What this election needs is a good old-fashioned husting!
Yesterday, the Prime Minister met a voter, a proper voter not one with a press badge.
He went for a walkabout (my god the daring!) in Alnwick. Now, admittedly, it was 3pm on a Monday afternoon in a small Northumbrian market town, hardly Oxford Street on a Saturday morning, but it’s a start.
Will it catch on? I doubt it. The biggest problem with what is turning out to be one of the most boring campaigns in modern history is that our politicians and their advisers are so fearful of a Gillian Duffy or Sharon Storer moment that all life has been sucked out of the campaign.
Instead we get a succession of set-piece speeches and hi-vis photoshoots with no engagement from the public. When a politician does go onto a building site, workers and tradesmen (the great unwashed) are kept at arms-length. How I long for an electrician to interrupt all this nonsense and say, loud enough for the microphones to pick up, “Excuse me Prime Minister, could you just move a little to your left I need to put some cable trunking there.”
Quelle surprise, there is no movement in the polls. But why would there be when everything we see on our TVs is so insipid.
However, there is hope. Despairing of any political engagement in my own safe Tory constituency (the election effort so far stands at one small poster on the A38 and a leaflet) I went to the marginal Worcester seat (2010 result: Conservative majority 3,000) for a terrific evening of political debate in the Cap ‘n’ Gown pub.
Enterprising landlord Ted has invited all the candidates every Monday of the campaign to a good old-fashioned political husting, each time on a specific subject. Last night was the NHS.
Ably moderated by Ted himself (at one point I wanted to vote for Ted so detailed was his grasp of German GDP to health spending ratios) we hit all the big issues, both national and local, from euthanasia through to extortionate PFI contracts, the closure of a local walk-in medical centre and overcrowded A&E departments.
The night had it all, heckling from the public; a flash of anger from a nurse; despair from an overworked young doctor, with the debate ebbing back and forth as the candidates slugged it out and voters helped themselves to the Hook Norton beer.
This is politics as it was meant to be, real democracy in action for over two hours and pub was packed! The candidates in particular deserve great respect for taking part, putting themselves out there without the safety net of an invited audience or advance sight of the questions.
There is a lesson here. I suspect voters were swayed last night. Minds were changed or made up. It mattered, which is more than another insipid speech to a hand-picked audience will ever do.