“Well we’ve gone over time,” said the convenor of the Cardiff West hustings, held in an abandoned cinema currently being run by a Christian sect.

“But there’ll be a chance to talk to the candidates after with coffee and biscuits.”

“Oooohhhh biscuits,” said someone delightedly.

Ooooh biscuits? How poor was Wales exactly?

“Why were you the only candidate who didn’t use a microphone?” we ask the Green candidate, an anxious man who had somehow trained his real hair to look like a hairpiece.

“Ohhhh well I err wanted to connect with the voters.”

“But none of us could hear you.”

“Yeah um…”

Earlier we had wondered who the independent loonie on this hustings would be. There’s always an independent loonie. Sadly this time it turned out to be the representative of the largest hardcore progressive party.

Joining him was a social worker in shirt sleeves (Lib-D…you’re way ahead of me), a petite Tory woman, the Labour sitting member who took her apart like a dog tearing off a doll’s head, and, un-PC of me though it be, the funniest announcement of the campaign:

“…and Mr Mohamed Islam for Plaid Cymru.”

Cymru, the Welsh Nationalists, are by far the smartest party on offer, and the fact that they can attract a large number of non-ethnic Welsh people — “I am from Bangladesh and I got into politics to give back to Wales,” Islam said simply and movingly is a measure of their post-folk dancing creation of a critical nationalist position.

Yet, he never really got much of a chance to trot out a PC line, because Wales as a place barely made an appearance. There was much talk of jobs and development — “Wales could be the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” the Lib-Dem remarked and above all of drugs, scourge of the country. Here, E’s cost a pound, and people come down from a weekend of pills with heroin. All this went round and round, but the real issue never came to the fore.

The issue being: Wales is f-cked.

Earlier, we had been of a mind to plunge deep into the heart of dragon country, and gauge the feeling of a very different place, England’s first colony, a proud land of chapel and pit, choirs and pride.

Then we got a look at Wales, and decided to do Cardiff and get the hell out.

Look, Wales is lovely in many of its parts. The rest of it was hit hard by the Luftwaffe, never really recovered, and was then whacked a second time by the Tory years.

Labour pumped some money in, but never enough to deal with the key problem, which is that of dependency and underdevelopment, the ribbon of communities spreading out beyond Cardiff all formed around a product that no longer exists, the black stuff, the slag, coal.

So to step out of Swansea station on a wet Monday night was to enter a wreck, a mausoleum, a natural disaster with the occasional functioning fried chicken shop scattered here and there.

Down one street, there seemed nothing but a dour Chinese restaurant, and a pet food store called, with great accuracy, The Dog Food Shop. Down another there were three closed-up pubs. Things had to be bad if pubs were closing, in Wales. Down a third, there were lights. The first was a small drag bar. Which was fine but there was no food.

The second bar smelt like cheap aftershave. Inside the door, a bored man was dishing out free pink cocktails. There was a surgery bed on the stage, and four bored people in the back.

“Any food?”

“There’s a buffet. It’s a charity evening,” a nervous man said.

“Uh, no thanks.”

“We’re doing shots n’ waxings,” he said, pointing to the table.

Staggering out of that bar, the waft of Lynx behind us, I thought of St George of the Orwell’s famous (and confected) moment of recognition in The Road to Wigan Pier, as he saw from the window of his train, a woman unblocking a drain with a stick, and noted that a moment of recognition, that there could be nothing worse than trapped there, in this world, unblocking a drain with a stick.

Now? That look was in the eyes of a pale man in a body-hugging shirt, in an armpit with license, trying to persuade us to stay for a free cocktail out of a slushie machine. When society ceases to be centred around production, and reproducing itself, and consumption flows into that breach, then there be monsters.

You can see how someone, somewhere thought it might be a good idea to have on-stage waxings, “Yeah let’s get it out there, let’s raunch it up.”  But floating in the grey wastes of a dead town, it seemed to mock all desire, all meaning, umbrella meets sewing machine.

Countrywide, this was the day that Labour’s discipline broke on the issue of tactical voting. Labour backroom supremo, Ed “Sinister” Balls, facing a possible wipe-out in his reconstructed seat of Morley, suggested yesterday that:

”I always want the Labour candidate to win, but I recognise there’s an issue in places like North Norfolk, where my family live, where Norman Lamb (Lib Dem) is fighting the Tories, who are in second place. And I want to keep the Tories out.”

Particularly out of Morley. The Labour-stalwart Daily Mirror published a list of seats where a tactical Labour Lib-Dem swap vote could occur, and though it was tilted in favour of Labour, it’s pretty damn unprecedented.

The leadership wasn’t having any of it. Tony Blair, back haunting the trail, his orange tan and American accent now gone, had some convoluted bullsh-t about why a Lib-Lab pact was a good idea 13 years ago when he wanted it to defeat the Brown faction forever but not so much now. Brown told an audience that Nick Clegg should get real, wishes aren’t horses etc etc etc, and that Labour is the only progressive vehicle in the country.

It’s a vehicle lacking a few wheels. The results of the two latest polls show:

YouGov ComRes
Conservative 35 37
Labour 30 28
Lib Dem 24 27
Shots and waxings – 7 n/a

The YouGov one was done for The Sun, ComRes for the Independent, so they’re delivering opinions contrary to their papers’ support. A 5% lead for the Tories won’t cut it, but if ComRes is right, then they’ll slide over the line with about 340 seats.

But ComRes is still an outlier, with most polls bringing the Tories in just under. Any doubt one might have about that would be dispelled by the fact that the Tories have suddenly taken a real interest in the process put in place for a hung parliament by cabinet secretary Gus McDonald and in particular the delay of parliamentary recall by a week, giving Labour a fortnight to get a deal with the Lib-Dems.

The whole set of arrangements is arcane and jerry-built, but Tory protest against this is muted by the fact that they’re meant to be in favour of that sort of stuff, wisdom of tradition etc etc.

Balls’s statement on tactical voting has suggested to some that he might be angling for the big job should it be necessary to dump Gordon and he’s certainly come under attack from various Tory ginger groups. No hard task because he’s a sh-t, an insider, ex-Harvard, FT writer, nut cruncher, etc etc.

“What’s your view of a hung parliament?” I asked a Plaid Cymru campaigner.

“You mean a balanced parliament,” he said, smiling lightly.

“Oh that’s right that’s the official term.”

“I think it would be an excellent opportunity that we will probably miss. Everyone here’s still voting tribally. When I campaign, all I hear is about keeping the Tories out.”

“Must be disappointing.”

“I’m a Welsh nationalist, I’m used to that emotion. We’re talking decades, not single terms. We won’t take this seat. I don’t mind that people don’t have our vision. I just wish they had more of a positive vision.”

I pretended to take some more notes, while Radio Girl asked a few more questions of the Green.

“I’ve got my daughter coming back from Australia tomorrow,” he said, warming to the thorough flirt.

“Oh so you’ve got her vote!”

“Ohhhh,” he said, eyes widening. “I really must talk to her about that.”

Later, we drank in one of the dozens of empty pubs on St Anne’s St. Old and cavernous places, they had barely a drinker in each. Why did they survive?

“When the New York Times did a special on binge drinking in Europe,” said a bartender. “They came to this street. This is the main crawl for half a million people. We wouldn’t even open Monday to Thursday if we didn’t have to.”

Thirty hours to go till polls open. Brown has just given his best performance ever, at a Citizens UK unofficial “fourth debate.” David Cameron has said he’ll campaign through the night, which was meant to show resolve, but makes him look like a 2nd year student (“all night! Man we drank at an early opener! And breakfast at the Golden Tower!”).

Nick Clegg gave a vox pop “enjoying this campaign. Better than that Westminster palaver,” which reminded everyone he was as real as burning plastic.

“You know what they call E and smack?” said the bartender. “A Cardiff cocktail.”

Oooohhhh smack. Oooooh E. Oooohhh democracy. Ooooooh biscuits. Enough with the shots. Let’s get waxed.

Peter Fray

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