For a feature in the new issue of NME, Gavin Haynes spent three days on the road with the three main political parties. Here are a few things he learnt.
In truth, the real revelation of my tour of Britain was how unimportant politicians are. Alan Johnson is the third-most powerful figure in HM Government – tertiary only to Brown & Darling. If, as most suspect, in a hung parliament Clegg will demand the scalp of Brown, Johnson’s best placed to be the next PM or at least Labour leader.
Yet when he went walkabout in Tooting, only a small sliver of the high street seemed to have any idea who he was.
At least one guy showed some enthusiasm. Within a minute of the Home Sec striding down Tooting High Street, we had our first Thick Of It Moment. A rather – shall we say – unconventional little man kept trying to show Johnson a book that he was supposed to be in. Later, he barged into the Indian restaurant where AJ was being interviewed, and gave the Home Secretary a flower.
Damian Green, the Tory immigration spokesman, was the star of that great political thriller of our times: The Damian Green Affair – in which he was arrested in Parliament without a warrant for leaking the true versions of fudged Home Office immigration stats.
He’s probably going to be the seventh-most important guy in the next cabinet, yet he travels steerage on trains, he doesn’t have any personal security detail at all, and he doesn’t even have a proper Blackberry or such – instead pecking out texts on some grim old Nokia.
I’m not sure whether to be heartened by his times-chiming austerity, or terrified at this inefficiency. He likes Half Man Half Biscuit, though, so let’s give him the benefit of various doubts.
Nick Clegg was a different matter – when we touched down, last Wednesday, after a six hour drive to Redruth in Cornwall, Cleggmania was at its apex, the day before the second debate.
I felt weary for Clegg. As he churned through his traditional non-answer on the potential of a hung parliament with reporter after reporter, I got a sense of how much Cleggy and the others have to answer the same questions again and again – and what a drudge it must be for them, like working in telesales.
He’s evidently got a hundred or so stock answers lodged pretty firmly in his brain, because I noticed that he used the exact same phraseology to refer to the Tories’ “friends in the City tearing the house down” in the event of a hung parliamnent on Andrew Marr on Sunday, as he did in Redruth the previous Wednesday.
And without wishing to single-handedly quash the national Cleggasm (© Rachel Johnson), well, here’s a picture of the Lib Dem’s Battlebus parked on a double-yellow line. Honestly: it’s one rule for them…
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And here’s us overtaking the battlebus on the M5, as it ferried Clegg back to Bristol for the second debate. Now THAT’S political journalism. Nick Robinson, eat your tiny black heart out…
By the end of my week, I was knackered yet heartened. Maybe it was just the particular individuals that the parties’ PR machines had assigned me, but I can’t say I disliked any of them, and I can’t say that I felt that any of them were very cynical.
Perhaps it’s just the old trope about the value of sincerity (‘fake that and you’ve got it made’) but yes: I learned that politicians don’t generally deserve to be thrown down a lift shaft. That you needn’t necessarily superglue your watch to your wrist before shaking hands with them. That some of them lack gills. Makes yer proud tae be British it does! God, I’m welling up again…