Here’s a text copy of a speech I made tonight back in my old hometown of Coatbridge endorsing my friend, the Labour Party MP Tom Clarke, who has served the area since he won a by-election when I was 12.
As I explain in the speech, I don’t stick with any particular party because each election is very different. I’ve voted Labour, SNP and Scottish Socialist over the years depending on the poll, but since Labour are the only national party big enough to prevent what I suspect will almost certainly be a Conservative majority this time I’m actually voting Labour in my own constituency too for the first time in 10 years as well as endorsing Tom tonight.
Anyway, here’s a wee look. I’ll get the video up tomorrow.
Ladies and gentlemen, Tom, thanks for inviting me here tonight. I think the last time I was at Whifflet community centre I was fourteen and running across the roof with my pals. So it’s nice to actually be inside the building for change and not getting shouted at by the janitor.
Now this might be a weird thing to say to a big group of Labour activists… but I’m not really a tribal guy when it comes to politics. It can’t just be about the party for me. It’s got to be about the person. About the ideals and integrity of the candidate who’s asking you to employ them for the next five years… but that’s why I’m here tonight. This isn’t some blind party loyalty thing. Parties have lefts and rights. Parties have good and bad… but when Tom Clarke asked if I could say a few words at the launch of the campaign I told him that nothing would stop me. It really is an honour because this guy is absolutely on the side of the angels.
I work in the film industry and I think Tom possibly asked me along to shed a little light on the work he did when he was Culture Secretary… and he really did a fantastic job. He’s very respected in my world, most notably for his part in getting the tax breaks that helped kick-start a boom in British cinema after decades of terminal decline.
But I feel I’m a Coatbridge guy more than I’m a film guy. Yeah, I’ve worked in Hollywood for ten years, but I lived in Coatbridge for over thirty and it’s only since leaving and working in lots of other places that I realize what a unique and special figure he is in the community.
When I’m traveling I’m always shocked how few people can name their MP. Even smart, well-educated people around the country have a sense of disconnect from Westminster and it’s clearly because their MP isn’t really one of them. We all know how it works… they parachute in some 35 year old lawyer over the the heads of the local party workers, usually living miles away and only showing up for surgeries and events. No real roots. No real connections. No genuine love of the place. Tom, on the other hand, has lived and worked in this town his entire life. Cut the guy and he BLEEDS Coatbridge. His family are like the Coatbridge Kennedys! There isn’t a person here he doesn’t know by name and that seems to be true for miles in every direction. I’ve walked down Coatbridge Main Street with Tom from the Fountain to St Pats and it takes the best part of an afternoon.
Now again I have to stress this is very unique… but the people of this town all know Tom because at one time or another he’s touched all our lives through his work. Like a teacher or a clergymen he’s part of our memories and our collective present and off the top of my head I can name dozens of people he’s directly helped stretching all the way back to the day he followed Jimmy Dempsey and worked as Provost serving Monklands District Council. He wasn’t out to make cash. He doesn’t have directorships. We were never a step in a career for this guy. He’s an old school public servant and… as someone who knows a lot of political figures up and down the country… I’ve never known an MP who treats helping people so vocationally. So twenty-four seven.
Now I know he might be embarrassed by all this praise being showered on him tonight… actually I know him well enough to know he’ll be loving every second of it… he’ll want copies of the speeches. But I think it’s important to stress because we can take people for granted sometimes even after a lifetime of public service. I’m not entirely convinced by Lord Ashcroft’s poll putting Coatbridge and Chryston as a marginal… he does - let’s just say - have a slight conflict of interest… but this really is a pivotal election. Because the choice for all of us really couldn’t be simpler.
One of two parties will form a government in May. The party that passes 326 seats or gets closest to it gets the keys to Downing Street. It’s that simple. I’ve got a lot of time for the SNP. There’s some good people in there and their policies are very close to my own on a lot of issues. But this isn’t the time to protest. This isn’t a referendum… nor will it be treated as such. This is about who can get close to 326 and when you’re only standing in 59 seats you are not forming a government. Worse, you’re chopping off Labour at the knees… and I don’t exaggerate when I say that my Tory pals are rubbing their hands together at the irony of Scotland giving Cameron a majority for the next five years.
Labour and the Tories are neck and neck. The Tories have a lot more cash and will lose two, possibly four seats to UKIP. The left wing vote is split four ways at least and in Scotland between 30 and 50 seats could be taken from a potential Labour government. This isn’t scare-mongering. This is arithmetic.
I hear a lot of talk about how little difference there is between Tory and Labour governments and I remember hearing exactly the same arguments fifteen years ago about Bush and Gore. I was working in the States at the time and people were bored of the Democrats after eight years, moaning that you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between them and the Republicans… and they planned to protest by voting Ralph Nader. Sound familiar? Al Gore and George Bush. How wrong they were… and how wrong we would be too. The Conservatives haven’t won a General election outright for twenty-three years. Maybe we’ve just forgotten what truly right wing government is actually like.
I’m not a tribalist, like I said. There’s a lot of very good and able people out there in other parties, but the nineteen eighties were burned too deeply in my psyche for me to even risk a Conservative majority again. I can’t stand back and watch people be complacent when I grew up in the de-industrialization of the North and saw my Dad lose his job in 1985, never to work again. My Dad was a steel-worker in this town. My grandfather and great grand-father were miners here. They lived and died their entire lives in two square miles and when my grandfather died in nineteen fifty-one he made sure he was carried to the polling station to vote against Churchill from his sick-bed. The idea that Coatbridge - Coatbridge - could in any way precipitate a Conservative majority would have been an anathema to them.
As it is to me. Like I said, I moved away a little over ten years ago, but the importance of this vote and my admiration for Tom Clarke and all he’s done for this town is so strong that I jumped at the chance to be here tonight and say what I really do feel has to be said. I’m not a tribalist, but the more I see Miliband the more I like him too. I drifted away from Labour in the later Blair years, but Milibands’s stance on Syria impressed when he took on everybody last year and saved us from another war.
I like the fact he doesn’t court the right wing press. I like the fact the bad guys hate him. Doesn’t that tell you something? Don’t you wonder if all this time and money and effort is spent lambasting him… that they might just be that little bit scared of what he’s going to do for the people who need it most? I’m voting Labour in my new constituency for the first time since 2005 because I feel it’s the moral choice on this particular occasion. I’m proud to be here tonight because I want to lend whatever effort I can add to anyone maybe swaying in Coatbridge and Chryston. I can’t think of another MP I’d leave my constituency to come and support… we’re paying a baby-sitter ten quid an hour to be here… and I hope that tells you something. This is important… and nobody deserves your vote more than this guy here.