A long series of comments after an article in the local paper got me thinking about election posters.
One commentator, fabster, said among a lot of other interesting things, that... "there should be a call to look into Liaquat Ali's electoral practices and the percentage of his tenants who vote by post, as well as if they are coerced or voluntarily put Labour posters in their windows...
...last I observed 3 houses on Northcote Rd (the ones nearest the railway bridge) have families of asylum tenants and are therefore ineligible to vote. Yet in their windows are rows of Labour posters(?) As a voter, I believe we need to probe into his business dealings where they overlap with his political career."
Now, I am in no position to probe into Liaquat Ali's property interests, even if I wanted to, but I do have some more observations on election posters.
The first observation is that there are a lot fewer of them up in peoples' windows than I recall from previous elections. By 'peoples' windows', I mean windows where real people live, not business establishments. The average voter, it seems, has not been putting up visible signs of allegiance in favour of any of the political parties. I haven't. Others who have are very few and far between. A tour of the residential areas today, specifically undertaken to check up on this, confirmed my impression. Great swathes of the Forest Road and Blackhorse Road areas are virtually poster-free zones.
And yet, there are a few posters up. Bob Wheatley's place in Palmerston Road is plastered with them. In fact, the prosperous Mr Wheatley, major bankroller of the Liberal Democrats has up some of the biggest LibDem posters I have ever seen. It seems that size matters. The property also has a number of tenants in it who all seem to have posters in their windows, in a similar way to Liaquat Ali's properties where he is accused of foisting his political views on his tenants.
And then there are the businesses themselves. Many of my business friends tell me of canvassers for both sides trying to press them to put up posters. This is irrespective of whether they actually have the vote in this constituency, let alone this ward. Many agree to do so rather than get into a conflict, but put up the posters of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Satya Sai Newsagent, E17 Kebabish, 7 Vision, Shamas Al-Halal Supermarket, GB Nets Telecom and even the unmentionable internet cafe on Palmerston Road have all solved this problem by putting up one of each.
Other firms have clear pro-Labour allegiences. The reasons for these are sometimes fairly clear: the scruffy windows of Star Utilities are adorned, like those at Star Mortgage and Property Services next door. Both businesses are apparently owned by one of the candidates - the Liaquat Ali who fabster was concerned about. Others have allegiances, the reasons for which are less clear, though one can understand how the firms over the road from Mr Ali's business might feel the need, at the very least to pretend to support one of their 'bigger' customers. Thus, Apollo Dry Cleaners and Moonlight Food Store also imply to their customers that if businesses did have a vote, theirs would be a pro-Labour vote. It is presumably pure coincidence that these places are in direct line of sight of Mr Ali's desk.
Quite what the connection is between Data Double Glazing or Premier Carpets and Furniture on Palmerston Road and Labour, is not too clear to me. I don't really care, to be honest. But it would be more fascinating to know why the franchiseless Amex Business Associates have decided to stick out like the dorsal fins of a shark amid a sea of party political indifference on Forest Road. They are telling 'the people' that they support Stella Creasy.
Other interesting questions arise with the posters of an independent, Aurangzaib Sharif who is said to have found all sorts of long-lost distant relatives locally to pursuade to advertise for him, apparently including at E17 Hairdressers and the Jalwa Boutique.
This litany of businesses putting their oar in to the electoral process is nothing new, of course. What fascinates me is the extent to which these busineses would rather not have to put posters up, but feel in some way obliged to and do not wish to offend. I spoke to several local businessmen today who thought the whole thing was a joke - but they put up both. Others told me that they had been asked by both sides and had refused. This is a healthy thing in my view, as businesses refuse to play along with polticians who have actually done them very few favours in the past few years. A few years back, some local small businesses might have feared repercussions for not playing ball with a locally ideological and anti-business Labour Party when they made such demands on them regarding posters. Such demands were the least of their problems. Their situation reminded me almost of that of the downtrodden Czech greengrocer in Vaclav Havel's 1978 essay 'The Power of the Powerless'.
Now, it seems they are free to just say no, to accept one poster or to put up two. Some businesses, such as Jilani Durbar, have even felt able in the last few days to take Labour posters down.
Fabster, however, still has concerns that there could be individuals, such as Liaquat Ali's tenants, (and I would include bob Wheatley's as well) who may not feel able to 'just say no'. It is a difficult question. It is clear that something is going on: there are proportionately more posters up in the residential windows of streets where the tenants of Mr Ali are said to reside, for instance. (And, to a far lesser extent also in the windows of property associated with the LibDems' Mahmoud Hussain). In other such streets, the party political posters of enthusiastic voters are few and far between.