weird. Will the Tories force everyone to sleep apart?

I'll show you how relaxed he was. He even praised his predecessor, which must have hurt. "It's not my achievement. It's not even Tony's achievement, great as Tony was [pause] and is." Yes, he's not dead yet!

He praised his own faux-dishevelled look. "If you want the guy whose hair is always perfect, whose tie is always straight, you have a choice – the other two," which they applauded wildly, even though his hair was perfect.

But he was happy. This was for party loyalists, and an appeal for them to remain loyalists. "Come home to Labour!" he said at the end. Like a TV star he plunged into the audience.


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General election 2010 live blog

Andrew Sparrow covers the latest general election news and events, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg on the campaign trail.

10.52am: Caroline Lucas, the Green party leader, has also been sounding off about the leaders' debates. She told BBC News:

What they have done is turn a two-party stitch-up into a three-party stitch-up and they have still silenced lots of voices that I believe the British public would have wanted to hear. When you had the debates talking about foreign policy, not one of those three parties was talking about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, which is Green party policy, not one of them was talking about international development, poverty eradication, getting rid of our nuclear weapons. A whole range of different options aren't on the table for as long as you exclude the smaller parties.

10.46am: This is excellent. We asked readers to submit some election questions - not the standard Q&A ones, but quirky, clever ones, like why is the election so male, and how did Britain end up with first-past-the-post in the first place - and Guardian writers have been answering them. I'm going to quote one, just to give you a flavour of what the answers are like, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Why do so many of the media outlets, the Guardian included, persist in the mistaken reference to the opinion polls having a margin of error, typically plus or minus 3%? These polls are carried out using quota sampling. As such, they do not have a margin of error. BigEd

You are right. To statisticians, margin of error can only apply to pure probability theory. And polls don't work on pure probability. The term has become shorthand in the British and US polling industry as a way of explaining that there is a chance the results are slightly wrong. This matters when all parties are close and the order and share affects how they are seen at an election. The Guardian has only used the phrase five times in the last two years. We'll stop, I promise.

10.35am: The phone-in is now over. Nicky Campbell concluded by asking Gordon Brown what he would do if he lost on Thursday. Brown would not speculate about that and said that he was fighting for the values he believed in.

I've got very strong views. I'm impatient to do things. I want to have a chance to build a better Britain for the future.

10.29am: A man called Alan rang in to say that he was dying of lung cancer and that the Department for Work and Pensions was forcing him to look for work. Gordon Brown said that that should not be happening. He said that he would take Alan's details and get the situation changed.

10.26am: Nicky Campbell asked Gordon Brown about Cowell's article in the Sun (see 9.35). Campbell said that Cowell likes Brown but thinks he's tired. Brown said he's not tired: "I'm energised."

He went on:

This is not an election to be decided by celebrities or by insiders or by journalists or by media people. It's the people's election. That's why I respect the fact that at the last minute there are many people ... who say quite rightly that they are undecided. And the reason they are undecided is that this is a big decision.

So why was Brown using Ross Kemp on the campaign trail yesterday, Campbell asked.

Brown said that Kemp had been helping the Labour party for years. But Kemp would accept that celebrities should not decide the election, Brown said.

10.13am: While the Brown phone-in carries on, here's a statement from the Green party leader, Caroline Lucas. She is attacking Nick Clegg for a comment he made in the Financial Times yesterday about electoral reform not being a precondition for coalition talks with the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats have made a huge noise about being the party of change but when it comes down to it all they really are is the party of changing their minds. It's common knowledge that the Tories don't want electoral reform. Any coalition negotitations that don't set out electoral reform as a deal breaker will lead to five more years of the same old system and it's the voters who will suffer.

The FT suggested that Clegg had changed his tack because last week he said the electoral reform was "an absolute precondition for renewal in this country". But yesterday, in response to the FT story, Clegg insisted that he was not being inconsistent. He said that he still believed electoral reform was a precondition for renewal, but that he had never spelt out any conditions for the talks that might take place between the Tories and the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament.

The Green party press release also says that two polling firms, YouGov and ICM, are predicting that Lucas will win in Brighton Pavilion.

10.05am: Nicky Campbell challenged Brown to defend his handling of the banks. How many Canadian banks needed to be bailed out, he asked. Campbell answered the question himself: none. Brown said Canadian banks were not international.

10.00am: A caller has just tried to get Gordon Brown to endorse tactical voting. He said that he was a Labour supporter, but that he lived in Cheltenham, where Labour does not have a chance. The Lib Dems hold the seat with 39.4% of the vote (in 2005), the Tories are just behind with 38.7% of the vote and Labour is trailing on 11.8%. The caller asked if Brown wanted him to vote Labour or Lib Dem tomorrow.

Brown would not take the bait.

I would like everybody who's Labour to vote Labour.

But Brown also said there was "an anti-Conservative majority in this country". He said the Tories went into the election expecting a coronation but found they had less support than they expected. Nicky Campbell told Brown that he had a coronation when he replaced Tony Blair in 2007.

9.46am: Nicky Campbell reminds Gordon Brown that he is being filmed. And he tells listeners that David Cameron did not accept an invitation to appear on the programme.

Brown says an emergency budget from the Conservatives would put the recovery at risk. He says he thinks there should have been more policy debate during the campaign.

Campbell asks about Gillian Duffy. He says that Brown said he would take responsibility in his Citizens UK speech. But when the Duffy incident happened, Brown's instinct was to blame "Sue". Which is the real Brown, Campbell asks.

Brown says he took responsibility after the Duffy incident.

I have said I take responsibility. I have always said when I make a mistake that I have made a mistake.

9.37am: Gordon Brown is about to start a phone-in on Radio 5 Live.

9.35am: I've mentioned the main stories in the papers already (see 6.59am, 8.33am 8.51am). Here are some of the others worth noting.

In the Sun, Simon Cowell says that he believes David Cameron is "the prime minister Britain needs at this time".

And the Sun says Labour's Harriet Harman and the Lib Dems' Lynne Featherstone would ban Page 3 girls.

David Miliband tells the Daily Telegraph says that Labour is about to get "the most New Labour parliamentary party ever".

The Daily Mail joins the tactical voting craze. It's urging people to vote tactically against Labour and it lists 65 seats where Mail readers could keep Labour out by voting Tory, Lib Dem or Plaid Cymru.

The Times says Vincent Cable has donated £14,000 to the Liberal Democrats.

Sue Cameron in the Financial Times says training for new MPs will start on Monday.

9.15am: Is there anyone in British politics with a better turn of phrase than Alan Johnson? This is what he was saying about the Lib Dems earlier on the Today programme.

The Liberal Democrats are on a slow puncture and the air is coming of the tyre. Whether enough of it will come out by Thursday, I don't know.

Johnson said that people liked what they saw of Clegg three weeks ago but that since then he had become "a bit grating". Johnson went on: "He's been trying the same tricks in every television debate and it gets a bit wearing."

The home secretary also said that David Cameron was "arrogant" because he thought he was going to win and that Clegg was "arrogant" because he thought he would be able to pick the prime minister.

8.51am: If George Osborne becomes chancellor, he may have to have some difficult conversations with Treasury officials. The Treasury spends a huge amount of time preparing the budget "red book", the vast document that contains all the figures about tax, spending and the state of the economy. But Osborne has just described it as rubbish. "The red book is largely a work of fiction," he told the Financial Times in an interview today. He said it included over-optimistic growth forecasts and hidden pension and public finance initiative liabilities.

8.47am: I've just been a Press Association account of one of David Cameron's overnight stops. Cameron was asked if the visit was a stunt. He replied:

I'm here with the emergency services. They work all night, I'm perfectly happy to work all night. Call it what you want.

Cameron was also asked if staying up all night was the equivalent of last-minute exam revision. "Well it worked for my finals," he said. (He got a first.)

8.33am: The Times publishes an interview with Brown today. The prime minister seems to have been in a curious mood. In the interview, he accused the Times (which has endorsed the Conservatives) of being biased.

We have figures that stand up to scrutiny and I'm afraid that's just the way life is. Once The Times has made up its mind to go in a particular way, then I don't think the evidence is necessarily the substantiating factor.

It also sounds as if he pretended not to know who the children's secretary was.

Some of his colleagues at the top of the Labour party have been making noises about tactical voting: Lord Adonis and Peter Hain, for example, have made overtures to Liberal Democrat voters. Ed Balls, in particular, has voiced his sympathy for Labour supporters who might be tempted to vote Lib Dem where such a vote could keep a Tory out.

When this is put to Mr Brown, he says: "Ed who?"

8.24am: Is Michael Gove a banana? You must decide for yourself. The shadow children's secretary posed the question earlier today on the Today programme.

We know with proportional representation you cannot be certain that the party that gets the most votes, the party that is the most popular, forms a clear and decisive government. If people vote for the third party, for Nick Clegg, in this election, what they are doing is succumbing to a sort of blind date politics .... The voice is seductive, but when the curtain slips back, after having voted for Nick Clegg, you don't know who you are going to end up in bed with. You could have Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, or David Miliband as your prime minister. If that's democracy, I'm a banana.

Gove also claimed that the Tories would change the voting system to make "every vote count" and to make it "fairer". He was referring to the Tory plans to cut the size of the House of Commons. Gove said this would produce a fairer system because it would ensure every constituency was the same size. Under the current system, there is considerable variation.

8.07am: Alan Johnson, the home secretary, has just been on the Today programme. He said he thinks Labour can win.

I am absolutely convinced we can come through tomorrow with a majority.

He also paid lavish tribute to Gordon Brown. He described Brown as "the single biggest reason why this country did not go into the euro" and he said Brown "has done more to tackle poverty, both in this country and internationally, than any other leader I can think of".

David Cameron was on GMTV earlier. He explained why he had been campaigning through the night.

I never believed this election was going to be easy. I mean, elections are meant to be a challenge. The British people don't hand you the government of the country on a plate. Quite rightly, they are making us work for it.

Cameron hasn't gone without sleep entirely. According to the Press Assocation, he has been "grabbing some sleep in the back of the bus" between visits.

6.59am: David Cameron has been campaigning through the night. But has it impressed the voters? Like Cameron, my colleague Steven Morris never sleeps. He's been on the road early today and he heard a couple of truckers discussing Cameron's all-nighter at the Taunton Deane services on the M5. He's just sent me this:

"That Cameron was up all night, good effort," says the one.
"We do that every night," says trucker two.
"When is the general election anyway?"
Informed that it is tomorrow trucker two says he might vote if he gets up and will probably vote BNP.

In the papers today, tactical voting still dominates. In the Guardian Patrick Wintour says that Tony Blair has rejected the suggestion that Labour supporters should vote tactically against the Conservatives.

Speaking on a day when several cabinet ministers suggested that Labour voters should cast their ballot for the Liberal Democrats in some seats, the former prime minister set himself against the tactic, and was contemptuous of Nick Clegg's party and its claim to represent real change. He described the Lib Dems as "the old politics masquerading as the new", and said their entire history as a party showed them incapable of facing up to hard choices.

Voters, he said, should follow their instincts. "It is simple," he told the Guardian. "Vote for what you believe in. If you think their polices are good, vote for them, but if you don't, don't. The Lib Dems are not going out to people and saying 'vote Labour' – they are trying to take seats off us."

The Times carries an interview with Gordon Brown in which Brown says much the same thing.

The prime minister has rebuffed cabinet colleagues who suggested that Labour supporters could back Liberal Democrat candidates where such a vote would keep out a Conservative.

Instead, he told The Times that he wants people to vote Labour regardless of the state of play in their constituency. "I am asking people to vote Labour because I want to get the maximum Labour vote."

And the lead story in the Daily Telegraph says the Democratic Unionists are willing to enter a coalition with the Conservatives if Cameron does not win an outright majority.

Mr Cameron became the first of the main party leaders to visit Northern Ireland during the election campaign on Tuesday.

He indicated he wished to give Northern Ireland politicians ministerial positions — and see the province play a key role in the "mainstream politics" of the entire country.

There were two polls overnight. ComRes gave the Tories an eight-point lead over Labour, and YouGov gave the Tories a five-point lead. They both showed the Lib Dems clearly in third place. I'll post more details later, but you can read more now at UK Polling Report.

I'm leaving for Westminster now and I'll be posting again at some point after 7.30.


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May 04 2010

Gordon Brown urges voters to 'come home to Labour' after late poll boost

Buoyed by a YouGov survey giving Labour the lead in terms of seats, prime minister gives a stirring performance in Manchester

The momentum behind a last-minute resurrection of Gordon Brown's election campaign grew last night after he delivered a powerful testimony to his party's achievements and appealed to undecided voters to consider their record and "come home to Labour".

Buoyed by a strengthening in Labour's polling position – YouGov today puts the party back in the lead in terms of the number of seats – Brown told a rally of 500 party faithful in Manchester that they had a record to be proud of and to fight for.

In a passionate and detailed speech, he read out a 55-point list of Labour's achievements, ranging from the minimum wage to free museum entry, to rapturous applause.

Brown, who was flanked by 10 cabinet ministers, warned that a Tory government would undo that progress, and launched a powerful critique of David Cameron's judgment, saying the Tory leader would have left families to "sink or swim" in the recession, and businesses to go to the wall, and have seen unemployment as a "price worth paying".

The prime minister depicted the Tory leadership as living in "gated communities with 24-hour security" and therefore careless about cutting policing, saying that they can afford private healthcare and school tuition, unlike ordinary people who rely on public services.

"I want to say to those who have yet to decide – listen to what we have to say. When the last 48 hours of this campaign has passed, in that one minute in the polling booth, vote for the kind of country you believe in. And come home to Labour."

Lord Mandelson, who described the speech as "another bravura performance", highlighted today's YouGov/Sun poll which put the Tories unchanged on 35%. Labour was up two points on 30% while the Liberal Democrats were down four points on 24%.

This could give Labour 288 seats, the Tories would have 261 and the Lib Dems would have 72.

"We have a day to go," Mandelson said. "This poll shows we are still in it. Far from David Cameron waltzing into No 10, the public are not dancing to his tune. They are looking very carefully at the choice between Labour and the Conservatives."

The speech and the polls cheered Labour after a tricky start to the day when a candidate described Brown as "the worst prime minister we have had in this country". Manish Sood, who is standing as a Labour candidate in North West Norfolk, said Brown was a "disgrace".

The prime minister was speaking as Cameron embarked on a round-the-clock tour of Britain to cement his support in the final hours of the election campaign.

Cameron echoed the famous declaration by the senior George Bush, in an attempt to reassure pensioners that their benefits would be safe with the Tories. "All these things are safe," he said. "You can read my lips: that is a promise from my heart."

Bush famously reneged on his "read my lips" pledge not to introduce taxes.

On a visit to Scotland Cameron launched a vigorous attack on the prospects of a hung parliament run by a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Speaking to Tory activists in East Renfrewshire, he mocked Nick Clegg for indicating that he would not support Brown but might be prepared to prop up a Labour government. "If you vote Liberal who knows what you're going to get? You might get a prime minister who wasn't even in those television debates; if that is democracy, if that's people power, I'm a banana."

In a ground-breaking election visit to Northern Ireland, where his alliance with the Ulster Unionist party has broken a decades-long convention of bipartisan politics by British party leaders, Cameron sought to portray himself as a unifying figure.

Speaking in a hotel where one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles took place, he insisted the Tory-UUP alliance had created "a new, dynamic force" for Northern Ireland.

But Cameron suffered a blow when Kenneth Clarke, the shadow business secretary, dismissed the idea of brokering deals with Northern Ireland politicians. Warning of the dangers of a hung parliament, Clarke told politics.co.uk: "In the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it's not the way to run a modern sophisticated society."

His remarks will have applied to the idea of having to rely on the support of the larger Democratic Unionist Party. The Tory leadership is hoping that the DUP will support Cameron if he is forced to try and lead a minority government.

But Peter Robinson, the DUP leader, last night contrasted his independence from Cameron with the UUP's formal link with the Tories.

The new alliance appears to be struggling, according to Belfast Telegraph/Inform Communications poll. This showed that the UUP's share of the vote is 13%, down on the 17.7% it won in 2005. The Democratic Unionists are on 26%.

Cameron arrived at Belfast City airport in a turbo-prop plane shortly before 2pm yesterday just as the "no-fly ban" had been lifted by airport authorities on both sides of the Irish border. The ban had been caused by the return of volcanic ash clouds above the island.


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April 27 2010

The art of the political poster

Unimpressed by the few political posters around, we asked leading British artists to inspire us and to come up with their own creations. Jonathan Jones introduces their work

View a gallery of the artists' posters

I feel a warm, or perhaps it's a hellish-hot, nostalgia looking at the election posters designed by artists for G2. They all seem steeped in memories of Labour publicity in the 1970s and 80s, in its age of defeat. These are anti-posters, which aspire to be honest rather than glib. The tradition of the poster as contemporary art is, in fact, not Labour but Tory: it was the Saatchi & Saatchi poster "Labour isn't working" that created the whole idea of stylish, eye-catching campaigning.

There is, of course, a far older tradition of beautiful and inspiring political poster art; but there is no point here in raking over the history of the Soviet avant-garde, or of Aleksander Rodchenko's photomontages. This is a British election and these are British artists, who have rejected the Saatchi tendency towards killer publicity in favour of recapturing the intense emotions of us-and-them, of anger and loyalty, that Labour adverts inspired 25 years ago.

Back then, Labour was a tribe, and nothing captures the tribal feelings it must now fall back on better than David Shrigley's brilliant drawing of Gordon Brown: not so much a caricature as a delve into the primitive roots of political loyalty. As for the alternative, Jeremy Deller has portrayed a Conservative vote with the caustic accuracy that does what a campaigning poster should – it campaigns. But are there really no Tory artists? Tracey Emin, who has made positive noises about Cameron and shadow arts minister Ed Vaizey, has not yet launched a Tory manifesto policy, but you'd think she could at least do a slogan for them: "Labour isn't fucking working", perhaps. Nor is there a strong Liberal sentiment –unless Goshka Macuga is sending us a subliminal Clegg message.

These posters are the only things I have seen in the course of this entire election that capture the way I feel. Most of the artists are of my generation, in their 40s, and remember the reality of Tory rule. Shrigley speaks viscerally for the tribe: re-elect our leader Gordon Brown.

Martin Parr

I took this photograph at the St Pauls carnival in Bristol last summer, which is like a mini-version of the Notting Hill carnival. In a picture as busy as this, there will often be somebody or something that doesn't quite work: I like the fact that all the people are there and it works. The crowd is predominantly African-Caribbean, with a few white English people watching with their cameras, as I was, so it's almost like a self-portrait without me in it.

I chose "Vote for Britain" rather than any particular party because that's the whole point. This is neutral and ambiguous and loaded. What does it mean to me? Well, I quite like Britain, of course, and one of the reasons I like taking photographs in Britain is that it challenges my own feelings about it: it's not all good and not all bad; there are things I like and things I don't. I'm soft left and I live in a marginal seat, Bristol West. I vote tactically, so I'll probably vote Lib Dem.

Mark Wallinger

We have been through quite a few campaigns without memorable slogans now. Everyone harks back to the Saatchis' "Labour isn't working", but that was 1978. As a lifelong Labour person, through all the party's vicissitudes and disappointments, I was intrigued by the possibility of a campaign that revealed some of the bigger fault lines between the parties, beyond the not-very-galvanising debate over national insurance and VAT. I came up with two other slogans apart from this: "What school did you go to?" and "Who can afford to go private?"

I admit this isn't the most sophisticated, but it does go to the heart of the credibility of the man. Cameron reminds me of a bar of soap. He has been leader for a long time now and I have no idea what he stands for. I hope that the idea of the emperor's new clothes and all his empty rhetoric is implicit. The colours are those of the two main parties, and the union flag; I wanted it to be punchy.

I hope people look at this and see that there are real choices. I'm sick of people saying, "Oh, they're all the same." They're not, and it's up to us to see the differences. Labour is the party for equality and for reform in the Lords. Like most people I feel a little jaded after the banking crisis, but I will vote Labour and hope for the best.

They're a po-faced lot, though, aren't they? Let's hope someone in the campaign discovers a bit of wit: a good joke does hit home. Roy Hattersley was a wit, Robin Cook, Tony Benn – the people on the old left who can see the bigger picture. Though I did like Ken Clarke's description of the Hoon/Hewitt attempted leadership coup earlier this year: hiding behind the dagger and stabbing with the cloak. That was very good.

David Shrigley

When I'm drawing people, I tend to do it really quickly – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Nick Clegg is not easy to draw because you'd be hard pushed to think of anything physically defining about him. The only one I seem to be able to draw is David Cameron: I trace his face, then I make his features smaller in Photoshop and that seems to work. I drew Gordon Brown and it started to look like him the more I looked at it.

Historically I have voted Labour, but not since the Iraq war – I couldn't countenance that. I would never vote Conservative. This poster doesn't express my strong personal support, although of the three of them, I would like Brown to win. Originally the background was yellow, because I like black on yellow, but then I realised yellow was the Lib Dem colour. So I've gone for a rosy red, a kind of New New Labour red. The words say "re-elect", although he wasn't elected as leader, as such. I like the ambiguity.

Bob and Roberta Smith

I don't want to tell people how to vote. The important thing is just to get involved in the whole jamboree – by voting, yes, but also by finding satirical messages to deface posters with, like the person who turned David Cameron into Elvis. If my own poster goes viral, so much the better. It's made up of four timber panels. On the upper panels are pictures of some of my Labour heroes: Clement Attlee, Tony Benn, Glenda Jackson, Bernie Grant – people with extraordinary vision. I put them there to remind me why I'm a Labour supporter. I stopped voting Labour after the Iraq war, and started voting Green. But I'm going to vote Labour in this election. I'm particularly impressed with Ed Miliband's stand on green issues: he could turn out to be in the same category as these heroes. Cameron just reminds me of a disappointed school master, lecturing his students about their stupid antics.

Gerald Scarfe

They're both crap, I suppose that's what I'm saying. If you go to the extreme and call them shits, that's probably not so nice. But I'm saying, really, voters have a crap choice. You would assume Cameron would be ahead, because he is new, and a change, and hasn't made all the mistakes Brown has, but he isn't and the election is very close. The caricature must come from the character of the person. I wasn't a supporter of Margaret Thatcher but she was good material, because she had such a strong personality. I could portray her as a knife or an axe; I couldn't do that with John Major or Iain Duncan Smith. I used to find drawing Brown quite dull because he's a dour personality – a big blob with ears. I draw Cameron in his Bullingdon outfit, because he's so desperate not to appear to be a toff. How daft does he think we are? My position as a cartoonist/journalist for all these years has been to try to remain neutral and to attack all sides, because they are all capable of fallibility. I know this is a bit of a cop out but here I'm saying, I don't know who to vote for. Like I say, it's a crap choice.

Richard Wentworth

There are people who are obsessive about being born under a certain star sign, and those who believe you can only be born when you're born: that that was your time, that only those people could be your parents. I didn't want to leave people with the cheesiness of a bad joke about "labour", but I did want to remind people that they are born into a political space. I worked with some lovely designers who made this look as if it has been around for ever. The font is reminiscent of those Keep Calm and Carry On posters – it's of that period. The red wasn't a conscious decision in terms of "Labour red", just a happy accident; red goes in the eye quickly. I would love to see it reproduced very big. If people look at it and go "What does that mean?", that's good.

Jeremy Deller

This poster is anti-Conservative rather than pro-Labour. Rupert Murdoch is the most powerful lobbyist there is in this country, so I'm drawing attention to the fact that a vote for the Tories is a vote for him. If I'd made a poster for the last election, it would have looked almost the same, except it would have said "Vote Labour" next to a picture of George Bush – Bush was so close to Blair. This time around, it's Murdoch who counts for the Tories, even more than David Cameron or any other Tory politician. It's a small poster, so it could be used as a bumper sticker on a car. But I'd love to see it blown up on a massive billboard. The posters and adverts Labour are using for this election are terrible; it's as if they haven't put any thought into them at all, just sent them to the newspapers to grab that day's headlines.

Yinka Shonibare

This slogan doesn't refer to politicians: I want people to vote for me. My party is the Me party. It's not registered yet, though. I'm just celebrating the fact that, in this democratic system, anyone can stand. I like me, you see, so I assume everyone else will. People think politicians like to be the centre of attention, but artists are worse. So I'm poking fun at artists, too. They are not rosettes – they are flowers made from African textiles, in the colours of the three main parties. Flowers are attractive, whereas political posters are rarely well done. And even when they are, they're still knocking or negative. I think politicians are only interested in power and lining their own pockets. But I have always voted; who for is my own business. When I was a child in Nigeria, a military regime was in charge. There were soldiers everywhere and there was no question of voting. It started to feel normal. That's why I value the vote.

Goshka Macuga

I made this with the designer Fraser Muggeridge. It's double-sided: the "Left Right Forward" panel is the front, and the blue side is the reverse, printed on the kind of thin, textured underlay that is used underneath billboard posters to make them look opaque. I wanted to think about a political poster as a physical object, rather than just an image.

The front reflects the confused picture we have of UK politics right now. I have mixed feelings about Labour, especially regarding the war in Iraq, and the fact that what people really felt about it wasn't taken into consideration. But I'm also concerned about what a Conservative government would mean for arts funding. It seems like the two parties have merged into one: whether you vote for the left or the right adds up to much the same thing.

But without voting, you have no control. So the quote on the back of the poster is to remind us about the roots of democracy. It's from a speech Pericles made to the Athenians during the Peloponnesian wars. He's speaking about the impossibility of doing justice to the brave men who have lost their lives in the war – something that resonates with the war in Iraq. But he's also reminding us of the respect given in Athens to those involved in politics, something that today we have all but lost.

Maggi Hambling

Every morning I paint the sea, and I am always reminded of how remarkably small I am. It is a very humbling experience, and I think a bit of humility wouldn't go amiss with our politicians. So I've chosen the sea to remind politicans about the bigger picture: nature, and the way it is taking its revenge – through climate change, through volcanic eruptions, through coastal erosion. They could all do with thinking more about that, and less about political bitching and wrangling. All artists are anarchists at heart – at least, they are if they're any good. So I've chosen red – the colour of anarchy, along with black – for the quotation, which curves and curls across the sea picture like a wave. It's from Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare's most political plays, and seems particularly appropriate at this moment. It reminds us that everything is about timing: the Falklands war was crucial to Mrs Thatcher's success, and now the changes in nature and climate are defining the issues for this election.

I vote in London, where my MP is Labour's wonderful Kate Hoey. She is pro-hunting, as am I, so she'll be getting my vote.

Maggi Hambling: New Sea Sculpture, Paintings and Etchings is at Marlborough Fine Art, London W1, from 5 May to 5 June.

Liam Gillick

As with all my art, I went back to the source: in this case, the Labour party's own website. "The democratic socialist party" is the phrase it still uses to describe itself, though you'd be hard pushed to recognise that in the way the party talks about itself today.

I find it perverse that Labour is shying away from its own legacy. There are lots of aspects of its current policies – the new tax rate, the investment in public spending – that fit with these core values. I hope my poster reminds politicians and voters alike of that.

With its strong Helvetica font, the poster is nostalgic: it reminds me of growing up in the 1970s, when Labour was in crisis, and you could recognise every Labour family in the street from their bold posters: they really stood out. Campaign posters have become nasty and cynical, taking their cue from the Saatchis' for the Tories, which were more about people than policies. Ironic, postmodern posters are not what we need: the most important thing is to remind voters what the party stands for, and to encourage them to vote.

Alison Jackson

I've been shooting a whole series of photographs, and working on some web video clips, during this election. Nick Clegg wasn't hard to cast: he's quite a normal-looking guy and there are quite a few people who can look like him. But a good Gordon Brown has been impossible to find: I held casting sessions all over England and Scotland, scouring areas where there might be someone who looked like him. He's a big man, so I focused on places where people eat a lot, in Scotland particularly, but no one wanted to put themselves forward. I put five casting directors on it, and they were practically in tears: they had never experienced anything like it. I've found one, and he's reasonably good in profile, but there's only one side that works. Cameron I'm still working on: in his case, there are lots who will put themselves forward, but I'm still looking for the perfect one.

During the first TV debate it was striking how much Brown was trying to align himself with Clegg. I wondered what might be happening behind the scenes, and came up with these scenarios: Clegg and Brown celebrating, Brown letting Clegg try out the prime minister's chair. And I'm very interested in Mandelson and his role: what a comeback, having parted ways with Brown – now he's here to help. You just never know what people are planning.

The works by Bob and Roberta Smith, Antony Gormley, Jeremy Deller, Mark Wallinger, Liam Gillick and Richard Wentworth form part of the Make a Mark project in aid of the Labour Party. For more details and to download your own copies visit makeamark.org.uk


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April 20 2010

Oh, come off it ...

David Cameron loves Take That, Gordon Brown's addicted to Glee, Nick Clegg's an Othello nut . . . as politicians vie for cultural kudos, Mark Lawson asks: who are they trying to kid?

Gordon Brown's favourite Shakespeare play is Hamlet, while Nick Clegg's is Othello. For the prime minister, the greatest living British painter is David Hockney, but the Liberal Democrat leader prefers Lucian Freud. David Cameron, meanwhile, is a fan of the music of Keane – but the band can't stand him.

These cultural revelations have come from the 2010 election campaign. The fact that we know so much about the tastes of the potential premiers reveals the extent to which references to entertainment have become part of the business of campaigning. What a politician likes to do for fun (or judges it politic to pretend he does) is seen as a clue to their personality, or even their politics.

There is a certain logic to this phenomenon. Shown into the house of a stranger, we make assumptions about them on the basis of the paintings and books on display. Similarly, were we to find an iPod in the street, we would use the tracks stored to make Sherlockian deductions about the age and background of its owner.

The view that everything from ticket stubs to record store receipts can be a form of confession has inspired an entertaining series of interviews in the Radio Times, in which party leaders are asked to choose from certain lists: "David Hockney, Tracy Emin, Banksy, Lucian Freud?" and "Coronation Street, EastEnders, The Archers, The Bill?"

Such exercises are an echo of the popular dinner-party "Blur or Oasis?" question of the 1990s, when preference for Damon Albarn was seen to identify a middle-class conformist, while admiration for the Gallagher brothers signalled solidarity with working-class radicalism. In school playgrounds in the 1970s, there was a similar class division between viewers of the BBC's Blue Peter and its ITV rival Magpie.

But problems arise when such an analysis is applied to politics, chiefly because it's unusual (except at certain stages of dating) for normal people to pose as fans of things they don't actually like. We suspect, however, that politicians do this all time, in their desperation to suggest that they are normal, or to redress a prejudice about them. We can be fairly certain that, when Cameron answers the Radio Times questionnaire about down-time next week, he won't be confessing to a fondness for Brideshead Revisited, Wagner and Tom Brown's Schooldays.

Equally, when Brown tells the magazine that his favourite TV show is Glee and that 6 Music is his favourite radio station, our reaction is not, "How interesting" but "For God's sake, drop the demographic massage and tell us what you really like". In the same survey, Clegg's refusal to accept any of the alternatives – given the choice of Avatar, An Education, In the Loop and The Hurt Locker, he opts out and goes for The Class instead – could suggest an independent mind; but it also fits suspiciously with his party's electoral pitch of looking beyond the conventional possibilities.

In the same way that it has become standard for journalists to ask politicians the price of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread, because ignorance of such daily stuff can reveal someone with a large cushion of wealth or staff, knowledge of popular TV shows is considered a badge of accessibility. This was why Brown began his contribution to last Thursday's TV debate with a reference to the fact that this wasn't "The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent".

But TV name-dropping can be treacherous. The first President Bush notoriously confirmed his stereotype as a grumpy grandpa figure by pledging to make US families "more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons". This not only dated the politician (a 1970s reference rather than a 1990s one), but revealed that he was televisually illiterate: any regular viewer knew that, though very different in tone and structure to The Waltons, The Simpsons is, in moral terms, just as much a portrait of a loving and secure family. Any modern candidate would be advised to plump for Bart over John-Boy.

'Fire up the Quattro'

Despite their greater savviness in cultural matters, the main parties still got themselves in a mess over Ashes to Ashes at the start of this campaign. The Labour poster making a connection between Cameron and DCI Gene Hunt ("Don't let him take Britain back to the 80s") was always a risk because the Hunt character, though an antihero, is glamorous and attractive. For the Tories to show that they welcomed the identification – issuing their own posters glorying in the portrayal, including the slogan "Fire up the Quattro, it's time for change" – was also unwise, given that Hunt is a racist, sexist Thatcherite: exactly the type of Tory from whom Cameron has spent years trying to distance the party.

There was a further twist in that Ashley Pharoah, co-creator of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, expressed surprise that his character could be used without permission. The BBC later made the same legal point to both parties, with the result that more TV-stealing campaigns are unlikely.

But the use of elements of entertainment without permission is a common feature of elections, especially in the choice of theme tunes. In 1998, the singer Bobby McFerrin reacted angrily to the Republican party adopting his song Don't Worry, Be Happy and forced its withdrawal. Such spats, though, will continue because campaign managers are less concerned with the possible political affiliations of a singer than with the symbolism of the lyrics. Brown, Clegg and Cameron have all claimed to like David Bowie's song Changes, but, at a time of electoral transition, they would, wouldn't they? There's little risk, of course, of Bowie's Backed a Loser or Dead Man Walking blaring out of the loudspeakers at rallies.

If an artist does declare a political preference, though, things can get more complicated, not less. Cameron would be unlikely to cite Take That as a personal musical highlight (not cool enough) and would be wary of promoting Harry Brown as a favourite movie (it promotes vigilante violence as a response to social disorder). Yet once Gary Barlow and Michael Caine endorsed him, he had to endorse them back with joint appearances in public. Equally, it's hard to imagine Brown, in civilian life, at an Eddie Izzard gig; but because the comedian has stayed Labour while more fickle showbiz types have switched, they became pals on parade.

The use of cultural references involves strategic choices, while celebrity endorsement is simply a matter of making the best use of whoever chooses you. All the parties would like to have Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe to catch the youth vote, but he inclined towards Lib Dem even before it became a national fashion.

The problem with politicians trying to jump on cultural bandwagons is that leaders literally don't have much time for entertainment. Revealingly, Brown told the Radio Times: "I want to see The Hurt Locker." But that film has been available on DVD since December; if he were, say, a university lecturer, he would have rented it over Christmas.

On such issues as the state of Britain's finances and the economic measures needed to tackle the recession, leading politicians routinely pretend to know less than they actually do. On culture, they are doing the opposite – a tactical adoption of normal interests that will keep getting them into trouble.


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