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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Grossman blogs


David Grossman
David Grossman provides Newsnight with occasional blogs on the goings-on he encounters during the election campaign.

Catch up with his movements and thoughts here.



Thursday 28 April: Showtime!
Tuesday 26 April: Ironing out the election leaflets
Thursday 21 April: Political speed-dating
Tuesday 19 April: Something of the Darkness about them
Thursday 14 April: Bacon sandwiches and a manifesto
Wednesday 13 April: The New Labour school play
Tuesday 12 April: Doctoring photos and delivering babies
Wednesday 6 April: Custard pies in the Commons
Tuesday 5 April: "5/5/5"
Thursday 28 April Thursday 28 April
Showtime!

I'm on my way to Bristol looking for a pub.

We're trying to find a place with a big screen to watch the big match tonight. No, not Parma v CSKA Moscow in the UEFA cup. I am, of course, talking about Question Time on BBC1 at 8.30pm.

The leaders of the three big UK-wide parties are taking part. This is not a debate, though - Labour were not too keen on that idea. Instead, the leaders will face the same audience, one after another.

Bristol West is one of the UK's few three-way marginals. Labour have the seat, but both the Lib Dems and the Tories are a just a 4% swing away.

What will Bristol pub-goers make of the contest?

More importantly, will they let me turn the big screen over from the Parma game?


Tuesday 26 April
Ironing out the election leaflets
A spread of election literature
A colourful spread but who can provide the best ironing service?

The situation is getting desperate. I'm receiving so many election leaflets through my door that I'm seriously thinking of clearing up. Or moving. I have the honour of living in a marginal-ish constituency. Battersea in South London is 120th on the Conservative's hit list.

So this morning I put aside a full 30 minutes to read all the literature that's landed through my door, with the hope of drawing powerful insights on the state of the campaign.

The first problem is to identify which flyers are actually election literature. I was extremely impressed by the platform of one woman - she seemed to have policies that were almost exactly tailored to my needs.

Sadly, it turned out she was offering cleaning services, not standing for parliament.

The first election leaflet is from the Conservative candidate Dominic Schofield.

He's got plenty of pictures of himself in the various poses expected of a modern politician. There's "relaxed Dominic" with his jacket slung over his shoulder like a 1970s catalogue model. There's "Dominic the leader", photographed at a podium inside Conservative central office. And "Dominic, man of action", decked out in hard hat and safety glasses.

Oddly, though, the leaflet only has room to list four of the Conservatives' five pledges. In what is a very racially diverse seat, there is no mention of controlled immigration. Odd that.

As luck would have it I bump into "Dominic - man with dry cleaning" coming out of my local launderette.

He tells me there was no need to put this final pledge on his literature as it was covered very well by the party nationally. This does strike me as a refreshingly original approach to political campaigning.

So, with eight minutes of my allotted half-hour already spent I turn to Labour's literature.

The Labour man, Martin Linton, seems to have based his whole campaign on a misconception - that Gordon Brown is already Prime Minister.

His two-page leaflet mentions the Chancellor three times and there's also a photo of Martin and Gordon engaged in what looks a fight over an oversized cheque.

There is, though, no mention of Tony Blair, nor indeed of the war in Iraq for which Mr Linton voted. There is, thankfully, enough room on another flyer for the Labour candidate to tell us that his favourite movie is "Ray", the biopic of the blind musician Ray Charles. His reason: "his personal struggles to reach success despite his disability are a real inspiration." What a nice man.

That's another six minutes of my half-hour research gone. I now have a full 16 minutes to lavish on the Liberal Democrats.

Their candidate, Norsheen Bhatti, cannot complain she's not getting equal treatment. Just as I'm smugly feeling that I'm on top of my brief a small problem presents itself. I can't think of a single interesting thing to say about her flyer.

True, unlike the other candidates, she has a picture of her party leader on her leaflet. She also has a couple of other leaders (Bush and Blair) for good measure.

If I have a criticism it's that Norsheen doesn't exactly try to sell herself as a person. She lists her main interests as "human rights, education, law and order and youth affairs".

The Battersea Lib Dems' Christmas party must be an absolute blast.

I regret to say I haven't yet received any communication from Hugo Charlton of the Green Party or Terry Jones of UKIP, who are both also standing in Battersea.

If they want to send me some literature I'll be pleased to read it, particularly if either is offering to do their constituents' ironing.


Thursday 21 April
Political speed-dating

Political speed dating
Exactly two weeks to go.

I'm having a bit of a half-time break from the press conferences and campaigning. I'm in the Newsnight office at Television Centre in West London editing a long film that's due to go out on Monday.

The office is a place I try to stay away from, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

The film documents a novel political experiment we've undertaken - political speed-dating. 15 undecided voters meet 15 candidates from different political parties. With three minutes each to impress, which of the candidates will get the most votes?

You'll have to watch on Monday to see the final tally but I can reveal that our dream candi-Date wasn't from the Conservatives, Labour or the Lib Dems.

Click here for more


Tuesday 19 April
Something of the Darkness about them

The Darkness
The Darkness: no physical resemblance to Michael Howard
There's no doubt that we could learn a thing or two from the Roman Catholic Church about making elections exciting.

I have been absolutely gripped by the almost non-stop TV coverage of the Sistine Chapel chimney. Is that smoke? Is it white?

Our smokeless general election seems a bit dull by comparison. It's true we have things they don't. For a start, the cardinals don't do early morning press conferences like the parties here do. There are no leader visits in choppers or stage managed chats with supposedly ordinary voters. And, because the cardinals are locked in their conclave, they are out of reach of opinion pollsters.

The latest clutch of polls suggest the Tories are not making the kind of progress they need to if they are to carry out their stated aim of wiping the smile off Tony Blair's face.

However, word reaches BBC Newsnight's election monitoring team of a far more interesting poll to be published tomorrow. The NME asked readers which bands the main parties reminded them of.

Labour was likened to Oasis (one respondent commented that both were "good in 1997 - totally rubbish and out of touch now".

The Conservatives reminded voters of The Darkness. I'm guessing this is a reference to Anne Widdecombe's "something of the night" assessment of Michael Howard rather than any physical resemblance.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are apparently most like Keane. I'm not really sure why (because Charles Kennedy is keen?)


Thursday 14 April
Bacon sandwiches and a manifesto

A plate of bacon rolls
Bacon sandwiches worth getting out of bed for
The Liberal Democrats launched their election manifesto this morning. They were late with it because Donald James Kennedy showed up early.

I'll get to the substance of the Lib Dem platform in a moment but for me the most unforgivable aspect of their launch was the time of 7.30am.

I know there are plenty of people who show up for work at this time on a regular basis. It's just I'm not normally one of them.

Perhaps sensing that journalists take a bit of prompting to actually do their jobs at the best of times the Lib Dems lay on a fantastic spread of bacon sandwiches. Some would say elections are all about bribing the electorate with their own money. I, for one, am quite happy to be bribed with food.

So what about the manifesto? An end to tuition fees and top-up fees for students, no compulsory ID cards or child trust funds and a new tax rate of 50p for those earning over 100,000 pa.

Perhaps their most radical policy - doing away with council tax and replacing it with a local income tax.

None of this stuff came as a surprise to anyone who's paid the slightest bit of attention to Lib Dem policy over the past six months. That probably means the manifesto will come as a revelation to the vast majority of the population.

Even though these polices have been well rehearsed, Charles Kennedy still managed to come a bit unstuck by a question on the technicalities of the new local income tax. I think most people will probably give the man a break. He's had a busy week.


Wednesday 13 April
The New Labour school play

Labour manifesto mugs
Avoiding the metaphor - a line of Labour mugs
10.45am - I arrive at the Mermaid Theatre in London for the launch of Labour's election manifesto. A good setting since the Labour manifesto is going to have to be something of a political mermaid: one half being the old Labour fish required to keep his party happy, the other half the attractive human face needed to avoid scaring the swing voters who once supported the Conservatives.

To keep the audience happy until the main show started there is coffee - provided by a neat line of Labour mugs. Each is primed with a simple message: "Britain forward not back".

Someone less kind than myself will make the connection between the line of mugs and the line of lower order cabinet ministers. They shuffle onto the stage to sit silently at the back of the presentation while the main players get on with the show.

This is going to be a very theatrical presentation - seven podiums are set up on the stage at varying heights looking like an eccentric chess set.

The prime minister in the middle, behind the biggest podium, starts the show - with a brief monologue. Without a word of a handover Gordon Brown then picks things up and talks for a bit. Next comes John Prescott and then each of the other four senior cabinet ministers at the podiums. These are the New Labour monologues.

Some perform their parts better than others. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is particularly enthusiastic. I'm prepared to bet a few quid that there's a school play or two lurking somewhere in her past.

All the while the rest of the cabinet sit at the back of the stage - like those less talented children in a school play who are shoe-horned into the production to keep their parents happy.

If the Mermaid Theatre had been able to put a show on like this every night, the place wouldn't have closed down.


Tuesday 12 April
Doctoring photos and delivering babies

This was to be Lib Dem manifesto launch day.

I'm afraid we're all going to have to wait a bit longer. The reason is that Charles Kennedy's wife has given birth. There are at least five jokes on labour and delivery doing the rounds here - I can't actually bring myself to pass on any of them.

In the formal campaigning the day has been dominated by sums. Exactly what are the parties promising to save, spend and cut?

Because government expenditure is about half a trillion pounds, it's more or less impossible for anyone without a Nobel prize for economics to follow exactly what is going on.

But the parties don't really expect many people to keep up with this line-by-line debate of the public finances. This is really a battle for perceptions - which is the party of economic strength and who's telling tax-and-spend fibs? None of the parties can afford to lose this contest.

I know not everyone thinks that election leaflets are great. For many households they are the epitome of junk mail, far less welcome than pizza menus and minicab cards.

It is surprising that candidates still put things in their local flyers and do not expect the wider world to notice. A Conservative candidate in the west country has been caught doctoring a photo of himself and Anne Widdecombe. Here is the offending picture (we may or may not have doctored it ourselves).



Wednesday 6 April
Custard pies in the Commons

12.30
The last question time of this parliament has just finished. It was one of the loudest for ages. There will, I fear, be some MPs whose ears will not back to normal in time to hear their returning officer tell them whether they've still got a job.

It was an unmissable spectacle. The Prime Minister was framed by John Prescott and Gordon Brown. The two of them sat in a study of grump, like a pair of hearth dogs to Mr Blair's roaring fire.

Across the chamber, the Conservative leader blazed away on the government's record. Most of the custard pies he launched at the Prime Minister could only loosely be called "questions". One of today's offerings included a rather bizarre call and response section with Conservative backbenchers shouting "up" or "down" as if they were on a TV quiz show.

There's been much speculation about what Mr Blair does with Mr Brown if Labour is returned to power. Sack him? Keep him at number 11? Offer him another job (the only job that would probably tempt Mr Brown out of the treasury is Mr Blair's own position).

His relationship with Gordon Brown is never far below the surface. It is the question that's underlined in red on every interviewer's clipboard. This morning on GMTV he got it again. Would Mr Brown keep his job after May 5th? I print the answer here so that you too can play the game we're all playing: "What in the name of all that spins does he mean?"

Blair: "You never end up deciding the government, particularly when you haven't won the election. But I think his record speaks for itself so you would want that record to continue, really."

Is that emphatic support? The key question is this: is wanting someone's record to continue the same as wanting them to continue in their job? Does a football manager, saying he wants his team to keep scoring goals, mean his temperamental striker is safe from the transfer list?

13.30
As I ponder this I head for Labour's press conference. What luck, appearing today are Brown and Blair side-by-side. They marched into the room several yards apart like a couple who'd had a row in the car on the way to a party but were determined it shouldn't show.

However, anyone who was hoping the pair would get tearful and fling drinks at each other was disappointed. Mr Blair dropped an even stronger hint that Mr Brown would stay as Chancellor. He praised the Chancellor's economic record.

"Without breaching any protocols," he said, "we would be pretty foolish to put that at risk."

That probably is as good an answer as we're going to get.

13.45
At least the press got to ask impertinent questions at the Labour presser. Just down the road at the Conservative HQ Michael Howard stands no such nonsense. Any reporter attempting a question not on the subject the Conservatives are pushing (today it was crime) gets shouted down and scolded.

I wanted to ask Mr Howard about the Brown-Blair relationship but couldn't. Only questions on crime were allowed. I have to tell you that the press pack is not happy with this. There are dark mutterings of reporters refusing to ask any questions at all on the Conservatives' pet subjects. I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday 5 April
"5/5/5"

Tony Blair walks along Downing Street
Tony Blair launched his campaign in Downing Street
So that's it. The day's been named.

In fact never before has a day been so well and truly named so many times.

5/5/5 has been the date with the red ring round it on every politician's calendar since a few days after the last general election.

Just before 11am, the PM went to the palace to ask the Queen to shout "go" for a 30-day campaign.

Actually, Michael Howard launched his party's campaign about half an hour before, when there wasn't technically an election.

I've been searching, for the first time, someone who was brave enough to predict this date in print - that accolade seems to go to the Daily Express on 27th of March last year.




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