Faced with the prospect of writing about the most important democratic choice that Londoners face for the next four years, George Walden in The Times decided that neither he or we should bother. In a uniformly dreadful piece with the incredible title: 'Don't Vote for London Mayor,' Walden encourages citizens of the greatest city in the world, in the mother of all democracies, to forget about the elections and stay at home. He writes:
"How should we respond to a descending spiral of a low-grade candidates? Do our democratic duty? No, your duty is to stay at home. A mass abstention would show that Londoners have pride enough to want a different calibre of politico in charge. When democracy reaches the end of the line, the most democratic thing the public can do is to show they know."
Now, leaving aside the hackneyed phrasing (what would a descending low-grade spiral look like for instance?) and the needless Latin filler (calibre of politico anyone?), this article is just reckless in the extreme.
Walden goes through each of the candidates and dismisses them as politicians or even as human beings. Over the course of two self-satisfied paragraphs, Walden dismisses Ken Livingstone as corrupt and Boris Johnson as a clown. A fresh new insight you will agree. But when it comes to Brian Paddick he excels even himself with this breathtakingly worthless judgement:
"Of Brian Paddick there is nothing to be said. Paris has a gay socialist Mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, a city councillor for 30 years who does a good job because he's an able, experienced fellow. No one talks about his gayness, so let's not talk about Paddick."
So that's that then. A gay man can be a politician, so why bother talking about him?
By the time I reached the end of this drivel I was spitting orange juice over my paper. How could one man write a piece that is both so irrelevant and yet so irresponsible, and so sure of it's own importance and yet so entirely worthless?
Of course Walden has form on this. The ex-Tory politician's greatest claim to fame is his 240 page gloomathon 'Time to Emigrate?' in which he ponders on the decline of Britain from the comfort of his Kensington home.
But Walden's article is just one part of a more worrying shift in British journalism. Faced with the complex but important issues of local government, your average well paid hack will just churn out out the same old tired character assassinations and leave the difficult issues out of view.
Because Walden's piece is just one of many in recent weeks which is trying to paint this contest as a choice between three evils. In the space of three dreary paragraphs, Walden dismisses what Class War activists manage to dismiss in just three words. Because for anarchists and rich dilettantes alike, this contest is one between 'The Toff, The Crook, and The Copper."
But for those of us who actually live, work and use this city, this election is about far more than this. For those of us who actually use the buses,it will matter who becomes Mayor. For those of us who are struggling to buy a house, it will matter who becomes Mayor. And for those of us who love this city, it will matter who represents us as Mayor.
So when Walden talks about duty, he should think first about his own duty to us. Because when voters don't know what the real choices are, they are often left with no choice at all.