We’re now into week 2 of the election campaign and today Labour launched their manifesto. They were doing the launch here in Birmingham and I decided to go along and give Brown an old-fashioned democratic heckle. The plan was scuppered when it turns out they had chosen the new, not quite open, Queen Elizabeth Hospital as the venue. Although it’s just down the road from me it’s closed off to the public. Even if I went there was no way I would get anywhere near to the action.
My protest denial aside (a trivial thing and one-nil to them), the bigger issue is how on earth can it be right for Labour to use a Hospital for a manifesto launch? There are all sorts of rules about use of public buildings for party political purposes. To be specific, according the Cabinet Office General Election Guidance 2010 on p.38:
‘1. Neither Ministers, nor any other Parliamentary candidates, should involve Government establishments or offices (such as Jobcentres) in the General Election campaign by visiting them for electioneering purposes.
‘2. In the case of NHS property, decisions are for the relevant NHS Trust but should visits be permitted to, for example, hospitals, the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive advise that there should be no disruption to services and the same facilities should be available to other candidates. In any case, it is advised that Election meetings should not be permitted on NHS premises’.
It seems that Brown’s camp are feeling smugly clever that because the hospital is not technically open for another two weeks and because it was part-funded by PFI money they can disregard this advice (let’s be clear this wasn’t a ‘hospital visit’ it was a straightforward ‘election meeting’.)
This gives an insight to the attitude of Labour MPs to rules that are there to govern their conduct. It is the same behaviour we saw time and again in the expenses scandal. The instinct was always to follow the letter of the rules rather than the spirit of them – just as they do here. It seems Labour have learned nothing. As Labour piss-takes to rules go this is just one small example, and compared with other infringements not earth-shattering – but it’s yet another example of the moral bankruptcy of leadership we’re enduring in this country.
Three more weeks. Then, please God, it’s time for change.
UPDATE: The fair point has just been made to me that Cameron went the QE last week – so what is the difference? The difference may seem subtle – but it is important – hospital visits where those wishing to be elected meet real patients/voters with full permission of the Trust and in a way that all other parties can are expressly allowed. ‘Election Meetings’ (e.g. rallies, or manifesto launches) are not. Or at least they’re not supposed to be….